Do you feel inadequate to help the teens in your life? Maybe you think you need a crash course in emojis as well as an active Snapchat presence before you can influence them for good.
You Aren’t Adequate to Help Teens
Maybe you’ve never gotten too close to teens because you’ve been afraid you wouldn’t know how to answer their questions or deal with their needs. Or maybe you’ve barraged them with Bible verses, but woken the next morning wondering, Did I really help them? Were my comments even relevant? Or did I just heave a heavy burden on their back?
In one sense it’s not a bad place to be, realizing you have nothing to offer unless God works in their lives. Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” You and I will always be insufficient this side of heaven.
But today, I hope to point you in the direction you need to head in order to be able to help teens with anything and everything. I'm not saying there's no room for a varied education—I love to learn!—but if I could advise you, I'd tell you to learn one subject inside and out. I'd encourage you to learn to apply it from every angle to any person's life situation.
The Gospel Is Adequate to Help Teens
Are you ready? It’s the gospel that your teen needs. Yes, for salvation (Rom. 1:16), but also for life. He or she needs you to help them see how Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection has everything to do with their Friday nights and Monday mornings . . . and everything in-between.
How do I know this? Because Scripture says so. Check out Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:1–2:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
Did you catch that? These people received the gospel by faith (in the past), they’re standing firmly in it (in the present), and they’re being saved by it (in the present and in the future).
What is this gospel which is saving them? Paul continues:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (vv. 3–4).
Why It’s So Tough to Apply the Gospel
"But Paula," you protest, "if everything my teen needs (and everything I need) is found in the gospel, then why is it so tough to make that connection and to apply it to everyday situations?"
I think it's because we don’t fully grasp the gospel’s significance and outcomes for our own lives. Also, it's easier to deal on the moral, what-I-can-see-with-my-eyes level. Connecting the dots to how teens need the gospel means we must want more than just outward conformity.
I wonder . . . do we? Do we really want their hearts to be captured by God, or are we just after outward conformity to rules that make us feel comfortable when they’re abided by?
If you want the former (and oh, how I hope you do!), you have to get to the heart behind why they're doing what they're doing. The bad news is this will take longer. It's not as easy as just saying, "Stop it!" or "Fix it!" You have to dig deeper to root motives.
But the good news is when you apply the gospel to heart issues, it has the potential to bring about real, lasting change from the inside out.
So how can you begin?
4 Practical Ways to Get Started
Here are four tips for you as you seek to apply the gospel to teens’ lives (or anyone, for that matter).
- Meditate on gospel truths. Familiarize and re-familiarize yourself with the gospel. Think about it. Pray prayers based on it. Read books about it. Memorize verses about it. Talk about it with Christians and non-Christians. Pray that God would restore your wonder in what He has done for you through Christ. Breathe it. Live it. Talk it. Sleep on it. Don’t get over it.
- Interact with teens. Approach them in church and show interest in their lives. Go see the play they’re acting in. Invite them to go shopping with you. Or come over to color with you (yes, coloring is fun for big people, too!). Love the teens around you; don’t just try to change them. Get to know them. Listen well to them. Enjoy them. (Click here for ten practical ways to push past social anxiety.)
- Pray. Rather than focusing on the fact that you don’t feel relevant, pray for the teens around you. Pray that God would help you see them as He sees them. Pray that He would fill you with love for them. Pray that they will "get" gospel truths and implications. Ask God to do what only He can do and give them full, abundant life in Christ.
- Apply the gospel to their life situation. If your teen still has a glazed-over look, it's possible you didn't explain it clearly, or it's possible their heart is hardened and their eyes are blinded to the good news. But know that the fault never lies with the gospel itself. It is, and continues to be, as Romans 1:16 says, "the power of God for salvation."
With that said, let’s practice applying the gospel to a teen’s struggle now:
You’re caught off guard when the pastor’s daughter confesses to you that she regularly watches porn. She serves in leadership in the youth group, and you've been close to her and her family for years. How do you respond in a gospel-infused way?
First, recognize that it took enormous courage for her to tell you. Here's a comment from an actual teen on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com. Listen to how difficult it is for her to talk to women at church about her struggles:
For a fleeting month I thought I was homosexual or bi. . . . To answer your question, do we feel safe talking about it with other believers? Heck no! . . . I think if I told anyone what I felt like that they would freak out. Just like I don't feel safe telling anyone I struggle with self-sex. I have told people I cut and was bulimic but the weird sexual sins, no way would I ever tell someone at my church.
This girl isn't the only one who feels like that. You might even feel like you can't share your sin struggles with others in the church. That's a problem we want to avoid in our churches, as we're told to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other, that we might be healed (James 5:16).
Don’t Freak Out; Help Apply the Gospel
Besides, why are certain sins “unmentionable”? This should not be. No sin, except ultimately rejecting Christ, is too great for God to forgive, as His Son paid the full penalty for the sins of all who would put their trust in Him.
You and I need to help the church become a safe environment to confess our sin struggles to each other so we can all get the prayer and help we desperately need. And what safer place than the Church, where we know we're accepted in Christ and where we can fight against our sin and do the hard work of repentance together? How much easier that makes it to admit how flawed we actually are!
So a good place to start is in affirming your teen friend. Tell her you admire her transparency and want to model it, too. Then apply the gospel to her particular situation. Here’s a super-powerful, simple summary from Pastor Tim Keller:
We are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope at the very same time.
Consider meeting with this teen regularly to study gospel truths and pray together.
Because I'm convinced everything your teen needs is found in the gospel. Everything your teen needs, everything you need, and everything every single person on this planet needs.
Don't worry if you don't have a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling or if you you're not up on the latest fashions. You have everything you need to help teens . . . in the gospel.