Getting Comfortable Talking to Youth

7 06 2011

After years in youth ministry I can easily take it for granted that youth are no more difficult to talk to than anyone else. Yet, if you ask a good number of the folks in our churches to attempt to strike up a conversation, you might well see a look of great fear in their eyes.

This may be in part due to a fear that the world of teens is harsh and challenging terrain to traverse, but I believe that we can boil this all down to how we understand what we are attempting to do. It is true that as an adult we never really can enter again into our own teenage years, nor can we expect to fully understand with an inside view what it is like to be a teenage today, but I would argue that talking to and connecting with youth does not require such an impossible feat.

It is nerve wracking enough to simply talk to someone you have not meet before (except for those of you blessed folks who truly have never meet a stranger), but when we view people as something other than ourselves we heap an additional challenge to our communication that I do not believe to be necessary.

I was complimented recently by a group of youth who noted that when I talk with them I talk to them like people. Is it really that simple? This did not strike me as all that novel, but their point was that this stood out as anything but the norm in how adults talk to and deal with them. They more often are used to being talked at that talked to. They know what it means to be talked down to. What they do not always experience it talking with an adult who, while not attempting to be one of them as a teenagers, does demonstrate that he/she is one of them as a person living in their town and interacting with as much commonality as is legitimately to be expected.

Naturally as the adult in the conversation, one much make sure to make only age appropriate comments and recognize where similarity ends and distinction begins, but this can and ought to be done while remaining focused on talking to youth as though they are people.

I believe that our Lord took a similar approach when he instructed His disciples to not hinder children from approaching Him (Matthew 19:14). Though there are many examples of Christ like living that are out of reach simply due to our being human and not divine, this is a simple approach that can help connect our young people to the church and us as well.

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