The stereotypical “youth group” is pretty sad.
It usually involves a good helping of cliques, shallow relationships, and lots of drama. Of course there’s some Bible teaching, but that’s not the focus. The focus is massively and unrelentingly on us.
Not every youth group is that way. Maybe most aren’t. But that’s the expectation.
And that’s what we have to fight.
What Are We Looking At?
The central problem with our hypothetical youth group is the focus. We become like the things we care about. The things we focus on. The things we make central to our thinking and feelings.
So the things we focus on as a youth group and individually will determine what that youth group is like.
Are we focused on who’s dating whom? On the latest movie? On games and having fun? It’s not wrong to have fun, or discuss things we’re enjoying, but those can’t be central to our lives. Those things only have meaning when they derive it from something greater.
Youth group is church. And the church is not primarily about us.
Church is a gathering of brothers and sisters—unworthy, sinful people who have been wondrously saved by Jesus Christ. And our aim is to learn more about Him, learn to love Him more, and seek Him together.
2 Corinthians 3:18 says that as we behold God’s glory, we actually become more like Him. And how do we see His glory? Through His word.
That means our focus needs to make a radical reversal. Instead of looking at ourselves, we need to be immersing ourselves in God’s word and looking to Christ.
No youth group is perfect, just like no church is perfect. And we can’t change everything. However, we can do something, even as one person. So how can we, as teens, contribute to our youth group—our part of Christ’s body?
When we notice dynamics in our youth group that don’t glorify God, we tend to feel both angry and discouraged. Angry, because we think the leadership should do something about it. Discouraged, because there’s not much we can do personally.
There’s definitely a place for talking to the leadership of your youth group if there are serious problems; but that’s something that should be done cautiously, and with the advice of someone older and wiser (like your parents).
However, I think often we forget whose church this is. The church doesn’t belong to us, or to our youth pastor. It belongs to God—and He is the one who is building up His body, sanctifying us all to make us more like Him.
Jesus Christ died for His church! He’s not going to forsake it. “The prayer of a righteous man has great power as it is working,” (James 5:16) so the first thing we should do is run to God in prayer.
2. Immerse Yourself in the Bible
How can you encourage others in the truth if you aren’t in it yourself?
Make a habit of regular Bible reading. Dig deep in Bible study. Memorize the word, so it sticks in your heart and mind. Meditate on it, and let the truth fill your mind and heart.
I’m preaching to myself here. There’s never a point where any of us have arrived. In fact, the more you grow in your relationship with God, the more you realize you need Him constantly. Those older people you look up to as role models and mentors? They’re probably the ones who are most dependent on God, because they know they can’t do it themselves.
3. Encourage Others With the Truth
Authentic, abiding Christian fellowship is built around the truth.
We have something to bring us together that’s infinitely greater than shared interests or personality. We’re running a race together, for a prize beyond anything in this earth.
Seek to intentionally cultivate relationships built around a shared love of God’s word. It doesn’t come easily. It’s not a topic that’s just going to pop up in casual talk (although I have a few friends who can bring the gospel into pretty much any conversation, and I look up to them greatly).
It’ll look different for everyone. It might look like coffee dates with friends. It might be a small group that meets at your house, or at the church building half an hour before youth group starts. Often, it’ll look like texts or phone calls to share a verse, to ask for prayer, or to encourage a friend at half past midnight.
Whatever it looks like for you, seek out those relationships grounded in truth. Encourage others in the word. Pray for your church, youth leaders, and fellow teens, and stay in the word yourself.
Pursue a different kind of youth group.