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Talking with Teens
by Scott Ward

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Teenagers are in a unique position in their identity formation and spiritual development. They are no longer attached to their parents in the way they were as children and it’s important to recognize and acknowledge this independence by visiting them in their own world – which for most teens is on campus – at school.
During the teenage years a child spends far more waking hours at school than at home – it is the environment they identify the most closely with, in most cases, and the place where they are faced with the most decisions regarding who they are becoming as a person – especially whether or not they will embrace and actually put into practice the things they are learning in church. If teens don’t learn how to “live” their faith at school – they may never learn how to live it at work as adults or anywhere else in their future lives either. Here are a few suggestions for making successful pastoral visits with teens at school:
  1. Start out by getting to know their names when you see them at church. Everyone wants to be known and teenagers are especially insecure as they are trying to figure out who they are. Showing a desire to know them is a great affirmation that church is a friendly place and you are also modeling the fact that God is interested in them as well.
  1. Let them know that you trust them by asking them to read scripture or make the offering appeal. Try to find out their interests and let them know you would love to have them be full participants in the life of the church.
  1. Now that you know their names and have shown a desire to have them involved in the life of the church the next step in discipling them is to enter their world. Having lunch with teens is a powerful first step into their world – this is teen visitation – meeting them on their turf. Here are the basic steps for setting up the visit:
    1. Check with their parents first and let them know that you are planning to have lunch with their child. Have the parents call ahead and let the school office know that you will be stopping by. Sometimes it is easier to pick the student up and take them out to fast food for your first lunch-time visit together and then when you drop them off back at school stop in at the school office to see what is required to meet students and their friends on-campus for lunch. This is especially important if the student attends a public school. In fact it would be a good idea to stop by the public high school office to see what all is involved in visiting students on campus before you plan to meet. When you do meet for lunch on campus, pizza is easy to take and always a hit!
  1. Once you have decided to have lunch on or off campus make sure you have the right people present. You never want to take a student off campus by yourself. Always take your spouse or another youth leader with you. If you are meeting on campus make sure the student knows that they can bring a friend or two – for teens having a friend along adds a lot of security and more comfort to your time together.
  1. Be prepared for the conversation by having some topics in mind to discuss. I like to start out my first visit by asking the student what it is like to be a Christian in a public school or for an academy student if it is considered acceptable to be open about your faith and love for God. In public schools teens tend to be either on fire for Jesus or completely struggling with the temptation to engage the party scene – and in most academies the struggle is very laodicean in nature – it’s often considered very un-cool to be serious about your faith in academy. No matter what the situation, always be encouraging and take prayer requests and pray together before you leave.
The bottom line for teen visitation is to show that you care just by showing up in the middle of their lives and by trying to help them to apply their faith to the real world in which they live. This is especially true for the 70% of Adventist teens that attend public high schools and are therefore not benefiting from the spiritual nurture and care offered by our academies.
After meeting students at school your sermons will tend to become more practical and real and the students will tend to listen more because they know that you are more familiar with their struggles and that you care about them and their journey of faith.
For more tips and resources on public high school and academy campus ministry visit: www.livingiths.org
Scott Ward is the Youth Pastor for the Lodi English Oaks Church in Northern California, and the Public High School Ministries Coordinator for the North American Division