You may have noticed that most of our youth—if not all—already know they should love others. In fact, that is one of the great things about GenZ. They have a great capacity to love others. Largely because they see people differently—better in fact. They live in a more diverse world and love it. Being so connected to the rest of the world has opened their eyes to injustice and they want desperately to right the wrongs of the world. They love the idea of being conduits of hope in the lives of others. Just imagine if we focused our energy into teaching our students to create change focused on the gospel.
As youth leaders and parents, we have to help them experience what it means reflect the love of Christ—through experience—it’s how they are wired to learn. It is what is necessary if our students are going to thrive and create change. You don’t need a new program or some complex system, you just need a few simple steps. Let me show you what I mean.
Teaching Your Students to Pray
Zac’s dad was your typical tough guy. Never once did Zac see his dad cry, be really sad, or even really happy. Until one night, Zac had woken up only a few hours after going to bed. Needing a drink of water, he headed down the stairs to the kitchen. What he discovered would change his relationship with his father forever; and to be honest, change the trajectory of his life.
His dad was praying. Not for himself. He wasn’t trying to wrestle through a tough situation at work or in his marriage. He was praying for everyone he knew who didn’t know Jesus. But that’s not the best part. As this man prayed, he wept. He was literally crying out to God asking for help to reach his friends who did not yet know Jesus.
Before that moment, Zac’s exposure to prayer was limited to a few times in church, prayers before dinner and bed, and the occasional personal plea for help in a difficult situation. But in that moment, Zac saw prayer impact the posture of his father’s heart towards others.
Jesus taught us that we should pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. We should pray for the salvation of others, pray that we don’t fall into temptation, and pray that God’s will be done. Prayer is certainly the ongoing communication with God, but it also serves as the litmus test of the true condition of our hearts. We have to get our students to move beyond the routine prayers before meals and bed, get beyond praying before taking a test, having a personal problem, or reserving it for Sundays. When we teach our students to practice the spiritual habit of prayer—for others—it will fundamentally change how they see those people, how they talk to them, and how they treat them.
If we are teaching our students to love like Jesus, it has to begin with prayer.
Teaching Your Students to Serve
Narcism is on the rise. Self-promotion is an art form on social media, and given the number of safe spaces, trigger warnings, and cries of victimhood on college campus around the United States, it’s easy to see just who our students are being taught to care about the most—themselves.
Instead of being offended at nearly everything, we can teach students to intentionally seek the good for others. When I propose this idea of intentionally seeking out others, most pastors and parents jump to getting students involved in serving their community. And that is a good first step.
But I want to challenge you to go bigger. Let’s be honest, for most of us, serving total strangers—while helpful, needed, and does grow us spiritually—can only take us so far. They are strangers. We likely won’t ever see them again. Challenge your students to serve their friends, teachers, coaches, and family members.
But how? First, start with conversations. Don’t assume your students know how to effectively communicate with another person. But teaching them how to listen, how to ask great questions, and how to express empathy will have profound impact on their relationships.
Second, help students see what serving others as a daily habit looks like. Teaching students Christ-like love has to get beyond the bi-yearly service project. For serving to be an extension and expression of love for our neighbors, it has to become part of the rhythm of our daily routines. Maybe it’s helping clean a classroom, helping a fellow student with homework, doing the dishes at home without being asked, or just listening to someone vent about their day.
When we serve others without the interference of our narcissistic tendencies, we can forever change the course of that relationship. Thereby opening the doors for truth-driven, gospel-saturated conversations.
The goal is to enter into a deeper conversation to build a relationship that offers hope. That kind of depth doesn’t happen by silently pouring soup into the bowl of a homeless person.
Teaching them Confidence In Sharing The Truth
This can be where trying to love like Christ can get tricky. For many of us—students included—the minute we start talking about sharing truth, we become filled with fear and anxiety. But unless we confront and address the dangers of cultural tolerance and look out for the best interests of others, we aren’t being loving. Christ-like love is the kind of love that exposes darkness with light and exposes destructive behaviors in others. I love how Sean and Josh McDowell put it: “Truth is our best friend, and it is an inseparable part of what real love is.
While cultural tolerance may disguise itself as caring understanding, and loving, it lacks the moral authority of an authentic love that looks out for the best interest of others.” If love is going to be others-focused, then we must be able to speak truth boldly.
This doesn’t mean pointing out every flaw, sin, or questionable behavior to everyone we meet. Unless of course you’re looking for the fastest way to be seen as a hypocrite and a self-righteous jerk. I’m guessing as a youth leader you’re not aiming to make disciples who people hate. But that’s where the fear settles in. We believe that sharing truth will actually make us appear to be unloving.
The trick is learning to ask good, thought-provoking questions rather than simply making assertions. Telling someone they are wrong sounds mean and hurtful. Asking someone why they think they’re right creates deeper conversations and builds trust. Shoving Jesus down a person’s throat is often too forceful for people to accept. But offering Jesus as the true source of hope shows them you might actually care.
As youth leaders we need to remind students it’s never their job to save anyone. That’s God’s job, and we ought to be glad to let Him do it. Our job is love others. Pray for them. Seek them out and serve them. And share the truth of Jesus with them. Leave the rest up to the Spirit of God. We are simply joining in a conversation God is already having with that person. If our students are truly working to love others, people will begin to see them less and see Jesus more.
This article is part of my new book, Beyond the Edge of the Water: Reclaiming Biblical Discipleship for a Rising Generation. You can get more information here.