Helping Teenagers Think Outside Themselves

Posted on by Heidi Brunsting

By Richard Parker, youth minister and author

This experience hit me right between the eyes. What was, up to that point, a normal, Wednesday, youth group Bible study, turned into something very significant.


As we wrapped up the Bible study, I asked one of our teenagers to close our group time in prayer. The student finished, we mingled a bit, and then we all dispersed, as usual. It wasn't until we were on our way home that my wife pointed out what made the gathering so remarkable: “That is the first time I ever remember that happening.”

"What," I asked.

"The prayer. He prayed for the two of us. That's the first time I remember hearing that."                               

As I thought about it, she was exactly right. Now, I've been doing youth ministry for over 30 years. It's likely that is has happened and I just can't remember it. But that's the thing: Driving home in the car, I could not recall the last time I heard a student pray for me. Especially for my wife and me.

This got me thinking: Have we somehow missed it in our ministry to students? Maybe we have.

Many of us spend so much time focusing on meeting our teenagers' needs -- making sure they have a great camp experience, providing them with space to meet, etc. -- that perhaps we are failing to teach that part of being a disciple means to spend more time considering the needs of others. In John 3:30 it was John who said that he (Jesus) must increase and we must decrease. Are we really teaching this to our students?

I started thinking about what I might do to affect change in this area of my ministry. These are my thoughts. I'd be curious to hear yours.

  • First, I'm going to pray for my students, as usual. But I'm going to encourage them to pray for others, including me.
  • Second, I'm going to try and help my students be grateful for things like the church providing opportunities to go on trips, for cool equipment, and for things we do for them during the year. Many of our students have never been encouraged to say thank you for some of these type things. It's easy to take these things, and the sacrifices of adults who serve them, for granted.
  • Lastly, I think I may be guilty of making things too easy for my students. I am going to leave some planning and implementation of our youth program open for them to do. I know the danger for some people trying this approach would be that your church may say this type of thing is YOUR job. But I think students will learn to think outside of themselves, and appreciate what they have, as they have opportunities to experience the hard part of supporting a ministry.

Our goal should always be to share the Gospel and teach students to be disciples. To be a disciple means Jesus must increase as our self decreases. As long as we make student ministry all catering to our students every need, it's going to be difficult for them to learn the value of being thankful, or how to focus on the needs of others.

I'm reminded that we need to be about the calling of making disciples, not Christian consumers.

This article originally appeared on and is being republished by permission.

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