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Building A Bridge of Relationship with Teens

By Carey Huffman

God’s Word is absolutely relevant to the lives of teenagers. Their perceptions, however, have everything to do with how we deliver the truth. The enemy of our souls has successfully sold products and promises that have proven to be hollow, and ultimately destructive, for one reason—he has packaged these things attractively.

Surely when the product is the love and life of Jesus Christ, the package is of infinite importance. For this reason, exciting programs and creative communication are definitely fitting. And yet, the most essential package of gospel truth is something far more valuable and effective—a person. God demonstrated his love toward us through His son Jesus. When God’s Word is presented to your class—you are the package. In a society where change is constant, relationships give stability. As the heart of youth ministry and discipleship, relationship must permeate all you do with students if you are to have significant influence on their lives spiritually.

More than ever, adults and teens find themselves standing on opposite sides of an entire culture gap. Many youth do not even see a need to get from where they are to where God is calling them. They do, however, want to find significance in life and they are looking for direction. If a confident and caring adult is willing to build a bridge of relationship just to get to them—they may be willing to take a look at what God has for them on the other side. As leaders and teachers, we must be the bridge builders—forging relationships with students that will pave the way to a deeper relationship with Christ.

The ultimate effect of your group on students will have much to do with their relationship to you. And while this thought may be overwhelming, remember that Jesus is the Master Bridge Builder. He will help you connect with students to whom he has called you. Here are practical tips on constructing a life-changing bridge of relationship into a teenager’s life.

  1. Trust God—He has placed you with young people your life can best influence. Through prayer, you will gain confidence in the Holy Spirit’s ability to impact student’s lives.
  2. Take Initiative—If you wait for them to meet you half way, you will probably not have many relationships with teenagers. Despite appearances, they are often more insecure about the relationship than you are. Be yourself and remember teens will be more open without their "audience" around.
  3. Step Into Their World—Don’t wait for them to keep coming to yours. Be somewhere you "don’t have to be."
  4. Express Interest In Them—Ask questions about the main areas in their life. Really listen and discover what is important to them. By showing respect for what interests them, you will eventually win the right to express your ideas and convictions about some of the bigger (sometimes questionable) issues in their life.
  5. Focus Attention On Them—Don’t be distracted when talking with a student. He or she should feel as if they are the only person around. Use their name several times in initial conversations.
  6. Affirm Them—Take every opportunity to give genuine compliments. Catch them doing something great. The "lost art" of encouragement can be sparse in a teen’s life, and they will not easily put off someone who dispenses it freely. Don’t leave kids wondering what their strengths and successes are—point these things out to them, and to others.
  7. Work with Them—Spend a few hours with a young person while getting a job done at the same time. Communicate the confidence and trust that teens desire from adults.
  8. Exemplify Servanthood—Find practical ways to assist students. Demonstrate responsibility and selflessness toward others. They will respect the fact that you do not ask anything they have not seen you do.
  9. Learn From Them—Allow yourself to be in situations where students can help you. You will win young friends by giving them the dignity of teaching you more about their interests and yours.
  10. Extend Trust—Teens want to be trusted to make decisions and take responsibility. Keep students accountable and let them know where they stand.
  11. Challenge Them—In their search for significance youth are willing to be stretched. Don’t be guilty of under-challenging students. Be patient with their progress. Respect their views and interests, but never compromise truth in an effort to keep a relationship. However, make sure that in any confrontive situation the student is cared for and not condemned.
  12. Maintain Personal Integrity—Keep your word and your commitments. Don’t break a confidence even for the sake of sharing concerns or prayer requests with others. If you cannot morally or legally keep a confidence, don’t make the promise. What you say should be what you mean—in every aspect of relationship building—from promises to compliments to your challenges from the Word.

Learning and growth are always a process of crossing bridges—both ways—Teachers going to students and coming back with them. After all, Jesus bridged the gap between God and people by coming to us—and taking us back again. There is no more compelling package for the gospel than an adult who will wrap the truth in a caring relationship.