How to Foster Healthy Spirituality Among Today’s Youth

  • by Katie Nelson

High School Ministry Urban Immersion

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I don’t think I’ve ever heard more beautiful prayers than I did on a freezing cold weekend in rural Wisconsin.

It was Cru’s winter high school conference called FastBreak. Over 100 students, staff, and volunteers made the trek through the below zero temperatures to attend.

Sunday morning, before the first session, students gathered in a small circle. This prayer time was optional and I expected maybe 2 or 3 students to come. To my surprise, 11 students stared at me as I walked into the room at 8:20 a.m. as prayer was about to start.

I honestly thought they were just hanging out in the room and that I was going to have to ask them to leave. “You’re all here for prayer?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yep, so how we gonna do this? Just like throw out prayer requests and pray as a group?” one girl responded excitedly.

“Well, these 2 college volunteers had a short devotional, but then we can do whatever you guys would like,” I replied.

From then on, I sat back in awe. Prayers came flooding out—for a sister in jail struggling with drug abuse, for ISIS, for Syrian refugees, for their friends, for their school, for how awesome God is, for what a privilege it is to know Him.

“Hey dad…” is to this day one of the best ways I’ve ever heard to begin a prayer. I learn so much from high school students.

I am also continuously inspired by teenagers’ thoughts, desires and dreams. Recently, a few of us high school staff members asked our students to share their hopes for the future.

Here are some of their responses:

“I want to be seen or noticed by others for being an authentic Christian, and not as a faker or hypocrite. I also want to be a grateful person.” -Alexis, 14
“I hope to keep Christ in my life through college and figure out what my calling is in life.” -Sam, 17
“I have no clue of what I want to do.” – Jack
“I really would like to study biomedical engineering so I can cure people of cancer.” -Elias, 18
“My hope for the future is that I can work as a teacher or counselor and a coach so I can have a positive influence towards my students and be there for them and mainly just to help kids.” -Michael, 18
“I hope to see slavery end in my lifetime.” -Haley, 17

These students, and so many others, have amazing goals and dreams. In order to achieve these great things, they need encouragement and care along the way. For those teens who don’t know what they want to do and feel lost or overwhelmed, support and prayer is needed.

I am so blessed to get to spend time with this future generation. They have the potential to impact others for Christ and change the world.

So, how can you love and care for the teens in your life well? The greatest thing I have learned when it comes to working with teens and the number one thing I would want others to know is simply listen.

Although it sounds super easy, here are a few reasons I find it difficult:

  1. It’s quicker to give advice.
  2. I just want them to know the right answer.
  3. I want to share my own experience and lessons I learned in similar circumstances.

However, the consequences of not listening abound:

  1. You create teens that know the right answer, but don’t have a soft heart to the Lord.
  2. You miss the true issue weighing on the student’s heart.
  3. You fail to love the person for where he/she is at and they probably won’t see you as someone who truly cares.

As Paul Tillich says, “The first duty of love is to listen.” God’s Word has some helpful verses on listening as well:

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” -Proverbs 18:2
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” – James 1:19
“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” - Proverbs 18:13

Lastly, if you model listening well, the teens in your life will be more open to what you have to say when you have the opportunity to share.

May we foster the precious gift of getting to walk alongside teenagers as they live out their hopes, fears, struggles and prayers.  

Do you work with youth? What have you learned about reaching them? Comment below.

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