Adolescence + Serving

Kris Butz


Do you ever feel like your kids listen to other people more than they listen to you? I don’t mean “they listen more” in the sense that maybe they spend more time with other people. I mean, do you experience the insane phenomenon that happens at my house where your child comes home from somewhere and says something that some-other-person-who-is-obviously-cooler-and-smarter-than-you said that is verbatim, EXACTLY a thing that you have been saying to them for YEARS about something, but your precious schmoopie is acting like it’s brand new information? Does that happen at your house? It’s been happening at mine for over a decade! I can remember each of my four children, coming home from Dental Hygiene Week in kindergarten, and saying, “Mom! The Tooth Fairy says we have to brush our teeth for two minutes, twice a day, and we have to floss every day! Did you know that?!” Those goofballs were living like that wasn’t a thing I said every day of their tooth-having lives! That was the beginning of the realization that even though I may say correct things and do the right things as a parent, sometimes my own children can’t hear truth from me. Sometimes they have to hear it from someone else.

Many times we can feel like we’re the first people to ever have to worry that our youth won’t have a lasting faith. Frequently we entertain the idea that people back “in the good old days” didn’t ever feel anxious over what their adolescent children were doing or worry that they might fall away from their faith. I was recently listening to a podcast where Crystal Kirgiss (Young Life’s VP of Discipleship) was talking about this very thing. In addition to caring deeply about the discipleship of youth, she is a medievalist and wrote her dissertation about teenagers and how they were viewed by the church in the medieval period. In her own words, “People have been worried about adolescents having a deep, lasting faith for as long as people have been writing things down and recording them.”

Kirgiss talked about how we have this idea that in “olden days” adolescents were more responsible at a younger age, married young, were always churched, and had a higher moral standard than we do currently. The trouble with those assumptions is that they’re wrong! She has a dictionary from the year 1530 that has that period’s definition for the word “adolescence”. In 1530, “adolescence” included girls between the ages of 12 and 21 years old and boys between the ages of 14 and 25 or 27 years old. It turns out, the way we, as adults, view that growing up period of youth hasn’t changed much in 488 years! Those years between middle school and early adulthood mattered to parents and church leaders even when people were jousting and trying to avoid the plague!

Instead of falling into the trap of thinking that THIS generation is the first one that adults have ever worried about, we’re should feel like we’re next in line and part of the group of people who care about pointing adolescents toward following Jesus. We should feel like that because that’s the truth! As parents, we can feel a huge burden to make sure that our kids know Jesus. It can be overwhelming to know the answer to every question our kids have and have a solid reason, beyond “because I said so”, as they get older and ask deeper questions. While that’s an opportunity for us to grown in our own faith and learn the answers to those questions, (and I would always encourage you to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question but, let’s go find it together...”) I think it’s also important for you to know that there is a community of believers that care about your child. And sometimes, even if you KNOW the answer to their questions and are saying things that are RIGHT, they just can’t hear it from you. They have to hear it from someone else. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong. And it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with your child’s hearing! There’s this developmental process of growing up where kids test what they’ve heard from their parents and they want to see proof elsewhere that what they’ve been taught is true. It’s 100% as normal as it is baffling as a parent!

Adolescence looks daunting. As parents, we can feel like it’s a fluke of a chunk of time where our kids don’t even seem like they have the ability to understand much about life, let alone about faith, and we can wonder if there’s any point in sending them to sit in church services at all. Don’t fall for that lie! This time is a HUGE opportunity to point your teenager to the One who created them! It’s a season where so many things are in flux in their lives that it can be a huge relief to discover the God Who Never Changes cares for them, has always cared for them, and even built them, on purpose, to do great things as a part of His kingdom! You don’t have to do all of the teaching that your youth needs... in fact, no one can do it all by themselves. We were meant to rely on others. It takes a community to help our kids see, from every angle, that The Creator of the World wants to have a relationship with them. Encouraging your teen to find a place to serve is just the beginning of a deepening in their relationship with Jesus. Your teen needs a space to live out what they say they believe. They already know that talk is cheap and they need to experience that their faith is more than just words. We have so many places to serve that there really is something for everyone. As a church body, we need their youthful enthusiasm and their buoyancy! We have youth serving our church body in just about every capacity and the adults who serve alongside them look forward to both having their help and gaining a younger friend.

Sitting in church services together on a regular basis is one way to grow in your faith together. Keeping the communication lines open so that your teenager knows they can ask questions about their faith and get good answers is important too. Don’t overlook the opportunity for serving in church together as a way to grow in your faith. Serving together opens the door for other people to get to know your family and your child well! It gives your youth another group of people to ask their questions to and see what ways God has gifted them. It helps them see how they fit into the broader aspects of Christian faith and how they make a difference in the lives of others. So many teenagers are struggling with identity, even to the extent of feeling hopeless and depressed. Serving together gives your teen a tangible way to see that they matter, that they belong, that other people care for them, and that their community of faith is something they can participate in and not just watch from a distance. There is room for your teenager to serve in our church and becoming more involved in the place where they learn about their walk with God can help solidify their faith. Don’t let the only place they hear that truth be from you. Let other believers solidify that truth within the hearts of your teenager so that when they leave your house, their feet are firmly planted in their faith and they know they have a community of people in their corner, vested in their walk with Jesus, praying for them, and caring about them. And for that matter, you need to know that you have a place, that you are needed, and that God has given YOU gifts to serve His kingdom too. You need that encouragement, maybe even more as a parent of a teenager than you did as the parent of a preschooler! And to be honest, MY children might hear from you the truth that they can’t hear from me right now. Your voice matters. Don’t think that we have “enough” help. There are people who need to hear your story about how God has been faithful to you, and maybe you need to hear more stories like that too. Choose to show your teenager how to live out their faith within their church body and we’ll all continue to care about the state of our adolescents and what we’re doing as a body of believers to strengthen their faith.

“Let us think about each other and help each other to show love and do good deeds. You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing, but you should meet together and encourage each other.” Hebrews 10:24-25 NCV

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