I grew up in a small town outside of Boston. The friends you built Lego towers with in kindergarten were the same friends you walked with across the make-shift graduation stage in the gymnasium. That is why, at a sleepover on the last day of eighth grade, I was surprised when my childhood friends pulled out Nalgene bottles filled with alcohol. These were the people I had grown up with, and drinking was something other groups of people at our school did, but not my friends. I stumbled to find the words and the courage to say “no.” I was so unprepared for the situation.
The culture of middle and high school has changed drastically from when I graduated ten years ago. It has always been hard and awkward to navigate the teenage years, but for Christian students now, it seems almost daunting. Social media, television shows, and peer pressure can often make students feel as though the only way to survive those six or seven years is to do whatever it takes to fit in.
Students now sit in assemblies throughout the school year with guest speakers sharing stories, research, and opinions about topics such as drug use, addiction, sexual orientation, or bullying. These are topics that the church is often too quiet about. As youth ministers, we are called to equip students with the wisdom and truth found in God’s Word for when difficult situations or conversations arise. This fall, during Sunday School at our church, students in grades seven through twelve will focus on “Tackling Tough Topics.”
Throughout this series, we hope to accomplish the following:
1. Conversations full of grace, not law: It is our hope and prayer that students leave these sessions with a greater understanding of God’s Word and His grace, rather than guilt and shame. Most likely, students that attend on Sunday mornings will have had some degree of personal experience with the topics being discussed. If a student has experimented with drugs or alcohol, he or she should not leave the Sunday school hour overcome by the shame of a past mistake, but instead encouraged by the grace and hope of Christ in the midst of tough situations. This series will not include a list of “do this and don’t do that because you’re a Christian,” but will instead remain rooted in the truth of God’s love for His people, and how we demonstrate our love towards God by living out the exalted calling on each of our lives.
2. A variety of voices from within our congregation: This series covers such a wide range of topics. I am excited that we have asked various members of our congregation to help lead the discussions based on their passions or vocations. For example, one member of our congregation is a former trauma and critical care surgeon at a renowned Boston hospital. She will lead one session on addiction and one on abortion. She can confidently share about these topics because of the work in which the Lord has called her. The volunteers leading the discussions will also have an opportunity to get to know middle and high school students within their church family that they otherwise may not have interacted with.
3. Connect with parents: Parents are still the most influential role in the life of their teenager. Each week we will send parents an email that goes into detail on the topic that was discussed that Sunday. The email will include some questions that may help start dialogue about the topic throughout the week. The more voices of trusted adults that students hear, the easier it may be for them to face these tough situations or conversations.
It is my prayer that at the end of this session, students are more equipped to handle hard conversations or situations they encounter because of God’s grace and truth, for leaders to foster an environment where students can honestly share what is on their heart, and that relationships are developed between adults and students within the congregation. This school year, may Jesus be glorified in our teaching and in our conversations with these precious students that He has entrusted to us.