What a difference a week makes. Early last week, my youth leadership team and I were preparing to gather with students, hoping we’d be able to keep programs up and running through the COVID-19 crisis. By Wednesday evening as we gathered with middle schoolers, my heart was heavy wondering if it would be the last time we would be together in person for a while. And now, here we all are, hunkered down in our homes, praying that God in His mercy would help us weather this storm, which was unforeseen to us, but certainly not to Him.
As youth gatherings and even our in-person church services come to a dramatic halt, I’ve been burdened by what this means for middle school, high school, and college students. With all the places kids regularly gather closed for business, what are they supposed to do with their time? In our always-on, overly busy world, kids are now at loose ends. I wanted our church to help them think through how they could invite God to redeem this quiet—and yes, sometimes boring—time at home. In addition to playing video games and scrolling through social media, our students have a golden opportunity to do something meaningful with their now sports- and school-free days.
Instead of plugging into their devices full time, I imagine my students spending time reading God’s Word each day and pouring out their hearts in prayer to Him. I envision them finding inventive ways to serve their literal neighbors, as well as others in our church family. I want to challenge them to consider what creative contributions they could make to the world. And I hope they will be enticed to get outside. All of these things are good for anxious hearts, and might also help provide some routine to otherwise totally unstructured time.
With these goals in mind, I created a daily challenge for my students, hoping to encourage them to make the best use of this time (Eph. 5:16). Using Instagram Live, I’m sharing a devotional and a challenge each day, encouraging my students to share on social media all the ways they see God at work. (For students who don’t have Instagram, I also post the challenge in writing on Facebook and our website. Many younger students are accessing the challenge through their parents’ social media, which has brought families together in new ways.)
On day one, we invited students to read Psalm 34 and paint or draw a response. On day two, we looked at 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 together, noticing Paul’s explanation of the way Christians share in both the sufferings and comfort of Christ. We asked students to write an encouraging note to an older member of our church who is likely isolated at the moment as a way to comfort others out of the comfort they have received.
Here are some future prompts in our daily challenge:
- Encourage students to take a long walk or bike ride, bringing their Bible and a journal with them. Invite them to look around and journal or doodle about things they see in creation that help them marvel at God’s goodness. Then have them read Psalm 19 as a personal prayer of thanksgiving and praise.
- Ask students to research how Christians have responded during past pandemics. How have they prayed, served, and trusted God through difficult times? Have them search the Acts of the Apostles for other ways Christians have served. Students can then share what they’ve learned over dinner with their family members, brainstorming ways they could respond today.
- Invite students to plan a family movie night or game night for the people who live with them! Encourage them to make it their goal to facilitate some fun for everyone else in their homes. Students can even lead their families in prayer, thanking God for providing this fun time in the midst of the quarantine.
- Encourage students to spend time reading the news to see what different sources are saying about COVID-19. Invite them to pause to feel sadness for those who have been most affected. Have them read Revelation 21:1-5 and pray this wonderful “Liturgy for Those Flooded by Too Much Information.”
- Challenge students to do a prayer walk around their neighborhoods. Ask how many neighbors they can pray for by name? Encourage them to introduce themselves (from a safe distance of course!) to neighbors they see out whom they don’t know. Instruct them to pray for each home as they walk, asking God to make Himself known and praying for opportunities to share about Jesus. Share about your walk with your family at home tonight. Brainstorm with your family about any needs you noticed that you could help to meet during quarantine or beyond.
The opportunity for the church to speak to the hearts of teenagers and to call them into the mission of God is significant. The daily challenge is just one simple way we hope to help students join God in what He is doing during this isolating time of social distancing and even quarantine.
As we help our students process the events in our world through the lens of the gospel, we pray they will be able to say with confidence, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again” (2 Cor. 1:9b-10a). May we help our student live with hope and purpose in these strange times, until Jesus returns to make all things new.