Youth ministry has a more challenging job than ever these days, catering to the needs and the wants of their youth group members. One youth ministry job is answering critical questions: How much of youth group should be devoted to fun Christian youth group games? Conversely: How much of youth group should be devoted to serious issues and the Bible?
Some youth groups devote themselves almost entirely to Christian games for teens and tweeners, believing that these age groups won’t attend youth group that is too serious. Others try to skip the Christian youth group games altogether, understanding that teens face more temptations and peer pressure than any other age groups. They sense that only serious study can provide students the tools to “be not conformed to this world.”
Both schools of thought offer plusses and minuses.
Youth ministries that rely on fun–on a major compilation of Christian youth group game–will fall in line with many of today’s teens’ needs. Over the past 40 years, schools have slowly extended their days to now include before-care and after-care for young children, and before-activities and after-activities for tweeners and teens. By the time many older kids get home from their daily dose of institutionalization, they have often been there for nearly twelve hours. Even while they’re not engaged in classes or homework, the tone and the atmosphere of such is very much present.
Tweeners and teens often arrive home at night to a couple more hours of homework, and then they’re mentally exhausted. Should Christian leaders expect schooled kids to tax their minds any further? If we demand another night of serious study, how much will they actually absorb? Didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”?
In this context, it does sound as if games and easy play are the best things for kids. Many youth groups conform easily, giving a ten-minute “mini-sermon” at the end, almost apologetically, as if they have earned the right to talk about Jesus after tossing balls and shoveling out slices of pizza for two hours.
Other youth groups are about Bible study, and they expect teens and tweeners to seriously apply themselves. These leaders understand that today’s youth is under greater pressure to break God’s commandments and make life-altering mistakes than any youth before in the history of mankind. They understand that if Christian kids have any shot at making it through junior high and high school years without succumbing to drugs, drinking, sex, lying, cheating, and over emphasis on materialism, they need serious weekly doses of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. They feel that games of dodge ball and Christian Monopoly and serving up slices of pizza are just applying a Band-Aid to a gaping wound.
Nonetheless kids are stressed out, they are mentally overtaxed, both on academic and social fronts. Leadership that pushes too hard at learning the tools of Christianity risk losing attendance—easily.
Wise men have noted historically that often a solution is found, not by attacking a hopeless problem, but simply by looking at the problem differently. No one can deny the stress and taxation of our young adults’ minds. Yet tweeners and teens can still conquer a myriad of difficult problems daily. Just consider Facebook pages. Girls can ace three tests in a day, then come home and hash out a romance problem on Facebook for hours–with a really good friend. If a boy has just finished his SATs on a Friday and really wants to go out that night, he can often find the wisdom–and good company–to help him fix his broken-down car.
Kids don’t come home from taxing days and merely fall asleep (though high school students nap after school more frequently than they’d admit). And contrary to popular opinion, teens don’t want to vegetate endlessly in front of mindless options like video games (though they will as an alternative to being alone with nothing to do).
If Jesus is right in saying that his load is easy and his burden is light, how can we present easy-yoke material that will protect our youth from the wiles of today’s world?
First we must admit that Jesus doesn’t provide the answers: Jesus is the answer. Jesus the person, the counselor, the savior, in a kid’s heart, will be an easy burden with a light yoke. What can we do to facilitate that relationship?
We’ve already seen that kids can solve hefty problems that are interesting to them—even in their downtime hours. How can we set them to the challenges of adopting an enduring faith and a relationship with Jesus?
First we must understand that we don’t have to make Jesus an academic exercise. “Understanding” our faith and “studying” it are exercises of the Enlightenment. Nearly 250 years ago, men who were not stellar Christians decided that knowledge is the end-all to tribulation, and “reasonable” men would no longer enter into discussions over things that don’t have “scientific proofs.” While the Enlightenment has been extremely beneficial in providing some medical cures and industrial improvements, it has not been a free ride. That cost has been our intuitions and God’s revelations, which have no relevance in today’s mainstream society. Let’s not be victims of Enlightenment reason and impose that onto our teens.
Here are three things we can do that make the yoke easy and the burden light for everyone:
1) Pray for God to be at the center of youth group meetings. He wants to be. You want Him to be. Some students understand and want Him to be. With some hope and belief, it’s a done deal.
2) Use what kids love most: Each other’s company. Youth group activities can be challenging and thoughtful–if the kids love each other. After praying for God’s indwelling on your meetings, pray for the spirit of Christ’s words to unify your group: “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” If you can help cultivate a strong bond between students, it won’t matter if they’re studying or playing; they will develop a spirit of discipleship that will keep them bonded.
3) Bring up the tough issues of the day, but don’t expect to do God’s job. You can’t make kids love Him; you can’t even make kids love each other. You can only provide the fertile ground, and using what comes most compassionately through you (serious study or an easy yoke), you can look forward to the hope and glory of many success stories in your youth ministry group.
Christian youth group games can be balanced in equally with serious spiritual undertakings, so long as Jesus leads and you’ve made a serious, prayerful effort to put Him in charge of these most precious yet challenging ages.