The world of a teenager can be a tricky one to maneuver through. In some ways, it is complicated, dramatic, and exhausting. In other ways, it is simple, hilarious, and enjoyable. Entering into a discipleship relationship with your teen falls under the umbrella of many of these elements. It can be frustrating, tiresome, and may produce little to no fruit. It can also be extremely rich, life-giving, and fruitful for the life of your student, along with your own relationship with them. If you’ve ever given any thought to discipling your adolescent but don’t quite know how to make the jump, I’d love to share five tips for making discipleship with your teen an actual reality and not just a “someday we may get around to it.” That “someday” notion will come and go so quickly.
I hope you find these tips helpful and can use them as a jumping off place with your teen.
1. Meet Your Teen Where They Are At
This is huge in the world of adolescence. Take some time to observe and figure out where your student is in their faith. Don’t assume. Don’t have great expectations or even incredibly low expectations. Ask them questions. You may be surprised. Watch how they interact with their siblings, with you, with friends. Ask them questions about life, about issues at school, about Scripture, about events in their life. Take time to listen. Jumping into a discipleship relationship with tons of expectations for “success” can lead to a frustrated teen and a frustrated parent. They may need to start with basics, or maybe they are desperately searching for more depth.
This doesn’t just apply to where they are spiritually. Also take time to learn where your son or daughter is emotionally, relationally, mentally, and physically. If your teen is very active and doesn’t like to sit and talk over coffee, spend your time playing Frisbee golf while talking! You could go for a jog and “prayer jog” around town. Maybe they love to read… Pick out a book to read together and do a chapter a week. It may mean heading over to Hobby Lobby and deciding on a craft to do together. It may mean cooking dinner together and then serving your family. It may mean watching the latest Star Wars and discussing all the different characters and themes. The options for what you do in discipleship are endless! Find out what makes them come alive and join them in that.
2. Give Them Vision and a Challenge
Adolescence is a time of huge growth and maturity. They long for that. When you begin to meet with your student, take some time to cast vision for their growth and maturity. Ultimately, we care called to faithfulness. I would encourage you to not get caught up in wanting to see huge progress by a certain date. We can’t force our teenagers to grow. But setting goals and giving ourselves a challenge can be very inspiring for teens. Here are a few examples:
- Give yourselves a large portion of Scripture to memorize over the semester.
- Give yourselves weekly challenges to reach out to friends who don’t know the gospel.
- Come up with ways to serve your family or coworkers that takes some additional effort than normal.
- Set reachable and attainable goals that you can move toward together.
3. Know Your Limits and Be Consistent
Before you decide to jump in and get started with discipling your teen, evaluate your time and priorities. Know your limits. There will be nothing more frustrating for your teen than promising them time together, jumping in with one or two times together, and then realizing you don’t have the time you committed to. Consistency and dependability are two huge characteristics that teenagers need to see and experience to trust you. Being consistent will speak volumes, especially if this is a new element to your relationship with your teen or they aren’t quite as eager for a discipleship relationship as you are. This may also mean sitting down with them and saying “Hey, I’d love to start spending more time with you, and it may not be every week, but I want to schedule out a few times a month to do something, just the two of us.” It doesn’t have to be every week. It doesn’t have to be the same thing every time, but consistency is key.
4. Practice What You Preach
I have found that teenagers are quite quick to see when you aren’t practicing what you’re preaching. They watch you. They talk with your friends about you. I am not saying that you should always be on your very best behavior in front of your teen or that you somehow have to earn their approval. But I am encouraging you to be faithful in what you are teaching. In your goals together with your teen, put in the effort on your end as well. I would even invite your son or daughter to help hold you accountable to what you are trying to learn and grow in. No, they don’t need to know all your struggles personally or even all your past baggage. But do share your life with them. Give them parameters as to how they can engage with your own growth and allow them to have a hand in holding you to your word. What an amazing gift that will be to see how your teen longs for you to grow as well!
Whether you are in a fantastic place relationally with your student, or in a rough place with your teenager, pray for them. Some of you may have an awesome relationship with your teen and you have great communication and never have any tension or frustration. That’s great! But still pray for them! Some of you may be in a place with your son or daughter where they seem to want nothing to do with you, their faith, let alone discipleship. That may be where your relationship is at, and that is extremely hard. I want to also encourage you to pray. Pray for your teen's heart. Pray for them to have open ears to hear the sweet calling of Jesus. Pray that they will see Jesus, even in the small things. Pray that you can meet them where they are at even if that means you don’t have any spiritual conversations at all. Building your relationship may start with a five minute conversation about their homework. That’s progress. Pray with your spouse about it. Have a close circle of friends who can pray for your teen. Bathe your teenage son or daughter in prayer.
Beginning a discipleship relationship with your teen is no easy feat. I know that. But please don’t let your own fears, insecurities, or baggage keep you from investing in them. Start small if needed. Have those conversations. Ask those questions. Be a student of your own teen and then jump in! Seek faithfulness and pray that the Lord will do amazing things with your time together!