Why Most Teen Devotionals Stink!

Every student minister knows that frustrating moment when a parent or godparent calls to ask for your recommendation of a teen devotional to encourage spiritually the teen, who they wish to see grow in Christ.
Then, comes that awkward confession: I really don’t know of any good devotionals for teens.
You expect that on the other end that the person thinks you’re utterly incompetent. If they knew the reality: most teen devotionals stink! Not some, not many, MOST  of them.
Here are some reasons teen devotionals are generally terrible:
1.) Teen devotionals talk down to kids- Devotionals intended for students ages 13-18 usually address these students as if they are 3-8 years old. These devo’s challenge teens very little and can come across as patronizing and almost insulting to the majority of teenagers, because of how….babyish they sound.
2.) Teen devotionals underestimate the pain and suffering of adolescents- In the application section of most devo’s, the writers will provide examples of struggles and sins young people often encounter. These struggles include conflict with friends, telling a lie, disobeying parents, feeling anxious about not getting invited to the school dance, etc. While these difficulties are legitimate and common to most teens, rarely are some of the more painful, shameful challenges teens face included. Though not all students face these problems, sin struggles like addiction, pre-marital sex, pornography, cutting, and eating disorders and experiences like abuse, divorce, financial crisis, and bullying are more the norm. If teen devos hit on hard problems, it almost always centers around underaged-drinking, reinforcing the teen myth that Christ died so that we will wait until we’re 21 to drink. Students who struggle with these deeper sins and experiences can often feel alienated when their issues are not identified. The false message can be sent that their problems are rare and too big for Christ and Christianity.
3.) The bottom line of most teen devotionals is often, “Now, go be nice and good for Jesus.” The application section of most devotionals always goes down the road of moralism and the law. While we certainly want spending time with Jesus and engaging God’s Word to influence the life of the students, the answer is not simply telling kids to go be good for God out of their own power. Encountering Jesus via a devotional should encourage students to surrender their heart to the work of the Spirit and to trust God to transform their heart. The”moral behavior” should be the fruit of a life submitted to Jesus and in response to God’s amazing grace, not a directive for kids to take into their own hands.

That being said, there are some we can recommend for teens, but be aware that few of them were written specifically FOR teens. Check our our resources page to see what we mean.

Cameron Cole has been the Director of Youth Ministries for eighteen years, and in January of 2016 his duties expanded to include Children, Youth, and Families. He is the founding chairman of Rooted Ministry, an organization that promotes gospel-centered youth ministry. He is the co-editor of “Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practice Guide” (Crossway, 2016). Cameron is the author of Therefore, I Have Hope: 12 Truths that Comfort, Sustain, and Redeem in Tragedy (Crossway, 2018), which won World Magazine’s 2018 Book of the Year (Accessible Theology) and was runner up for The Gospel Coalition’s Book of the Year (First-Time Author). He is also the co-editor of The Jesus I Wish I Knew in High School (New Growth Press) and the author of Heavenward: How Eternity Can Change Your Life on Earth (Crossway, 2024). Cameron is a cum laude graduate of Wake Forest University undergrad, and summa cum laude graduate from Wake Forest with an M.A. in Education. He holds a Masters in Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary.

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