I saw this post by Doug Fields last month – such brilliant stuff I wanted to share it here. He gives 7 ideas for deeper conversations with teenagers, and I really connected with a lot of it. For most of us, conversations we are actively involved in is where we take ideas we’ve heard and apply them practically – truly working out our faith. We work out how to apply that principle to this situation, how that truth should affect my behaviour – all that good stuff. Once we as leaders build trust with teens, we have plenty of opportunities for conversation. There is an art, however, to shaping conversations that lead to change.
So here are Doug’s tips and my own thoughts on them!
1. Stay normal: Deep conversations often begin by talking about normal stuff. Don’t jump straight into the deep end and ask them to dress like John the Baptist and memorize the Septuagint. Every conversation doesn’t have to be forced toward depth. Good conversations begin as normal conversations.
Reading that first point made me sigh with relief. I sometimes think that the conversations I have with my kids are not “spiritual enough”. Some of our conversations are just straight up silliness, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the deeper conversations I have with kids are rarely theological in nature. We talk about what’s happening at school, or what media they’re engaging with (what music are you listening to? what TV shows are you watching) which provides a springboard to give a spiritual perspective to “real life”. It’s amazing how often a “normal” conversation about nothing veers sharply off to a deeply spiritual conversation when a kid throws out a question they’ve been thinking about.
2. Draw them closer to Jesus: Avoid the temptation to become “the wise leader” who subtlety promotes loyalty to oneself rather than Jesus.
That one stings. It’s so easy to go there, and so dangerous! I want to teach my kids to go to Jesus as the source of wisdom and comfort, but oh, how my fleshly nature wants them to want ME…
3. Allow the journey to be a journey: A common tendency in discipleship is to assume others will grow quickly. . .Slow, incremental progress is expected. Show them grace on the journey.
If you’ve ever been to a Chinese tourist attraction (or anywhere else in the world lots of Chinese tour groups go) you will have seen the ubiquitous Chinese tour group guide. They have flags and megaphones and whip their group into shape – you go where you are told, when you are told, for how long you are told. Shortly after I arrived in China I went to Henan with a group of foreigners on a weekend trip. There was a constant tension between the Chinese tour guide (who expected respect and obedience as she was the one with the schedule) and the western tourists (who felt that “the customer is always right” and wanted to decide how much time they spent doing various things).
As youth leaders there’s a temptation to be like the Chinese tour guide – we have the information and they need to move according to our schedule. But our teens are not going to grow on schedule. Growth is mysterious and everyone is different. Grace for the journey is so, so important.
4. Ask questions: The power of a question is that it puts the ball in the teenager’s court and allows him/her space to reflect. Don’t answer their questions too quickly, sometimes the best answer can be another question. Strong, definitive answers often mute the stirring in one’s heart.
Throughout the gospels Jesus regularly answered questions with questions. Much of the time, our kids don’t need an answer as much as they need space to wrestle with a question. Sharing our opinion can be helpful, but it won’t develop faith in them. Asking questions stokes the fire of their curiosity, leading them toward a posture of seeking God, rather than completing a question-answer list. An answer you haven’t wrestled with personally will almost always feel trite and hollow; if a teen’s entire faith is built on these answers, it will shatter easily once outside a protected environment.
5. Listen, listen, listen: It’s a gift of affirmation to a teenager when you pay full attention to them rather than preparing an answer and pretending to listen.
6. Let them finish: Bridle your passion and express a little self-control and you’ll see growth.
To me, these two go together, under the heading “shut up already”! While talking has been an effective ministry tool for me (hmm there’s something I should write about in future), listening is VITAL. My kids have worthwhile things to say, they have feelings and questions that are valid, and given enough processing time they will often work out the answers they need for themselves (far more valuable than me just telling them). Stopping to truly listen shows I believe in them – their worth, value, and abilities.
7. Plant seeds: Sometimes the best conversations happen the week following a good initial conversation. Text the student during the week and write something like, “Been thinking about our conversation. I’m excited about what God is doing in your life. Looking forward to more conversation next week.” We’re in this for the long-haul…what’s another week?
Ah, the ministry of text messages (and facebook wall posts). Where would we be without it? Giving kids space to think between conversations is fantastically helpful, especially we do some gardening in between…