It was like most typical Sunday mornings… I was making my way around the room before the start of the worship service, chatting with folks about their week, high-fiving and hugging and looking for opportunities to listen and encourage. I found myself seated in the row just in front of 3 girls who were giggling and carrying on in the way adolescent girls do, as I turned to ask them about their week. These girls were so positive, so energetic, and yet they were all wearing black. I discovered they did not coordinate their outfits and that was the topic of one of their conversations as they joyfully laughed about the coincidence. All three of these ladies had recently lost someone close to them, but you might not have known it from their demeanor. They referred to themselves as the black widows, for that is what they were… widows, wearing black. I was preaching in the adult service, choosing to follow the same routine that I normally do for student services when I sat with these dear elderly women.
This encounter was not so typical after all. I discovered a vital life lesson in speaking with these ladies… we all need community and love and others willing to sit with us and share their lives. A truth, I am sure, that I would have affirmed before this Sunday morning experience with the “black widows”, but one that I had not truly appreciated or understood up until that moment. Adolescents and senior adults had never had so much in common.
We are all humans, and as such we have much more in common than we might think. As we consider the best ways to communicate with our students, a very useful point to consider is… “What works for me?” or What do I appreciate when others are trying to communicate with me?” I’ve compiled a list of thoughts that inspire me when I communicate with young people. Hopefully a few of these will prove helpful to you!
- To start, we have to be real. If you are not feeling it, living it, breathing it… why are you trying to communicate it? They know!
- Listen instead of lecturing. Lecturing just doesn’t work. I find that asking questions and allowing them to answer ALWAYS improves the process.
- Try not to judge. If our students feel we are passing judgement on them or someone they care about, they won’t approach you to tell you about serious problems. Every lesson does not have to refer back to the dangers of “sex, drugs, rock n roll, abortion, and LGBTQ issues.” I believe the Bible, and I teach it… but if every week I use the same illustrations for sin, I am just being lazy and maybe showing my own bias towards the sins of others that I do not personally struggle with. We are all sinners! We do well to remember this in our communication.
- Encourage students to come up with their own solutions to problems. You can guide them, but often you need to let them work some things out for themselves.
- Don’t yell at them! A quiet word is often much more effective!
- Be positive… Jesus came to redeem us! Make your words redemptive. If you are being negative, stop! That is rarely, if ever, useful.
- Keep it short. If you need an hour to share something, you are either sharing too much information to digest or you are repeating yourself and driving everyone nuts. This is important in one on one conversations and in large crowds.
- Talk while you are doing something together (like putting away chairs or driving to activities).
- Be intentional in reaching every student, every week. I’m not saying every meeting, but try to have a conversation with every student in your care. And I am not saying you alone…. if you need more volunteers to reach everyone, recruit! Jesus had 12 disciples… I figure I can handle 8, maybe 10. So if I have 100 students, I need 10-12 leaders to share the load.
- Be honest. If you don’t want to get into details on a particular issue, don’t. Don’t force others to reveal things they do not want to share. You need enough information in a conversation to encourage them and pray for them, but you really do not want to know everything.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
- Use the resources you have available… leave a short video on Marco Polo or send a photo on Instagram (something they will find funny or thoughtful)… and use these tools to encourage them in their faith. Again, be creative but don’t overdo it and become creepy about it.
- Mix things up! Try new things… incorporate interviews with students, leaders, parents… throw candy… set-up in the back of the room and have everyone turn their chair… keep them guessing. But never let them wonder if you care… show them and tell them and you will make a greater impact!