Josh loved to invite his friends to youth group. Some of his friends came from broken homes and struggled with some heavy stuff. Josh was a leader. However, Josh also struggled with substance abuse and some heavy stuff. One night after Josh showed up to youth group high (we let him stay thinking it was better to let his high wear off somewhere safe), I remarked to one of our volunteers, “It’s so frustrating, Josh has so much potential.”
As pastors and leaders in the church, we have a unique opportunity to shape the view and understanding of adolescents in the church. With the words we use, we describe adolescents in edifying and uplifting ways. But there are a handful of words I have used in the past to describe adolescents which I think are “dirty words.” We think we’re saying one thing with these words, but we’re also implying something else.
“It’s so frustrating, Josh has so much potential.”
The word “potential” is one of those words. What we’re intending to say is, “God is going to use him (in the future).” But what we’re also implying is that right here and right now they don’t bring much to the table. When we say an adolescent has potential we’re saying their real value is in the future, when they grow up and become an adult.
As youth pastors, we must fight the temptation to describe teenagers this way. We must see the value they bring the church today and how much the church needs them right now. “…the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor…” (1 Cor. 12:22, 23)
This is why I think intergenerational relationships are so important. When people of all ages get to know each other, when those who are older spend time with those who are younger, they get the opportunity to intimately experience the goodness of the “other.” They bless each other’s lives. Intergenerational relationships aren’t hierarchical in nature, they are mutually beneficial relationships. In light of what Christ has done on the cross for all of us, “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”
Yes, teenagers have potential, but as fellow heirs with Christ, they have immense value right here, right now.
How does your church need adolescents today?