This was it! Our first night of Magnify (a weekly outreach discussion group) was about to begin. I was still hesitant about the time strain of this weekly commitment (as I wrote in part 1), but I was praying that through intent listening God would show me new things about youth, and boy did He!
I was intrigued with the group that showed up those first few times. One young man described himself as agnostic and was raised with one Catholic parent and one Buddhist parent. There was a young lady who wore both a crucifix and a female Hindu goddess on her necklaces. She felt like people should just believe whatever they feel is right for them. There was also a young man who grew up in a strong Christian home. When he told his family of his desire to engage in same sex relationships, he felt hurt and rejection and was currently seeking other beliefs. One young man said he believes in a god , but for all he knew “god could be a squirrel that just got hit by a car.” Right before my eyes was “Starbucks spirituality” (referenced in the book “Venti Jesus Please” available in the Dare 2 Share store) in the flesh.
Three things astounded me about these nights. The first was the sense of community that so quickly built in the group. Despite many differences among us, the openness, trust and mutual respect grew strong in this group in a couple of weeks. Those who at first just seemed to be there for the free treat began buying their own food before I even arrived. This generation really is hungrier for spiritual meaning and real community than free food or games.
The second big surprise was the education I received from these nights. Within a few nights of deeply listening, I gained a bigger heart of compassion for those engaged in same sex attraction as I heard the deep hurt they’d experienced. Beyond that issue, I understood the complications this generation faces better than I ever have through any book, seminar, or conference. As the discussion volleyed around, I could see how much information they have to sift through and assimilate to their worldview. Through listening, I learned so much about the challenges in the lives of teenagers.
The third thing that astounded me was how the Christian teens rose to the challenge. It was beautiful to see one young man confidentially and authentically tell how much God had helped him through some rough times in his life and how much he loved Jesus. The regular Christian teens that came to Magnify stood up for their faith in a loving and non-confrontational way… and really listened to everyone. I mean, they REALLY listened. Before the day, they were even adamant about consistently asking and reminding their non-believing friends to come! Now this was discipleship and youth ministry at its best!
I am struck by the fact that too much of my youth ministry and evangelism is talking, and not nearly enough is listening, and that I was severely limiting my impact as a result. Too often our words just bounce off the wall in people’s hearts, because we’ve never taken the time to hear how the wall was built, what it’s made of, and why it stands. I challenge you this week to keep track of the amount of time you spend really listening to students. Only through listening can you really know this youngest generation. And then while knowing them, you can influence them to reach others with the Gospel of Jesus!
How does that amount of time you spend listening compare with the time you are downloading information? What creative ideas are you using in your ministry to really listen and understand this generation?