What teens need from their youth ministries right now

Yesterday, my student leaders and I were talking about a chapter from Bob Goff’s Everybody Always and wrestling with how we can spread hope & courage within our ministry – now, during a time when we’re meeting virtually, in a season when there’s a global pandemic. This quickly led to a conversation about what they (and their peers) need from our ministries in this moment.

One of my student leaders stated how we need to be positive; How youth group needs to be a break from all the negativity in her world. Another quickly disagreed, suggesting that our youth ministry needs to be a place that openly acknowledges the difficulties (and trauma) in the world around us.

As I listened to these two leaders share, I couldn’t help but think: Yes. That.

In this moment, our youth ministries need to be places that remain positive AND openly acknowledge how difficult this season is for our teens, their families, and our communities.

At first, these ideas might appear to be mutually exclusive. How can our youth ministries be places where both of these realities are true?

By letting teens feel whatever it is they’re feeling when they arrive at youth group.

AND by showing them that their faith has something to say about whatever they’re feeling.

What students need in this moment is to be fully welcomed, no matter how they’re feeling.

Teens need to see that Jesus (and their faith) aren’t just for the times when everything is going well. Jesus – and faith – are also relevant, particularly so, when the bottom feels like it’s fallen out from underneath them.

Throughout the New Testament, we are commanded to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

Want to be the church right now? Want to shepherd teens in this moment?

Rejoice with them when they rejoice. And weep with them when they weep… when it feels like life can’t possibly get any worse until the next day when it somehow does.

Not only will this model resilience to our teens, it’ll also show them faith.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

More about Jen

Jen's Books

Now Available!

A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Now Available!

Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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