Have you ever been at a point in your life when you just needed a win? Relationships were crumbling, work was not going well, the budget was nowhere close to where it needed to be, or health was failing and you desperately wanted something to go right. Dramatic situations can cause this kind of a feeling, but so can a lot of small problems that pile up on us. I think this is one of the reasons that we are so drawn to rooting for the local sports team. If I cheer for a team and they win, I get to share in that celebration even if I had no impact on the outcome of the game at all, plus it’s one of the few times that wearing face paint is socially acceptable. It gives me a reason to celebrate and gains extra meaning when there is very little else to celebrate about.
I would submit for consideration today that so many young people find themselves in this boat. Grades and homework are a struggle, they can’t seem to have a civil conversation with their parents, their playing time on the team is diminishing, a relationship that they want to grow isn’t, not enough people are rushing to comment on their social media post, they don’t think they look good in their clothes, and they don’t get nearly enough sleep each night. Put these all together in a blender, shake well, and serve in a glass with a straw that isn’t quite big enough for the cup. One gulp of that is enough to cause even the most secure adult to feel a sudden need for attention, affirmation and ice cream. The sad truth is that many youth today are drinking this sickening blend of heartache (which is also half-price during Unhappy Hour from 3-5 pm) daily and are desperately in need of a win. I believe that the church is perfectly positioned to provide just that.
Pile all of these stressors onto an individual who is still developing and figuring out how to even identify an emotion (am I sad, confused, forgetting something, or should I just not have eaten that whole pack of Oreos), much less trying to manage it, and you get a cry for help. How can we as the church help young people navigate these rough waters? It starts with recognizing that the “win” that they are looking for isn’t found in sports victories, compliments, or participation trophies. None of these things are inherently bad, however they are not the best we have to offer. In fact, it would be really fun to douse a student leader with a tub of Gatorade when their team wins the youth group trivia game, but we should regularly seek to authentically compliment our youth, and designing bronze participation trophies featuring someone raising their hand and then handing them out to those who contribute to a Bible study discussion isn’t the worst idea I’ve heard all day. As fun as having youth constantly high-fiving each other with the little trophy hands would be, none of these “wins” really last nor do they represent something that the church exclusively offers.We have a message no one can match, a win that can’t be topped... Click To Tweet
We have a message that no one else can match, a win that can’t be topped, and that is what we need to be sharing every time we can. Our God seeks us in our mess, finds us in our mistakes, and carries us through the rough waters. Someone is upset because they didn’t make the team. We can share that God has not only chosen them on His team but has adopted them into His family. Another youth is wondering if they have anything to contribute. We tell them that God has given them gifts and talents that He will work through to impact people eternally! Others are worried about their value, and we get to proclaim the love of Christ to them and the infinite value that He gives them. Weighed down by the shame and guilt that accompanies sin? As God’s people, we share the story of the redemption and freedom that He won for us on the cross.
Some youth will let us as youth workers know what’s going on, but the majority probably won’t. That doesn’t mean they’re not struggling. So every time we gather together, we have to make sure we give them a win, not found in the external or temporary, but in Christ’s forever victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil. That’s the win that covers over all our losses and calls us to the abundant life that only Jesus offers. This win calls youth to replace their blended drink of stress and sorrow with the invitation to take and drink Christ’s very blood shed for us for the forgiveness of all of our sins. This win invites us to get through the rough waters of life by holding onto the God who walks on water and who marked us as His own in the waters of baptism.
All of our programming will not be categorized as a win. There will be times where our personal interactions with the youth, games we play, and discussions we facilitate simply fall flat. We cannot depend on our planning and activities to give youth the win that they’re looking for, nor should we. But if we always point to the cross and give the youth Jesus, hopefully that will cause them to walk away thinking, “This is just what I needed.” All of us, young people included, are in need of not just a temporary win to help distract us from everything else that is going on in our lives. We need something that will last, and it is only found in Jesus: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). That’s what the church alone has to offer, and at the end of the day, Christ is all the youth really need.