By Aileen Lawrimore
“Be who you needed when you were younger.” This meme, trending in social media, offers a great reminder to those of us who may have forgotten the struggles of our younger years; it’s also a great suggestion for how to minister across generations.
In the community and in church, I hear so many negative comments about kids, teens and young adults. “They require technology to have fun.” “They won’t commit.” “They lack direction.” But really, we’ve all been there, haven’t we?
When I was in elementary school in the ’70s, a certain doll was all the rage. My sister and I each got one for Christmas; she got Crissy, the brunette, and I got Velvet, the blonde. Crissy and Velvet had these magic belly buttons that you pushed to grow their hair; to make it short again, you turned a knob on their backs. With this new-fangled 20th century technology, and their fashionable outfits, they were magnificent! Today the latest technology is certainly advanced from Crissy and Velvet — and even Teddy Ruxpin, for that matter — but kids are very much the same. They are attracted to the newest (and most effectively marketed) toys, just like you and I were.
What I needed as a child was someone who was interested in the things that thrilled me, someone who took the time to get to know and understand me. (Oh, how I loved explaining Velvet’s fancy features to befuddled adults!) Today’s children need that too. Sure, their toys baffle us, but so what? The more confused we are, the more delighted the kids will be to enlighten us.
As a teenager, I was often flummoxed by relationships, high school struggles and post-graduation options. By grace, loving adults invested in my life. They asked questions, listened to my answers and sometimes offered advice. Teens from this decade — just like teens from every other time — may not realize how much they long for your company. But think back. You remember how you felt when an adult (other than your profoundly stupid parents) took an interest in you, right? Today’s kids need to be valued and appreciated just as much as you did.
Then there’s our college and young adult years, heaven help us. Are you proud of every choice you made during your 20s? Yeah, me neither. The good news is our college choices weren’t tweeted out to the world as a permanent digital record of adolescent angst. The better news is it’s really quite easy to find out what today’s young people are doing. Not too long ago, I was talking to a teenage friend and mentioned some picture I’d seen of him. He was shocked and accused me, hands on hips, “You’ve been stalking me, haven’t you?” Equally surprised that he hadn’t realized how accessible his antics were, I responded, “Um, yeah. Daily.” Then I talked to him about choices, direction, plans for the future. I needed that kind of intervention when I was his age; I needed real adult guidance. By that time, my parents had grown out of most of the pathetic dorkiness they’d suffered from during my teens, but I still needed other mentors. Young adults today do too.
And when it comes to the church, to ministry, “Be the person you needed when you were younger” has even greater import. Think back. Did you need someone to give you a “Get out of Hell free card,” or did you need someone to tell you about the depth of God’s love? Did you need people to give you all the answers, or did you really just need a safe place to ask the questions? Did you only need friends your age who were struggling with the same issues of faith as you? Or did you value the companionship of those whose faith had sustained them through a lifetime of trials?
If we are the Body of Christ, it really isn’t enough for campus ministers, youth directors and children’s Sunday school leaders to reach out to specific age groups. It’s not enough because to be the Body, we need the tendons of relationship to connect young muscle to wise bones. Thus strengthened, the Body of Christ becomes better equipped to build the Kingdom of God. And that — that is church.