This article is part of the Open Letters series.
First of all, thank you. Thank you for your commitment to shepherd the people of God, for all the hard work, the long days and nights you spend studying, preparing sermons, and caring for your congregation.
As teenagers, we need the church. Specifically, we need the local church. The relationships, the preaching, the teaching, and the admonition of our specific church body are as vital to us as to every other believer.
I know sometimes we seem like a challenging age group, but we’re Christ followers, just like you. We have many of the same struggles as you—along with some that are unique. Here are a few things the teens in your church need you to know:
We Think about the Hard Stuff
The teen years are when you come to grips with what you believe, when you wrestle with doubt and deep questioning about yourself, the world, and the God who made it all.
The simple answers that were enough for us at a younger age aren’t enough now. We need solid theology and sound doctrine, the kind of teaching that acknowledges real difficulties and gives biblical answers to them. We need an apologetic that engages both the heart and the mind. And we need to know that asking these questions is not just okay, but necessary to the formation of a deeper faith.
We Need a Biblical Vision of Sexuality
In today’s culture, one of those questions—maybe the biggest—is the question of sexuality. Too often, the only answer given is, “Don’t have sex before marriage.” While it’s true, when taken by itself that exhortation can either be twisted into legalism or just ignored.
We need not just a negative, but a positive exhortation. Teach us the beauty of God’s design for our sexuality. Explain how marriage displays the relationship between Christ and the church. And teach us to live for Christ and honor him—whether married or single.
Acknowledge the brokenness, too. Chances are, many teens in your church struggle with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, or carry the scars of past trauma. With compassion and grace, share the hope that Christ offers.
We Struggle with Mental Health
The statistics are overwhelming, and the stories are heartbreaking. But too often we act like mental illness and mental disorders are something “out there.” Like that could never happen to us. Like somehow Christians are immune.
Sadly, that’s not true. Most likely your church includes many teens (and adults!) who struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, PTSD, OCD, eating disorders, or any number of other invisible burdens. And these struggles come with a lot of shame.
Too often, the church is silent about these issues, and that just adds to the shame. Please, don’t be silent. Research it if you need to. Listen. Try to understand. These illnesses and disorders have both a spiritual and a physical side—prayer and the word are essential, but they won’t make clinical depression go away. We need to be admonished about sin, but we also desperately need to be reminded that God is with us, even when our own minds are spinning out of control. We need the reminder that this is not how it’s supposed to be, and one day our brains will be made new, along with the rest of us.
The world offers its own hope to sufferers from mental illness, but it’s often hollow. Give us the true hope found in God’s word.
We Need the Body
Today’s technology both enables and encourages us to create our own world and then live in it. To interact only with people our own age who use the same slang, listen to the same kind of music, and think the same way that we do.
Church is where this tendency is challenged. Church is where all kinds of people come together—people who may have nothing in common but the gospel. As teens, when we come to church we learn to live in community with those who are nothing like us, to learn from them and love them in Christ.
That’s why it’s important that we’re not constantly shuffled off to be only with people our own age. Youth groups have an important role, but that shouldn’t be the only way teens ever interact with the church. We need to be part of the whole church body, living and learning in vital community with the “mothers and fathers” as well as the younger “brothers and sisters” (1 Timothy 5:1–2).
You may not realize it, but we love being included with the adult activities. Instead of doing a separate teen Bible study, invite us to be part of the men’s and women’s studies. Give us opportunities to serve the church under or alongside adults (beyond just being free labor for yard work or nursery duty!). The relationships we form and the lessons we learn from being an active part of the larger church body will last a long time.
Give us the same truth that’s been taught for generations, the beautifully simple, wonderfully complex truth that’s changed the world.
We Need the Word
Please don’t feel like you need to entertain us all the time. Sure, we enjoy the games and the pizza, but that’s not why we come. We come for the important stuff. We come to hear the truth.
Being a teenager today is hard. We’re pushing back against the myriad temptations of both our own flesh and a world that nags at us 24/7 through our screens. We need to hear the gospel again and again. We need to be reminded of God’s unchanging commandments as well as his unwavering lovingkindness. We need to be taught that we don’t have to earn God’s favor, but that the unbought grace of the gospel enables us to obey our Father.
Teach us the word. You don’t have to make it easier or more appealing for us. Give us the same truth that’s been taught for generations, the beautifully simple, wonderfully complex truth that’s changed the world. Encourage and equip us to study it for ourselves. Exhort us to memorize and meditate on it. We need God’s word.
We Are Listening
I know it’s discouraging when you look out at the congregation, or the conglomeration of teens in your youth group, and see that group in the back goofing off, those kids in the middle falling asleep, the ones in the front on their phones. We’re not perfect. We don’t always do this church thing right.
But this is where we learn. This is where we grow.
Even when it doesn’t look like it, we’re listening. We hear the word you faithfully preach and teach week in and week out. You may not be able to tell, but it’s making an impression. Even in the hearts that seem hard or careless, it’s putting down roots; and one day, that seed may sprout and bear fruit.
Until then, keep teaching. We’re listening. And you have no idea what kind of impact your faithfulness might have on these hearts and minds.
Your sister in Christ,