One thing is for sure, it is much easier to tear something down than to build something up. Do you remember as a kid building something out of legos or Lincoln Logs? Or maybe it was a fort in the family room made out of blankets and pillows? It would take you an hour or so to build the sweetest fort with every blanket and pillow in your house, but it would take mere seconds to tear it all down! This is the same with the worlds of our teenagers lives. They live in a time where tearing down of people seems to be the norm rather than the exception. They are also in a stage of their lives where insecurity can shape their identities very easily.
Some of the most crucial times in my life are marked by memories of people believing in me and offering words of encouragement to me. I can remember back to when I was in high school and my Latin teacher, yes I said Latin, offered me some words that I’ll never forget.
One day during class I was asked for my homework, I replied sarcastically to my teacher that I did not have it done and for this, I was sent out to the hall. Now, I was not particularly happy about this because there had been plenty of other times people in my class did not do their homework and they were never sent to the hall. As the bell rang, I quickly went back into the classroom to get my stuff, trying to escape without any further consequences. Before I could get out the door, my teacher stopped me and waited for the rest of the class to depart. He asked me about the homework, but also about how I responded to him. I tried to deflect and asked why I was sent out to the hall. That didn’t get me very far. But I’ll never forget the words that he told me that day. He looked me in the eye and he said, “You’re not like everyone else so I don’t expect the same behavior. You’re different.” He said more than that to me as well, but it was those words that really resonated in my life at that time. While I was being disciplined, my teacher was still encouraging me. He was trying to communicate to me that my being different was a good thing and that it didn’t go unnoticed. So for a teenage kid who was filled with insecurities, even insecurities of “fitting in." I was encouraged that day by a teacher who saw something different in me.
What a privilege it is to be a youth leader today! You have been placed and positioned by God in the lives of young men and women whose lives might be changed by an encouraging word or action by you.
I believe one of the greatest gifts activated during the early church was the gift of encouragement. All this amazing stuff is happening with the apostles and the church:
…Jesus shows up again.
…He ascends to heaven.
…The Holy Spirit is poured out.
…Thousands of people are saved.
…and then into the story line appears this guy. He was a Levite from Cyprus. His name was Joseph, but you know him better as Barnabas; a name given to him by the apostles because all he did was encourage people in the Lord!
We don’t know a ton about Barnabas, but you get glimpses of him throughout the first half of the book of Acts and here’s the thing about this guy…If there was no Barnabas, there was no Paul. Now certainly you could argue that statement with how God could of used someone else to bring Paul (Saul at this time) into the mix and all that, but the reality is that God didn’t. He used Barnabas, the son of Encouragement. Acts 9:27 talks about how Barnabas “took hold of” Paul, he then “brought him to the apostles," and then he “described” Paul’s testimony to them, and finally how Paul was brought into the community of disciples.
All this because Barnabas saw something that was different about Paul. And through Barnabas’ encouragement, Paul thrived to become who he was called to be in Christ! And not only did Paul thrive, God’s people did as well. Acts 9:31 says, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”
After Paul was welcomed into the community, the early church entered into a time of peace and of building up. Building up is one definition that is synonymous with encouragement in the Bible. Paul writes to the Thessalonian church to “encourage one another and build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11).” Encouragement was instrumental in the building up of the early church and the church of today, specifically…our youth ministries.
Encouragement builds people up. It pulls out of people what they never knew was there. It inspires beyond the insecurities that drag them down. It gives without looking for recognition in return. It comes along side to be a support. It helps to develop something more in Christ in somebody else.
So today I want to encourage you as youth leaders to creatively, authentically, and intentionally encourage your teenagers as much as possible! Make your youth ministry an atmosphere of encouragement where fist bumps, encouraging words, name chants, dog piles, going up to a teenager and praying over them, Scripture texts, shout outs, recognizing & calling forth God’s gifts in them, and the like set the tone! Don’t just stand there, encourage them!
Craig Campbell is the Lead Pastor of Faith Tabernacle Church, which is located in his hometown of Lockport, NY. He has been serving the local church for more than eleven years in different capacities such as youth ministry, worship ministry, young adult ministry, and more. He and his wife Jennie have four amazing kids whose names are Leland, Hudson, Adalyn, and Lillian.