*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.
2. When ministering to adolescents we must possess a Commitment to Character and Consistency.
This has to do with expectations.
I am amazed to hear how low my friends and colleagues occasionally set the bar for our adolescents. “The world is so much worse than it was twenty years ago. How can we expect these kids to do anything of lasting worth?” Some have even said that holiness is not for kids and teens – it is just not possible for them with their immaturity and all that the world throws at them!
Let me suggest something radical here: That “Be holy as I am holy” thing is actually possible in our middle-schoolers! Virtues like integrity, purity, and – yes – consistency are actually doable for 13-year old Ted and 14-year old Kami. It is amazing what junior-highers can do when they know that others are truly depending on their character and consistency. I have seen it in Manolo, a 14-year old from Guatemala who always arrives first to praise team practice and has started leading a Bible study in his house, even though his parents want no part of church. I have seen it in David, a 14-year old from San José, Costa Rica, who spent his first year in youth group doodling on scrap paper and now is the first one to finish our discipleship and Articles of Faith classes.
Let’s set the bar high and be disappointed every now-and-then instead of setting the bar low and constantly griping about the mediocrity in our youth.
3. Ministry to adolescents requires a Commitment to Christian ministry.
In Latin America, very few churches have a full-time salaried pastor, let alone a youth pastor of any kind. And more than two-thirds of the population of Mexico and Central America are under the age of 30. Imagine what kind of local churches this creates!
In most of the churches I have been a part of during the last fifteen years, there are a good number of adolescents teaching Sunday School, serving as ushers or greeters, playing or singing on the praise team, etc. In several congregations, I am amazed to see twelve- and thirteen-year olds that are allowed to preach! Why is this the case? If you live in a neighborhood of children and youth, your church had better be filled with children and youth and your ministry teams should be filled with children and youth!
This whole phenomenon is not constrained to the church walls. Our current ministry in Latin America seeks to train missionaries from here in church planting and evangelism. Part of that is providing them short-term volunteer opportunities where they can do just that as well as test out their calling. So what happens when junior-highers – even though policy says they are not supposed to be volunteer missionaries due to insurance and other important issues – decide that they want to plant churches as part of one of these teams? Elisa (age 12) and other adolescents have taught me much about mission and passion as they knock on doors and sleep on floors in the hills of rural Mexico.*
*Incidentally, this cannot be explained just by cultural differences. I could tell of Julie and Jeremy in suburban USA, who as junior-highers had their quirks like anyone, but served on our youth council and testified of their faith at school constantly. When consistency is expected, lives can be changed from Peoria to Panama.
I am somewhat embarrassed to think back on my days as a youth pastor when we allowed the teens to have their “youth night” where they lead the “big service.” In reality, it is a great idea, of course, and a fantastic way to train them in ministry. But who says junior-highers must be relegated to a themed night? What does it say when we have entire ministries to and for them, and yet we do not really allow them to minister with us in the day-to-day life of the church?
As you saw, the title of this article is “What to do with Paquito?” If Paquito is 13-years old and constantly acts like he has just downed 10 cans of Mountain Dew, the question is a dilemma. But perhaps the answer can be found in a deep commitment to community, character, consistency, and Christian ministry.
As I end this article, I have to clarify that my intention here has not been to criticize anyone. In reflecting back on my ministry over the last 20 years, I have felt most critical of my own inadequacies and errors. Ministering with adolescents is a wonderful and trying adventure that requires many men and women called by God and passionate about loving and discipling this age group. My hat goes off to all of you, and I count it a privilege to minister with you, and with them.