By Duffy Robbins
I’ve never been much of a golfer. I think if the holes were bigger, it might be more fun. But, it detracts from the beauty of a golf course when there are moon-sized craters on every green. I don’t shout “Fore!” as a warning to the golfers in front of me; I yell it to keep count of how many times I have to swing my club to get the ball off the tee! Golf just isn’t my game.
But what I do appreciate about golf is that absolute intention required to keep the ball in play and land it in the cup. And it’s not unlike the challenge that any youthworker faces standing in front of a group of teenagers hoping to share with them the good news of Jesus. You have to begin with a solid approach, follow up with a shot that keeps the message in play, and, no matter where the course takes you, you always aim for the goal.
In the last few issues of Good News we’ve been thinking about how to speak to teenagers, and specifically how to speak to the needs of the students in your youth group or congregation. It is the critical goal of effective communication. But what are those needs?
Shouting “Four…” Of course, in one sense, the answer to that question is going to vary from student to student, from place to place, and from season to season. Every young adult is different.
On the other hand, every kid is made in the image of God, and as human beings we’re all wired the same way. Missionary anthropologist Eugene Nida identifies four basic longings that are common for all people groups across all cultures and all generations. What is striking is how vivid these questions are in the teenage years.
1. The quest for Community. Our students have a basic longing to love and be loved. At our core, all of us long to be loveable and love-able. Every statistic about sexual promiscuity, every story about broken families and scarred lives, every teenage clique and cluster—all of it is rooted in a deep, God-given desire to know and be known. Ultimately, it is a desire to know and be known by God himself.
2. The quest for Character. Another word for this is integrity—a uniquely human desire to integrate the parts with the whole, the inner person with the outer, the private with the public, the world outside the heart and mind with the world inside. Character integrates the aspirations of who we think we are, or who we wish we could become, with the reality of who we know ourselves to be.
3. The quest for Calling. Standing beside the grave of his mother, Forrest Gump said longingly, “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accident-like on the breeze.” With those simple words, he struck a chord that resonated deeply with all of us who have, in one way or another, asked “does my life really matter?” Deep at our core is a desire for a calling, a part to play, a role in the story of life. At the end of the day, we need to feel that it mattered that we were here.
4. The quest for Communion. The most basic of all of humanity’s longings is a longing for God. As Augustine put it, “Our hearts find no peace until they rest in You.” The multiple expressions of this longing are rampant. Whether it be in the latest Hollywood blockbuster about life after death, the seminar that promises “spirituality coaching,” the Oprah author whose book promises that “faith can make a difference,” or the crystal dangling from the rearview mirror—human beings are inherently seekers.
Just think of how many songs, movies, magazine ads, television shows, and internet sites speak to one of these four longings. Why? Because this is where our youth are; they live in the midst of these yearnings.
What does that mean in practical terms? It means that every effective message to teenagers will begin with someone taking aim and saying, “How can I address one or more of these four questions?” With any luck, we might just hit a hole-in-one
Duffy Robbins is the “Next Generation” columnist for Good News.