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Stop, Look and LISTEN: Empowering Youth in the Church Context

By Aldene Luck | Youth pastor veteran, Youth for Christ coordinator, Ph.D. in social work, currently supervises university students and continues to study psychology. | October 14 2009

Many adults have the philosophy that children should be seen and not heard. But watch out world, there are new sheriffs in town! This new generation challenges the church to give it a voice and a place of value in the community. A pivotal step in achieving this is embodied in the acronym LISTEN, which can be defined as:

L Is for Learning

Learning refers to gaining an understanding of the teenage sub-culture when planning ministry programs. This new generation often does not hold traditions and values because of the lack of effective role models. Youth leaders face greater challenges in their work as they seek to reach these postmodern young people.

I Is for Identifying Potential

Each teen has a unique level of potential. The church has to assist teenagers on their journeys to self-actualization. A self-actualized teenager is able to cope with and adjust to changes and assist friends in their development. Youth leadership is strategically positioned to facilitate the teenager's growth within a safe and nurturing environment.

S Is for Sincere Interaction

This generation, which is more isolated, seeks interaction with adults who are genuine and want to have a long-term relationship with them. Youth leaders will need to move away from measuring success in terms of numbers and toward depth of relationships. It will require the extra mile whether that means sending instant messages or attending sporting events in order to connect with young people.

T Is for Training and Empowerment

Churches that train teenagers empower them with life skills that allow them to gain a healthy selfesteem and develop effective decision-making skills. This results in teens becoming active and integrated members in society. This generation is audio-visually oriented; so make use of pictures, storytelling, experiential learning or analogies that will get the message across. Also train them in peer ministry using groups or teams. This can enhance the teenager's sense of responsibility, as well as teach him or her to deal with diverse ideas and cultures. Churches need to provide a safe environment in which young leaders can develop their skills through successes and failures and be utilized by the church body.

E Is for Encouragement

The current generation of youth does not fear failure, an advantage over past generations. They know computer games in which heroes, if they fail, get another chance. On the other hand, adolescence brings with it a great deal of change and confusion, making teens vulnerable. They need constant encouragement and reassurance, especially when learning new skills and becoming involved in service opportunities.

N Is for New Opportunities

Once teenagers have been trained, it is important for them to become involved in the church because doing so allows them to impact other people's lives, provides opportunities to share their faith and gives them a sense of belonging, which allows teens to take ownership. The most effective way in which teens can accomplish this is by integrating into the wider faith community.

Conclusion

Future youth work will need to release the teenager's untapped storehouse of skills. A strategy must be rediscovered that will enhance a healthy, family-oriented ministry, both missional and programmatic, that will produce new generations of disciples. This holistic approach will pave the road for the development of fully functioning individuals.

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