Owning Their Faith
by Joel Williamson
How do you get a teenager to own and experience faith?
Tony, a high school boy in our ministry, begged me to let him speak at youth group. He said that he felt like he needed to tell his friends about Jesus and the incredible difference Jesus made in his life.
Tony and I prepared over multiple weeks for his message. He knew what he wanted to say, why he wanted to say it, and he was ready. Or so I thought.
I mean, seriously, he became so paralyzed with fear he could not talk.
He would get a few syllables out, and then start stammering. His hands were shaking. Then he would take a deep breath and try again, with the same result.
I was about to rescue him when something incredible happened.
His best friend, Ben, jumped up out of the seats and joined him in front.
Ben was a rough kid in the foster care system. His family was full of drugs and trauma. Once, I caught him trying to sell alcohol to another teen. Ben was a decent kid, but he was not following Jesus and not the type who would typically go upfront.
Ben put his arm around Tony, grabbed Tony’s Bible and his notes, and started giving the message. He hadn’t seen it before, and he didn’t know what it was about. He would read a sentence of the notes, look up and tried to explain what it meant.
It did not go well.
Ben stood with his arm around Tony and gave the message for about 15 minutes. Tony stood there the entire time, silent. The message was unclear, unfocused, and uncomfortable.
Yet, it was beautiful.
Ben stepped up to care for his friend. It was like Ben was the Holy Spirit, speaking words for Tony when he could not speak for himself.
Amazingly, it became a huge moment for Ben. I think for the first time he saw the world as bigger than himself, and he realized he could make a difference. What he did mattered for Tony. What he did mattered for the youth group. He knew it wasn’t eloquent, but he was proud of what he did and it made a difference as he began to walk in his faith.
Even though it ruined the point of the message that night, there was incredible growth in both Tony and Ben. On top of that, the other youth got to see a true demonstration of love.
We must give our youth the opportunity to experience and own their faith. In a few short years, they will not be with us anymore, and a world full of options and “easier paths” will suddenly be open to them. Let us prepare them by giving them the experience of real leadership, even if it ends up being clunky.
Where have you seen teens grow the most in your ministry?
I’d love to know – please comment below!
Joel Williamson has been working with young people for two decades leading a non-profit reaching at-risk youth. He loves youth workers and is passionate about equipping them for effective, transformational ministry. Joel currently works as the Chief Strategist and CFO for Youth Core Ministries, serves on his church's youth team, and lives with his wife and daughter in Noblesville, IN.
danielSeptember 24, 2020 at 1:30 pm
wow! what a raw an authentic moment! thanks for sharing that! it’s beautiful to see Jesus showing up in our messes. His perfect love is most clearly seen in our imperfection. awesome story!
LeslieSeptember 29, 2020 at 1:10 am
Really enjoyed this article. Researching ideas for teen ministry…it starts like this and blooms into the perfect love we receive while learning and growing to share. Great article, look forward to fostering in our group. Thanks
AsharSeptember 30, 2020 at 9:53 am
This is such a beautiful story! Well done for giving them both an opportunity 🙂
AsharSeptember 30, 2020 at 9:55 am
This is such a beautiful story! Well done for giving them both the opportunity!
MarkOctober 1, 2020 at 3:26 pm
Reminds me of “Messy Spirituality” by Mike Yaconelli! What a cool story and teaching point–thanks for sharing!
Becky KeyOctober 1, 2020 at 6:07 pm