Ministering to The Whole Teenager
by Kevin Boer
We are multidimensional beings. Now I am not going to launch into a Star Trek episode to boldly go where no one has gone before. What I mean is we are created with different facets of our being. Even Jesus refers to this when He says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." In leadership literature the same concept is shared by Stephen Covey in his "7 Habits for Highly Effective People." He speaks of the "4 Dimensions of Renewal" being Physical, Spiritual, Mental and Social.
As we look to deepen teenagers relationship with Christ and maturity in life, we need to interact with all four attributes. Youth are growing in wisdom and stature just like Jesus did. So lets take a deeper look.
We are obviously dealing with the brain on this one. It is developing the intellectual capacities of students in thought and action. Our time with students need to help students to think and build their ability to learn. We need to help students struggle with the reason to believe and not just give them pat answers.
The vehicle for encouraging the mental development is discipleship. Discipleship is characterized by life to life ministry interacting with the truth of our faith. It is applying truth into the lives of students and our own lives. The real question becomes, "How do I live my new life in Jesus?" In our teaching and ministry we need to engage their brain. Don't just preach at them, involve them in what you are saying and have them teach you. Students need to be equipped to learn by teaching others.
We not only worship God with our brain but our body as well. Scriptures say that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. In developing disciples we need to focus on how students use their physical nature to glorify God. You see this at work in the lives of Junior Highers especially the ADD ones. They have a hard time sitting because that is how they are wired. By engaging students physically in what they are learning we go beyond their limitations and have the teaching stick. For instance, rather than just preach on serving, involve them in serving others.
I went to Cal Poly SLO where the motto was "Learn by Doing." In my agriculture classes we would go out of the classroom and work with tractors, concrete, cows and crops. Jesus mastered this concept by using what was in his environment to teach. "Fish" became "Fishers of Men." He sent out his disciples to do it not just talk about it. So the question becomes, "How can I involve students physically in what we are learning?"
In dealing with the physical realm we must focus on the need for healing and growing. Many students are broken and hurting and need healing. Youth need to experience the reality of truth lived out in relationship. It may be giving them a meal or a listening ear or even a ride home. It is also getting onto their turf at their school or neighborhood. Youth workers need to be physically present to show that they care. As the saying goes, "I don;t care what you know until I know that you care."
The spiritual component deals with the unseen realm. God created us with a soul that dwells in a higher plane of reality. On that plane is where angels and demons also dwell. There is spiritual warfare that is happening all around us. Most youth (and adults) are oblivious to this world. Many students are being influenced by spiritual forces they do not even comprehend. My hair stylist once shared with me that she was hearing voices in her room that were scaring her tremendously. And then someone shared Christ with her and she gladly accepted. She was literally scared into becoming a Christian!
While all experiences are not so extraordinary, each of us deal with spiritual realities on a daily basis. God has placed in our soul a spiritual longing to be with Him. At one time we were all spiritually dead and in need of deliverance through being transformed by Christ. And every choice we make to be in community with Him or live like a practical atheist has spiritual ramifications. So the question becomes "How do I minister to the soul of the youth with whom I work?" Even closer to home is the question, "Does what I do minister to my own soul?"
Teenagers are social beings. They have multiple opportunities to connect with others each day. Our ideal is to have socially and emotionally mature youth who can develop healthy relationships and teach others to do the same. Sadly, many teenagers have the same track record as adults with broken relationships and emotional issues. We live in a society with dysfunctional families, relational conflict and pressures on teenagers to both grow up to fast and not grow up at all.
A well rounded ministry creates an environment that serves the relational needs of teenagers. If you look below the surface you will see their need for wise counsel. They need mentors who care for who they are. Kara Powell from the Fuller Youth Institute talks about the idea of "Sticky Faith." In her research she finds that students need 5 significant mentoring relationships to make their faith "stick."
Also, youth workers need to know when to counsel students and when they are in over their heads. It is always good to refer to a counselor who understands the needs of Christian teenagers. in conclusion, the question becomes, "How could we more effectively minister to the social and emotional needs of teenagers?"
The Whole Teenager
When we serve the needs of the teenager in all dimensions, our ministries will produce well rounded students that will be effective leaders in their church and community. They will develop the attitude, skills, knowledge, and relationship necessary to love God and love others with their heart, soul, mind and strength.