Youth leaders column from Dave Fenton: Do you love the young people?

‘You don’t need to teach Bible — all you need to do is to love them’.

That was said to me by a youth leader who was convinced that, if young people knew they were loved, they would come back to the church. My response was simple. What greater evidence of love is there than to tell someone the truth. And, what is more, it is the truth which comes from God’s word.

How we show we care

But the question prompted me to think how, indeed, we show that we ‘care for the flock’ (1Peter 5.2). How important is it that our young people know they are loved and how do we do that? Do we just have to say ‘we love you’ to convince them that they are. In the Bible it is clear that love is an action word — it is far more about what you do and those actions being consistent with what you say, whether that be in a talk or a conversation.

Be there!

Perhaps the most important factor is being there when you can be there. We ask our young people to be committed to the group and we must be too. It sounds so obvious, but, in these busy days, it is increasingly common to find rotas operating in children’s and youth ministry. The sacrifice is a real one, but our young people need to know that we are committed to them and their spiritual growth.

Helping with doubts

In one of my interviews for a future book I met a student who had been part of a youth group. He told me he had been well taught and, when he first joined the group, was happy to sit and listen. During his teenage years doubts began to surface and he had questions. He raised them with his teacher/leader who told him that he had been taught the Bible and that was all he needed. Young people are at a stage in their lives where ideas and worldviews are forming. They are hearing many ideas and philosophies — some more subtle than others. They are faced with many competing ideologies. There is no greater way that we can express our love for them than by helping them to understand a true Christian worldview and enable them to critique other views.

Keep discipline

Discipline is not a popular word. But it has the same root as the word disciple. ‘The Lord disciplines the one he loves’ (Hebrews 12.6). In a normal family environment discipline would be an accepted part of life. Children do things which are wrong and need to be corrected. It should not surprise us that fallen people seeking to follow a holy God will do things contrary to God’s commands. If left unchecked, people repeat wrong behaviour.

Discipline is a biblical way of showing our love to our young people. But let’s be clear. Discipline is never vindictive — it is always done to restore young people to behave in godly ways. We don’t need what I once saw in Eastern Europe — a young person excluded from church for six weeks for chewing gum.

Have fun

And, finally, to show you love them, have fun with them, laugh a bit, enjoy life together in wholesome ways. I used to enjoy nights in the bowling alley with my discipleship group. Have some ‘down time’ where your young people see who you really are and how your teaching works out in your life. And one final thought. Praying for someone develops our love for them more deeply than anything. Why not stick a list of your group on your fridge and pray for a couple of them each day.

Dave Fenton – associate minister at Christ Church Winchester and Training Director of Root 66 which runs training courses for youth ministers across the UK. He also leads the youth teams at New Word Alive.

This article was first published in the December 2011 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057