Words are of more importance than we often realize. Words can wound, maybe even kill, but they can also affirm and build up. What we as youth leaders tell our teens matters. The words we use can make a difference. Here are five messages teens need to hear from us as youth leaders:
1. God loves you, no matter what.
This is the most important truth of them all and one that we should keep repeating every single time we talk to teens. No matter what you have done, no matter what you will do, God will always love you. He loves you even if you’re the biggest sinner that ever walked the face of the earth. He loves you when you’re depressed and cutting yourself, he loves you when you’re having sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend, he loves you when you’re angry all the time, he loves you whether you’re gay or straight or confused. … There is absolutely nothing you could ever do that would make God stop loving you. Let’s tell teens that and affirm them in God’s love for them again and again.
2. I love you.
It may sound too cheesy to say, but do you know how many teens are longing to hear someone say this to them? Show them you love them in spending time with them, investing in a relationship with them. But don’t forget to say the words as well. Hey man, I love you, you’re like a little brother to me, you know that? I love you girl, I’m so blessed to know you and to have you in my life. Say the words and watch them make a difference.
3. I forgive you.
Teens will mess up. At one point or another, they will make a mistake, cost you money or end up hurting you. How you react to this can have a huge impact on them. The words they need to hear are: I forgive you (possibly followed by: And I still love you!). Teens need to know that they have the room for mistakes, that messing up every now and then is OK.
I’ve been reading a book called Generation iY and the author paints a startling picture of the current generation of teens (I’ll be reviewing the book later this week). One of the things he states is that this generation is spoiled. One one hand their parents are usually overprotective and hovering, but on the other hand they are afraid to set clear boundaries, deny their kids’ requests and simply say no.
Teens need boundaries, they need rules and they need to hear you say no. As a youth leader, it’s important to remember that you are not their buddy or BFF, you are their leader. They follow you, not the other way around. That means setting boundaries and lovingly saying no when teens cross them. You may feel like you’re hurting them by saying no, but in the end it’ll be better for them … and for you.
5. Hang in there and don’t quit.
Barnabas is the best example of an encourager in the Bible. What hit me as I read about him encouraging young believers was his message to them:
“(…) strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith and saying: ‘We must go through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.’” (Acts 14:22 NKJV)
Encouraging our teens doesn’t mean telling them it’s all gonna be OK, that things will look better tomorrow or that others have it way worse. Barnabas encouraged young believers by telling them the truth: Struggles and trials are part of the life as a Christian. Just hang in there and don’t give up. And I’d like to add: and you’re not alone. Those are words teens need to hear.
Being a teen has never been easy and it sure isn’t nowadays. Teens need our support and encouragement, both in their everyday struggles and in their faith. But let’s encourage them with the truth, not with platitudes. Let’s help them to continue in their faith, to hang in there and not quit.
Can you think of other words or messages that teens need to hear? What messages are you impressing upon your teens to reaffirm them?