This question, “How do you help your teen get closer to God?” has been at the forefront of my mind for over a decade. This month, my wife and I celebrate 10 years in youth ministry. The better part of that time has been dedicated to two simple pursuits:
- Help teens start following Jesus.
- Help teens keep following Jesus.
As anyone in youth ministry would tell you, it has not been easy. At points, it feels like you hit a rhythm, just to have your paradigm shifted yet again by the ever-changing culture and needs of teens.
The good news in all of this, of course, is that the Lord has not abandoned us to figure this out all alone—He has given us His Word and example.
5 Guideposts to Help Your Teen Get Closer to God
Below, I introduce you to some guideposts that I have found useful in helping teens get closer to God. I call them guideposts because they are not more than that—ministry is not one-size-fits-all. Some teens are intellectual, some are more emotional, and others are just asleep. Engaging any individual teen requires parents, pastors, and mentors to take the time to get up close and engage teens where they are and help them get where God is calling them to go.
I hope you find this list helpful! And please know that we are praying with you on this journey. We are eager to see your teen choose to keep getting closer to God!
Guidepost 1: Pray
I know, I know, prayer is at the top of every list. So much so that some may read the first word of this sentence and just skip to the next. It’s unfortunate that prayer has become almost cliché because IT’S NOT! The more time I spend in ministry, the more I realize that God is the one who does the heavy lifting in the hearts of people. And it’s key to helping your teen get closer to God.
Take note of Paul’s words in the first several verses of 1 Corinthians 3. Paul emphasizes in verse 6, that in the work of bringing the Corinthians to belief in God, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” Don’t miss that—God makes it grow.
Pray your socks off for your teen, knowing that God is the One who will bring new life and transformation.
Guidepost 2: Get Real
We have made a HUGE mistake in the cultural West by over-intellectualizing Christianity. We have made it all about what we know. We consider a believer mature if they “know a lot.”
Of course, this is just not true. In fact, it’s clear in His ministry that Jesus was far more concerned with what we do than what we know. Consider the fact that Matthew 25:23 does not say, “Well considered,” “Well read,” or “Well thought of.” It says, “Well done good and faithful servant” (emphasis added).
This is huge!
I encourage you to get off the couch, out of the blogosphere, and into the real world. Put your faith into action. You will see the living God on display. Help your teen do the same. But be wary of coaching. Teens need a leader, not a coach. Don’t just tell them what to do. Go do it together. Go feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, or share the Gospel together.
Guidepost 3: Engage in Conversation
Most teens need a conversation. They are growing out of the days of “Because I said so” being a valid answer. They need the “why.” Unfortunately, many teens never get the opportunity to ask the valid questions they have because those leading them are talking more than listening.
You will see incredible growth in short periods of time when you make Jesus a conversation rather than a one-sided speech.
Note: It may take time for your teen to trust you with questions. Stay positive. Keep giving them space to ask questions. It took one teen in my group a year of building trust to finally ask questions. When the questions came, though, it was well worth the wait!
Guidepost 4: Encourage Spiritual Practices
- Reading the Bible
- Engaging in prayer
- Participating in a local church
- Experiencing times of solitude
All of these are incredible tools for helping your teen get closer to God. I encourage you to help your teen understand these practices. Many who grow up with caring Christian parents, pastors, and mentors know they should be doing these things, but few understand why.
The “why” matters.
Help your teen understand that these are all tools for gaining a deeper relationship with God. Then lead them in it. Show them how. Don’t just coach. A come-alongside mentality in spiritual practices is a many-sided blessing. It will give you unique access to see what your teen understands and doesn’t. It will ensure that you are not seen as a hypocrite, saying one thing and doing another. It will help you train your teen how to lead and disciple others. And it can be great family time.
Guidepost 5: Don’t Force Participation
One last guidepost for you…
Engaging teens with the Gospel can be a bit of an art form. I am sure there are parents out there reading this list and saying, “You are insane if you think that will work with my teen.” You are right. I am insane. But that’s beside the point!
This list of well-intentioned guideposts could easily become the dread of any teen. All of these things need to be couched in a high-trust relationship that abounds with love.
Forcing your teen to participate will likely be counterproductive. Think creatively about how you can invite your teen to participate. Try to allow them to make the choice to participate so they don’t resent you (or Jesus, for that matter). If possible, start these things before your teen’s heart has grown hard. If you have a hard-hearted teen, pray, pray, and pray some more.
Just remember, if they are forced to participate, there is nothing keeping them close to Jesus other than your force. So, when you remove that force, they will leave it behind. Although you can help your teen get closer to God, it ultimately must be their choice.
Bringing Your Teen Closer to God Is Worthwhile!
Helping your teen get closer to God may be challenging, but it’s incredibly worthwhile. One of the things I deeply love about youth ministry is thinking about all the ways a small kingdom investment now may yield enormous kingdom fruit in the future. When you invest in the life of a young person, you are also investing in the lives of everyone they will impact in their life ahead. Difficult, but certainly worthwhile!