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Connecting with Students — Keeping "Up to Speed"

By Carey Huffman

NASCAR is hot. People are into speed. Speed can be exhilarating. It can be frightening. If you’re standing alongside the road—it can leave you in the dust!

Working with youth is definitely a fast-track ministry. In recent years the pace of change has been so swift that even the most seasoned and successful youth workers are struggling to stay relevant in their approach. How much more the typical teacher of teens, who often feels out of touch with the pulse of a super-charged student environment? Going nowhere fast is not a trip teachers want to take when trying to drive home lasting change in the lives of students. But having influence means traveling regularly down the road of personal relevance.

While you may never relate totally to every student in your class, there are several ways you can get up to speed and move at a relevant pace with an ever-changing youth culture. Here is a hard and fast overview of numerous ways you can improve your style, content, and relationship with students—becoming more relevant with what you teach, how you teach, who you teach and why:

Keeping "Up to Speed" in Content—Staying Relevant in What You Teach

Regardless of its importance, young people are not likely to give the message much, if any, attention unless they can see what it has to do with their lives and concerns today.

  • Watch and Listen—What are teens seeing, hearing, doing and why? You don’t have to dig through the garbage, but be aware of what your students are into. Don’t undermine your credibility by addressing or criticizing that with which you are uninformed.
  • Read up—Do your homework. Keep up with current events, teen life, and ministry resources. You can learn a lot more than you think from other’s knowledge and experience. The investment of time will pay off big time.
  • Answer the Questions—the ones they are asking. Gain their attention by dealing with necessary issues in relation to concerns already on their mind. Tackling the tough topics kids are working through will help them understand the relevance of their faith.
  • Address Needs—Kids will not always grasp the causes of difficulty and pain, but the effects of sin in the world are very evident. Deal with choices, consequences and the spiritual cures.
  • Keep it Simple—Address real life issues and with fewer, more direct, practical points. No matter how deep you go, always tie it back to spiritual, biblical basics.
  • Focus on Jesus—Don’t ever let students forget—Christianity is about building a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Keeping "Up to Speed" in Style—Staying Relevant in How You Teach

The way you deliver the truth also has a lot to do with how teens receive it. Your methods and mannerisms can either clear the way or get in the way of the message.

  • Empathize with Change—Your students are in transition—physically, emotionally, socially—while trying to discover who they are and where they fit. Be gracious, understanding and treat them with dignity. Never put a self-conscious teen on the spot, and don’t take their moods personally.
  • Speak (understand) their Language—You don’t have to talk like your students, but know how to communicate—and how they communicate. Be yourself, but not totally out of touch with what means what.
  • Be Maturity Sensitive—(or immaturity) Kids are at relative varying levels of attitude and development. Be sensitive to boundaries and limitations of time, comprehension, and contact.
  • Maintain a Youthful spirit—Dream a little. Work, pray, and play hard, and expect the unexpected.
  • Be Fun-Loving—Teens want to enjoy their time with you, so let them. Even heavy topics are often dealt with, and received, better when you lighten up. Don’t be afraid of some spontaneity. Sharpen your sense of humor by being more observant of the absurdity all around us.
  • Be Shock-proof—Don’t appear phased by blatant issues and behavior, in or out of class, that require your objectivity.
  • Be Tolerance Tolerant—Truth is always relevant—even when not sought—but how you approach it will greatly affect their openness to it. Never compromise biblical principles, but be patient, gracious and careful not to appear unduly harsh or judgmental, or they will respond in a socially and culturally programmed manner by tuning you out.
  • Get Room Ready—Make your facility unique and attractive. Within reason, let creative and responsible students help you update the decor, making your classroom a place kids want to hang out.
  • Stay Techno-savvy—as in technology. Keep up with it. It is the language of the world in which they have grown up. They see it as a natural ally. Find ways to make use of it in class.

Keeping "Up to Speed" in Relationships—Being Relevant with Who You Teach

The best way to gain relevance with students has little to do with lesson content or program structure. It has everything to do with the messenger. Develop a relationship with teenagers and your life, as well as what you present, will be relevant to them.

  • Go to Their World—Go back to school. Break out of the comfort and security of your world and find out where they live day to day.
  • Invite Them to Yours—Let students into your life—and into your home. Entertain them in small groups. Ask them to work with you. Take them places with you. As relationship and communication increase, so will your influence.
  • Ask Them Questions—You will gain deep credibility with students if you are willing to learn from them. Let teens teach you about their interests, abilities, and the latest technology. Ask them about the "whats?" and "whys?" behind current trends, and what preoccupies their thoughts in and out of church.
  • Remember When—Recall those adults who had significant positive influence on your life as a child or teenager, and be that type of person for your students.
  • Remember Names—and other personal information. Jot notes after conversations. Keep records. Let them know that these things are important enough to you to remember as well.
  • Love and Accept Them—Unconditionally. Many do not receive it anywhere else, and they will not easily put off someone who offers it generously.
  • Open Up—It helps them to see that you are a real person in the real world. With discretion, let them know how God has been working in you to overcome the struggles of life.
  • Document Their Activities—Capture the times of their lives on film and weave them creatively into announcements, promotion, and lessons. Students will come to see themselves and will appreciate time spent recording their big moments.
  • Join the Group—Keep up with the rest of the church youth ministry. Work cooperatively with other youth leaders and make your class indispensable by using it to disciple student leadership for all aspects of the ministry.
  • Ask God—Pray for insight. He knows your students completely, and has chosen you to impact their lives. Pray for them, about them and with them. All other attempts at relevance will remain powerless without prayer.

When Jesus came to us, He chose to make Himself relevant to us in every way, as we must strive to do with our students. Most students will initially look deeper into your life than into the Word. If your approach to them appears relevant, kids will seriously consider what you present from God’s Word as relevant to their life.