A quick search for the phrase “raising kids who….” results in all kinds of books, resources, and training about how to raise children in a certain way. The secret sauce (other than BBQ sauce, which always helps too) behind all these various resources is the truth that a parent, teacher, or coach can intentionally work to foster certain kinds of behaviors, attitudes, or beliefs within a child.
Let me illustrate this by giving a bad example. I’m thinking about writing a book called “Raising Kids Who Can Juggle.” Page one will say, “Hope your kids have innate skill…. otherwise you’re wasting your time. Not that juggling really matters.” Page two would say, “Find some swords, sharpen them up, have your child throw them in the air, and see what happens!” Pages three through two hundred and twenty would have the heading “NOTES”, and then have blank space for writing. The author biographical information on the back cover would reveal that I myself can’t juggle. I’m sure I could make thousands…fives of dollars with that book.
What’s wrong with that book? A whole lot of things, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s narrow it down to four important principles:
- You need to believe that it’s important. This seems obvious, but you need to show that it’s relevant and that it matters first before you do anything else.
- You need to believe people can learn and grow in this area, regardless of ability level.
- You don’t start with an advanced step (much less one that’s extremely unsafe like juggling swords). You want to develop the skill or attitude from a basic step and work your way up.
- This needs to be something you model yourself. Not that you’re perfect at it, but that you have some experience. It’s easier to follow an example than just a set of directions.
This example teaches us some principles that we can apply to other areas, like how we raise not only kids, but also adults. The idea of raising adults is similar to kids, though there’s much less literature on it. I think that’s exactly what’s needed when it comes to having adults in your ministry and congregation who are champions for your youth.
In this first part of two, we’ll go through the principles of raising up adults in this way, an example of what that looks like, and then share some practical ways that it can be done.
Principles of Raising Adults Who Champion Teens
- You need to believe that it’s important.
The first truth that you have to hold on to is that raising adults who champion teens is actually important. Vital, in fact. Young people need adults who are rooting for them, cheering them on, and helping to activate them in service and ministry. I think back on the people in my teenage years that had the biggest impact on me and a common theme for all those influential adults is that they believed in me and they let me know that. I’m sure the same is true for you too. There’s a reason why having supportive adults is one of the Seven Practices of Healthy Youth Ministry- they’re essential.
- You need to believe that adults can learn and grow in this area, regardless of ability.
Once we understand that this is important, how do we find the right people? This is where it’s important to recognize that we’re talking about “raising” adults, not just finding people who are already good at this. This is crucial, because if it’s just something you either have or don’t have, you will be very limited in who will be championing the young people in your congregation, if anyone is doing it at all.
This is something that everyone can learn, developing the gifts that God has given them. Whether you’re an “up front” person or “behind the scenes”, there are ways that any adult can learn to be a champion for teens. An official title is not needed either, and in fact sometimes it’s better that way. People expect the “youth leader” to champion the youth, but when other members who don’t have official positions begin to act in the same way, the youth leader’s voice and influence is multiplied.
- You don’t start with an advanced step. You want to develop the skill or attitude from a basic step and work your way up.
Don’t throw someone into the role of “youth board chairperson” without first letting them get to know the youth and the ministry that you’re doing with them. Note that I said ministry “with” youth, not ministry “to” youth. Therein lies a crucial distinction. If you’re going to champion youth, you need to see them as partners in ministry rather than recipients of it. That’s an example of a basic step, or attitude change, that works someone towards being a champion of youth- that they advocate for ministry with youth, not just to them.
- This needs to be something you model yourself. Not that you’re perfect at it, but that you have some experience.
It’s easier to follow an example than just a set of directions. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Don’t just raise others to champion youth, do it yourself. Identify others who are good at one aspect or another of being a champion for youth and lift them up as an example too.
Read more about practical tips for creating champions for youth in your congregation in part two.