In recent conversations with my friends in youth ministry, one theme keeps emerging. They tell me that more and more youth are grappling with depression and this often leads to self-harm. Some threaten suicide. And some succeed in carrying it out. This was brought home to me when I recently heard about an 18-year-old boy who took his own life. Apparently, such reports parallel the findings of government agencies. We need to take this seriously not just for our ministries but for our friends and families.

A recent article in the The Straits Times in Singapore reports:

Young adults in Singapore are more likely than the older generations to experience loneliness, including social anxiety and isolation, according to a recent poll by the Institute of Policy Studies. (1)

The article also says:

A recent large study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that an important predictor of loneliness is a lack of purpose that helps define our identities and connects us to others who share common values and visions. (1)

So, our young need purpose, identity, and community.

Wait a minute isn’t that what Jesus offers? To be a follower of Jesus is to be a child of God, and a recipient of Abba Father’s unconditional love. To be a follower of Jesus is to be part of a community where we love one another as Christ has loved us. To be a follower of Jesus is to be enlisted in His purposes in the world. In Christ we have identity, community, and purpose. So why are youths and young adults in our churches not really faring that much better than their counterparts outside the church? Maybe it’s not what we believe but how we convey it.

What do your youth ministries look like? Is it putting a whole bunch of them in a room and exciting them with lively corporate worship, a Christian version of a Taylor Swift concert? Of course, we also get a lively speaker who can keep the young engaged. There is a place for a young believer to know he or she is part of a big movement of God. But if identity, community, and purpose is what we are trying to convey, this has to be done personally. If we are hungry, we need food. If we are thirsty, we need water. If we are lonely, we need relationships. There will be no short cut for this.

I see Jesus ministering to the crowds but He builds deep relationships with his 12 disciples. Of these, He invests even more time with three of them — Peter, James, and John. To minister to youths and to give them what they need, we need to walk with them individually and be their friends. Our churches need to be places where we help build friendships between the generations. This needs much more time and effort. There are no short cuts to building friendships. But if we take seriously the cries of the youth, if we really love them, we must befriend them, one by one.

Graceworks has two ministries that seek to work on this. One is our “The Generations Project” where we seek to learn firsthand the spiritual needs of the various generations. The other is our core concern — to encourage the practice of spiritual friendship in our communities. We are glad that more and more have adopted our 3-2-1 model — three friends meeting two hours once a month — and have reported how it has helped them find community. We feel quite overwhelmed by the needs, but we seek to be faithful to what God has called us to do. We depend on the Lord and are always open to collaborations and partnerships with those who share our concerns. Post-Covid, we should look afresh at the needs out there and ask the Lord for wisdom as to how we should address them.

 

  1. Ko Kuwabara & Zou Xi, “Are face-to-face struggles of youth just a mindset issue?” The Straits Times, Tuesday March 26, 2024, B2