The urgent need for any child, regardless of age, gender, socio-economic family status or culture is the need is to be nurtured and loved. Their identity and path in life will be deeply rooted by how they were taught love and how they were loved by others. There are many effective ways to engage youth with the gospel but the action that reigns most supreme should always be offering the love of Christ. Often young kids eagerly receive love, but teens are more bound by walls that have been constructed from stress, emotional instability, rejection and trauma.
To share the love of Jesus, we must “get on their level.” A few years ago, at an Equip Conference in Orlando, a workshop emphasized that the most important thing you can do for a child is reach them where they are. Get to know the child and be present in what they are doing. Draw a picture with them, listen to their favorite music or participate in the game that they are playing. Ask them questions about the task at hand and be intentional about learning their name and their story. They may not indulge you at the beginning but keep trying. Keep showing them that you care about them and that you are interested despite their age, current home situation or their behavior. With time they will begin to open more and see the reflection of Christ in you. This is reminiscent of Francis of Assisi’s profound words, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” Begin with love and all other things will flow from it. As a Christian this can open a door between you and your youth where the gospel will willingly share the same space.
Once youth can see past your adult exterior there will be a new realm of acceptance and eager listening. This will allow what you teach and preach to be enthusiastically absorbed into the heart of the young person. Be ready to share openly and honestly with the child and answer hard questions about Christianity, life, death and current hot topics.
To effectively engage youth with the gospel we must participate in their lives. It is appropriate, with parent or guardian’s permission, to attend school events, music recitals and sports. (Admittedly, right now this is a challenge for most of us as we navigate through social distancing.) What better way to evangelize and minister to children than to actively reflect Christ in all aspects of their lives? Perhaps in turn this will also speak volumes to the family or caregiver and could offer an opportunity to evangelize to them as well. Though it may seem elementary, compassion, kindness, prayers, home visits, greeting cards and a help through hard times really will speak volumes to who Christ is.
As a soldier, officer or youth coordinator it is important to make an investment in a child’s future that will resonate with them for years to come. As many people say, “We may not see the fruits of our labor now, but future spouses, children, grandchildren and the like will.” It is imperative that we are willing to go on a hard journey with a child from our corps. The importance of answering their questions, showing them Scripture, and teaching them how to pray is essential for their formation as Christian men and women.
This honestly takes intentional time utilizing what some like to call the Pillars of the Church. Prayer, worship, Bible Study and mission must be taught and offered to the youth. This does not need to happen with big lights, huge conferences and perfect resources from a major publishing company. All you need is a Bible, some color pencils, a journal, worship music and intentional quality time. Dig deep into the Word, allow space for them to read Scripture. Teach them how to use commentaries and word studies. Allow them to write prayers in their Bible and underline Scripture. Give them space to create art in all forms reflecting what they have learned from the passage. All the while, play worship music that reflects their genre, style and taste. This will open a whole new world for them. Keep it simple: use the Word. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead and direct you through this sacred time with the youth.
Effectively engaging youth with the gospel means that we must ignite youth for mission. They must have hands-on experiences of spreading the gospel through mission, canteen ministry and perhaps assisting in Sunday school or Jr. Soldiers frequently. Most youth are hands-on, and they love to experience what they are passionate about. Most are taught these days to USE their voice, OWN their voice and SHARE their passions through social media and other platforms. If their love for Christ runs deep and they have been engaged in prayer, worship, Bible study and mission then they will use whatever means necessary to get the Message into the world.
While lights and fancy resources which coordinate with the perfect theme, games and music are wonderful and can work in the appropriate setting. However, the lasting effects will come from loving a child unconditionally, nurturing their needs, showing compassion, participating in their lives and investing in their future. It is about intentionally seeking what interests the youth and using that to your advantage to teach the gospel. Be in prayer, worship the Lord, be sure that you, yourself, are deep in Scripture. Use God’s mission to your full capacity in order to reach youth and teach them do to the same authentically. As Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start off children in the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.”