Recently I entered my third year as a secretary at a Christian high school. I have learned much about teenagers in my time there—mainly that I cannot communicate in the same way with them as I do with my own younger children. What I’ve learned about teens also helps me in my interactions with the unchurched or unbelieving. Here are four of my takeaways.
- Begin with prayer.
On the drive to school in the morning, I pray that God will open my eyes to the needs of the students. I pray the Holy Spirit will give me his words, not my own, when I have the privilege of meeting those student needs. Praying beforehand prepares me for opportunities throughout the day; I am not as tongue-tied or apprehensive when I pray in advance. I pray in the same way before attending a gathering where unbelieving or unchurched people will be present.
- Look for in-roads.
Teenagers are typically guarded in their initial responses. They are easily embarrassed and go to great lengths not to look foolish. They can be difficult to get to know, unless you look for an in-road. I look for a common interest as a talking point, whether it’s the St. Louis Cardinals or Vera Bradley purses. Genuine compliments are always appreciated, even if they momentarily embarrass a teen. Compliments and common interests are ways I open conversations with people who may feel threatened by my faith, and this approach is often well-received.
- Care enough to develop relationship.
Like people of all ages, teens love to talk about themselves. When I listen well, I pick up on the feelings behind the words, and I hear what’s important to them. Listening is one of the best ways to earn trust, because people feel your care for them when you listen. It also gives me opportunities to keep the conversation going in days ahead because I can ask follow-up questions. Once I’ve taken the time to develop relationship, I earn the credentials to speak into a person’s life if God calls me to it.
- Be authentic.
In the fall of 2014, I presented my testimony in a chapel at Saxony. Even in a crowd of 220 students and staff, you could have heard a pin drop as I spoke about the struggles of my teen years. I believe God used my story that day because I was willing to be vulnerable with some of my deepest hurts. Teens respect authenticity. The whole world desperately craves stories from Christians who are willing to be vulnerable. The world doesn’t want or need any more saccharin versions of what faith “should” look like. Pastor Mark says, “Tell your own story—no one can argue with it.” I practice that as often as I am able, especially in a non-Christian setting.
What ways will you use to reach the unchurched or unbelieving in your everyday life?