Teenagers naturally have selective hearing and understanding. They may walk in the obedience their parents call them to, but many haven’t chosen to love that standard, yet.
It’s frustrating, really. They don’t yet know how to anticipate danger, so you do the Deuteronomy 6 thing with them and teach them diligently in the anticipation they will surrender their hearts, desires, and actions to the Lord in order to see that indeed their very lives are at danger every day because of the amount of ideas dive-bombing them, just waiting to turn into a belief.
There is most certainly not a one-size-fits-all way to parent a child or teen (outside of disciplining and instructing in the Lord, Ephesians 6:4). Some instantly follow their parents’ lead—some, likely within the same family, don’t.
Take heart! This is why God redeemed a people from Egypt and not just a family. This is why he established a church and not just a household. This is why we are also to diligently put them in front of others who teach them intentionally.
Which, that is sometimes the ticket.
Your children will often hear the exact same words you have said every day for a year from someone else just one time, and that’s when their brain explodes with understanding. You then try practicing gratitude they came to truth at all, while fairly hacked they didn’t let you lead them there in the first place!
But there’s another way to instill truth in your teenager, and it’s through their own recognition and experience.
What I’m talking about is the Titus 2:1–8 model in Scripture. Older men and women are to teach what is good to those who are younger: be sober-minded, self-controlled, and a model of good works.
Yes, teenagers are younger, so we are to teach and model for them. However, they are older than the children who come after them.
And they are church members, too.
They have gifts the church needs, and these should be exercised for the sake of the growth of their faith. They are, afterall, the future church leaders.
It’s easy to put teenagers with the little ones on Sundays in classrooms so that parents can listen to the sermon with undivided attention. And there is certainly an occasion for that—but why not extend that role into something more? Psalm 78:4 says to “tell the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord”—that is generally applied from parents to children, but what if we broaden that?
Your teen has the ability to teach someone younger than them because children are naturally influenced by those in the life stage ahead of them. When thinking of that influence coming from the world, it’s easy to be frightened. When that influence comes from within the church, it’s easy to be excited!
And when teens disciple and lead the younger ones, they, in turn, are held accountable.
My favorite age group to work with is teenagers, and the Lord has put a mess of them in my life over the years and seasons—my capacity now is teaching high school English and debate and working with the youth at church.
So, I can lecture my English class on literary criticism and point out all the connections in the novel—or I can teach them how to interpret the weather, colors, and characters’ names in the text in order for them to arrive at their own conclusion. Once we get to that level, they always take off with their interpretations of other novels, essays, movies, advertisements, etc…
By teenagers discipling younger children, they are taking on a type of responsibility over their own faith—such as walking in obedience like Deuteronomy 6 says—because now they have personal agency in it. There is a little one who is watching, copying, adoring—it turns into a type of accountability for the teenager. And it works. I’ve seen it with my own daughters.
And it all comes full circle because a truth that I spoke to my daughters that once fell on deaf ears becomes clear and even cool when they hear it from and see it in “their teenagers.”
Hebrews uses us a lot. Let us strive to enter rest (4:11). Let us hold fast (4:14). Let us draw near (4:16; 10:22). Let us consider stirring one another up (10:24). Let us run with endurance (12:1). Let us be grateful (12:28).
It’s easy to isolate these as “things for the adults in church to do”—but again, teenagers and children are church members, too. They are a part of the us.
If you have a teenager, pair them up with a family who has younger children. Let them sit with the younger ones during church, watching as your teen worships. Have them go to their little soccer games or help with a birthday party.
If you have younger children, reach out to the teenagers in your church. Let them babysit, have them over for dinner, attend their sporting events, or even financially help them pay for youth camp.
Getting involved in each other’s lives in simple, organic ways is certainly powerful. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25 ESV).
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