"Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires." James 1:19-20

A challenge in youth ministry is understanding young people and the world in which they live. We can be easily distracted by our preconceived ideas and cannot know what is going on in the life of a teenager until we take the time to listen. When we avoid making preconceived assumptions and begin to seek a fuller understanding, we are more effective with reaching and providing discipleship for young people.

Dr. Chapman Clark, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of many books on youth ministry, spent six months on a high school campus as a participant-observer of youth culture. He chronicles this experience and the results of this study in Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers (Baker Academic, 2004).

Dr. Clark points out that adolescence is now extended until the mid-twenties and describes the high school years as "mid" adolescence. According to Clark, adolescents in this generation have the "inability to see contradictions as contradictions and the ability to easily rationalize seemingly irreconcilable beliefs, attitudes, or values are but two of many markers that may be pointing to a new emerging phase of adolescent development and may provide a key indicator of the essence of midadolescence."

Clark describes the "world beneath" where students cluster for safety. They emerge to perform in front of whomever requires something of them: parents, teachers, coaches, friends, but presents a different persona depending on the setting. Clark identifies the core underlying issue as a deep, widespread sense of abandonment in young people by the adults in their lives who are supposed to be dependable. Society no longer speaks with a single, reliable voice which in and of itself creates anxiety.

Is it possible to share our faith without investing the time to first listen? There are key questions to keep in mind: "Who is this person? What is their perception of life? What are the influences? What wounds do they have? What are their formative influences? What are their strongly held opinions?"

When we listen carefully to others and are honest about ourselves, a bridge is built that allows others to understand our deepest commitments and for us to understand theirs. Listening well is a basic building block for bringing grace and truth into the lives of young people. They become more likely to be open to our individual stories which naturally includes the impact of Jesus Christ on our lives. As the Youth for Christ 3Story® points out: it is not me telling others how much they need God; it is me sharing with others how much I need God.

Why does this seem to be effective way to introduce others to Christ? Because it is not our duty to convince others to follow Christ; that is the Holy Spirit's responsibility. Our duty is to love others and be honest about what we have seen, heard or personally experienced. As author and missionary Dr. John White wrote, we are simply signposts pointing the way. Once someone has made a commitment to Christ, it is now our responsibility to share life with them in a way to develops maturity of faith through a deeper study and understanding of how the Bible guides our lives. This is not an easy journey but it is a life-giving commitment that transforms us into new creations.
We pay attention to young people because we care. We are working to bring goodness into this world because we know how it feels to be estranged from God. We want to walk as Jesus did, full of grace and truth. We desire to be salt and light in a world that needs both. We passionately want others to know Jesus, who is the "image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." (Colossians 1:15)
Thank you for being quick to listen to students this week. Thank you for being slow to speak and thoughtful in your responses. Thank you for controlling your anger in ways that honor God. You are making a difference in the lives of deaf and hard of hearing students by how you love them, respect them, and share life together. AMEN


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