I don’t listen to music when I run because I like to hear what is going on around me. I also love the “quiet” because it allows me to think. As I ran by the middle school I was struck by the language that the 11 and 12 year olds were using. Then a little further along a teenage girl pulled into her driveway pumping the rap beats on her car stereo. As I finished my run I thought about what I hope my daughters are like in middle and high school. What are the character traits that I hope they exhibit? Deeper than that, what are the marks of discipleship for adolescents? If the Holy Spirit is moving in the heart and mind of a teenager, how will they talk, act and think?
This is my attempt at laying out the marks of discipleship for a middle or high school student who endeavors to follow Christ. Discipleship is a hard journey and takes time. It doesn’t necessarily get easier with age. My selfish, sinful nature is always trying to drag me back down as the Holy Spirit is purifying and strengthening my soul. I have definitely not mastered these marks.
I’ll start with addressing the issue of language.
James writes, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (3:9-12).
Teenagers who are following Christ should talk differently then their peers who do not. If we allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and minds, then our language will change. We will edify others instead of tearing them down. Our words will be a breath of fresh air to those around us.
Unfortunately sexual humor is pervasive in our culture and especially with teenagers. This destroys the purity of sex that God created. Women are objectified. Teens who are questioning their sexuality are laughed at and bullied.
“Oh my God” is not meant to be used in frustration and flippantly like many do. We have already had to call Anna on this one at home. I bet she picked it up at school and didn’t know any better. But even at her age she needs to understand the reverence and honor that God deserves.
Purifying our language starts with looking critically at the music and movies that we watch. It is naive to think that those things do not affect us. On our recent mission trip, I didn’t allow students to listen to rap music for this reason. Teens also need to think critically about those who they choose to spend time with. Peer groups influence behavior in a major way.
Our children are just beginning their elementary years but Hillary and I shouldn’t wait until they are teens to talk about these marks of discipleship. We have to take an active role in instructing Anna and Norah about the language that they use. Are they encouraging each other? What words are appropriate and inappropriate? What TV shows encourage pure language? What friends are good for Anna and Norah? Hillary helps out in Anna’s class so she can see who Anna’s friends are at school.
Some of you might cringe at this active parenting style. It is the path we have chosen. After 12 years of youth ministry I have begun to make some connections between parenting styles and students’ behavior. Sitting back and not steering a child’s behavior is like planting a garden and just letting it go. Weeds grow up and animals come in and destroy it. The best gardens require time and energy.
I spent many hours over the past week with teenagers on our high school mission trip. So much of teenage life I have forgotten. It was a learning experience remembering what teenagers are really like.
Here is a list of top ten things I remembered about teenagers on this week long road trip to Alabama and back.
10. Teenagers eat a ton, especially guys
9. The smells that emanated from our vans were from another world
8. Social relationships are paramount – we told students which vans they would be in and this was definitely a crisis in their minds
7. Teenagers still need to be mothered – I had to constantly remind students to buckle their seat belts even halfway through the drive
6. White, suburban teenagers really like hip hop music
5. Whoever falls asleep in the van is liable to be poked, prodded and have pictures taken of them as they sleep
4. Teenagers think of fun, creative and sometimes weird things to occupy their time when they don’t have their cell phones or iPods
3. It is very important to lock the windows – teenagers have a fascination with moving the windows up and down
2. It is a beautiful thing to watch relationships deepen as we spend hours in the car together
1. Teenagers will always surprise you with their deep thoughts about life and spirituality
Thanks to all our students who let a crazy group of adults hangout with them for a week!