Every once in a blue moon I get an actual real live phone call from a previous student typically in need of a job reference or wanting to share news. I absolutely love catching up with young adults who I was privileged to spend time with in their teen years. Often these conversations lead to reminiscing about adventures we once had at youth group.
Last week, a previous student of mine called whom I haven’t talked to in a while. I answered anticipating she just wanted me to be a job reference. Instead, she called to thank me for pouring into her life when she was a teenager. She mentioned how during a job interview she was asked to talk about someone who she looked up to. She said I was the first person who came to her mind so she wanted to call me and tell me how much she appreciated the ways I poured into her during her teen years. I could hardly keep the tears back. I have been a Youth Pastor for over a decade, and it’s extremely rare to ever receive a thank you from students who are well into their adult lives. This phone call really touched my heart!
It got me thinking, what is it that teens will remember the most after they leave youth group? I realized out of all the lessons, event planning, and programming these things will most likely fade. However, teens will know if they felt loved and cared for by the Church. Communicating unconditional love and a steadfast presence to teenagers gives them a picture of how Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.
The rest of our phone call included time reminiscing about youth group including funny and serious memories. I was totally blown away when she began to recall stories I shared about my personal life! She expressed how these stories gave her insight in her current relationships and faith journey. It had been over five years since she was at youth group, but she didn’t forget the stories. Stories are perhaps the most powerful way to communicate theology.
This summer, our youth group curriculum focused on a series called The Summer of Stories. I invited congregants in our church (who are not typically involved at youth group) to come and share stories with our teens. Some of the stories were testimonials about how that person made a decision to follow Christ. Other stories included times God answered prayer or got them through a difficult time. Some congregants shared stories of how they experienced God speaking to them or calling them into a career or life-decision. The Summer of Stories was powerful not only for our teens to see how faith can be applied into real life, but it made an impact on our speakers. The speakers got to engage with our teens, and use their God stories to inspire our young congregants. This also helped me as the Youth Pastor to not have to plan curriculum and lessons over the summer so I could focus on mission work and service trips. Finding ways to incorporate stories into your lesson planning or activities is a win for everyone.
Some day when a previous student calls, I hope you will get to reminisce about stories shared and laugh over the goofy memories that come with the craziness of dealing with teenagers. Whether students ever express it or not, if they know they were loved and cared for by the church during the messy time of adolescence, you are doing a great job communicating!
Questions to Think About:
- What is it that teens will remember about youth group?
- What is it that you want teens to remember the most about youth group?
- What theological truths do you want teens to take with them after they leave youth group?
- How are you incorporating the power of story in your lesson planning?