Perhaps you’ve seen the new Apple commercial taking the internet by storm. The ad, entitled “Misunderstood”, features a teenage boy who spends most of his Christmas family time with his head buried in his mobile phone. Whether it’s sledding with his little sister, eating Christmas dinner with his grandparents, or decorating the tree with aunts, uncles, and cousins, he seems to be more interested in the tiny 4-inch screen in his hands. At the end of the video, we learn that the whole time he’s actually been capturing family moments and creating a beautifully sentimental “Harris Family Christmas” video montage—his Christmas gift to the entire family.
Love it or hate it, the ad highlights the fact that the Christmas season is a unique time of the year in which people–and students in particular–find themselves longing for relationships of all shapes and sizes. For adult leaders, this time of year offers a wonderful opportunity to develop and foster relationships with students.
As Joe Ball, Ministry Resources & Mobilization Director at Crossings notes, “Intergenerational relationships are key to helping students develop a lasting faith.” Over the course of more than thirty years of ministry, he’s witnessed firsthand the great returns that can be made when older generations invest in younger generations. Here’s what Joe has to say about the need for intergenerational relationships in student ministry:
Thirty years ago it wasn’t uncommon for teens to have healthy relationships with adults from several generations. Today that isn’t the case. Fractured families, segregation of ministries and the like, make it all the more important that we manufacture times for our students to build relationships with adults that aren’t apart of the youth ministry.
It used to be that if you were doing good youth ministry you had one adult for every five or six students. Now, according to Chap Clark in his book Hurt, “Instead of having 1 adult for every 5 children we need 5 adults for every 1 child that: knows their name, prays for them and practices their faith” in front of them. “Aside from their parents” who should already doing this, “there should be five non-parental adults in their lives”. “Coaches, teachers and a boss” will fill one or two of these roles, but that still leaves three or four others that we as adults in church can fill.
There may be times when we as youth workers need to broker those relationships. There are adults in your church that know cars inside and out and teenagers in your church that are car crazy or teens in your church that love to play ball or garden or dance, play music, shop, act, take pictures and adults who have the same interest and have some skills in those areas. We need to start pairing them up, let them share life skills, biblical truths and life with each other. These relationships will last long beyond the students six or seven years in the youth program and when our students return from college they will look those adults up.
Those relationships can also help with the transition students have out of the youth ministry into “big church”. While the youth minister is still hanging out with the youth, or moved on to another church, these adults are still there, speaking into their lives. Those are the types of relationships we need to develop.
This time of year particularly works well for building these relationships. Maybe it‘s students Christmas caroling at the front door of some shut-ins, or helping a older couple put up their Christmas decorations. Or maybe at the church-wide Christmas dinner we can arrange seating so that teens and seniors are sharing a table and asking questions of each other, getting to know one another. Because who doesn’t want to “go where everyone knows you name, and they’re always glad you came”?
As Joe notes, it takes real work for adults to develop meaningful relationships with students. However, in light of the spiritual impact it can make on students, it’s an investment that is well worth the cost. By the Lord’s grace, the result will be a life changed for eternity. Now that’s the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.