When it comes to youth ministry, some things change, but some things remain the same. One of those things that does not adjust is a young person’s desire to belong. Most teens feel out of place in this world and no wonder. They are changing at rapid speeds physically, developmentally and so on. If their families have moved, they are adjusting to new places. If they have changed schools or churches, they are trying to figure it out, but we want them to belong to God first and foremost. This desire to belong has not changed. Whether it was when I was growing up in the 1970s or an adolescent growing up 100 years from now, every youth will have a desire to feel connected and need a sense of purpose in life.
In past posts, I have discussed the first two sections of my book, Following Jesus into College and Beyond, but now I turn to the final section, titled “Belonging: Where do I fit?” In this section, I cover areas where teenagers and 20-somethings are struggling to find “fit.”
First, the next generation needs help discovering what their relationship with their parents will look like in a few short years as they transition out of high school, into college and beyond. It will change. Hopefully their relationship will move from thinking, “my mom or dad is over me” to “my mom or dad is beside me.” The relationship becomes more friendship-like. This is a place they desperately need to belong, and we can help equip and train parents to understand what this can look like with purpose.
Second, teens and 20-somethings will always have friends. How they fit with their friends is critical all the way from 6th grade to college, but the transition from 8th to 9th and 12th grades to college are the most critical to belonging. Youth workers can help parents get to know other parents whose children have mutual friends. Also, during the first few weeks of college, students will make new friends and develop habits. This is the most important time of the college experience. What is really happening with college freshmen is they are establishing their fit in the first few weeks. This is why I concluded my book the way I did. Developing habits in the first few weeks is critical!
Third, mentoring is another area of belonging. Some would call it discipleship. In the book, I talk about the importance of finding and being a mentor. We all need guidance and direction from those who are a little further down the road spiritually and with life experience. Helping youth understand this is the youth worker’s and parents’ job will help students find their fit in this world and purpose in life.
Fourth, as the next generation moves to maturity, there is no doubt, dating will be on their minds. Youth workers need to speak openly and honestly about dating. With a world saturated with sex, we need to get ahead of culture and help students establish boundaries around their purity. It starts in their heads. The biblical scriptures speech about “renewing our minds” to be more like Jesus. We need to think like Jesus would think in our relationships as we head toward possible marriage.
Finally (and possibly the most important), I address the importance of being connected to the body of Christ. The local church is critical to the belonging of every young person. This is intergenerational at the core. Teens and 20-somethings all need to be invested in the local church worship service, programs, missions, service opportunities…as they belong to a community of believers, they will discover purpose and meaning in life.
For more info, check out Following Jesus into College and Beyond.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that some things never change. In 1990, Michael W. Smith produced his first “crossover” album titled Go West Young Man with the Billboard #6 song, “Place in This World.” Smith has shared in interviews that the song came out of the letters he was receiving from teenage fans trying to figure out where they “fit” in this world. The song is Smith’s answer. Enjoy the flashback!
What is influencing the next generation’s belonging? What can we do to teach, model and pray for them to belong with Christ Jesus for the whole of their lives?