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State of the Youth Address

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Hello everyone, I am excited to get to speak to you today. Edwin and Barb are at a marriage retreat in NC, so be sure to pray for their travel and that their time together is great.  In my first lesson with y’all I shared my heart about the Gospel message and how passionate I am in taking it to the lost.  My second message was about my passion for the church (meaning us, not this building) and what it means to be unified.  Today, I will share my heart with you concerning the area in the church I am most passionate about… the youth.

I’m calling this the State of the Youth address.  If want to take out your message outline I want to accomplish two things.  I normally only try to get one message across in a single sermon but these two go hand in hand so I’ll do something out of the ordinary for me.  The two things I want to accomplish are telling you the truth about today’s youth and to call us improving that situation.

The truth about the YOUTH of America: Perception versus Reality.  Teens are in a precarious situation.  They are no longer little children, they have more freedom than children, but they are not quite adults either.  Instead, they are a weird mix of man-boy woman-girl.  They can do many things adults can, sometimes even do them better.  But at other times they seem very much like a child. They also have something else working against them.  The perception of youth in America is especially low. If I were to ask everyone of you in this room if you think it is hard being a teenager, most of you, statistically anyway, would say, it is very hard being a teen.  Those of you who are adults would also agree with the statement that it is more difficult being a teen today than when you were growing up.  Not harder in terms of having it bad (having resources, etc…), rather facing more negative pressures. (i.e. drugs, alcohol, crime, etc…)  The truth is adults overall have low opinions of the youth of today.  Adults are 4x more likely use negative words to describe youth than positive.  This is despite the truth that researchers have found over and over again.  Most of what is said about teens and the family is untrue, some of it USED to be true and still some is true-ish…  I’m going to show you some statistics from youth research and see how they line up with what you thought. 

CRIME - The sociologist Mike Males has been watching the gap between crime statistics and media coverage for some time now — especially in California. Here are some trends in criminal activity you may not have seen reflected in your local and national news coverage. These stats are common to the rest of the country…

·          Juvenile felonies and gang violence peaked in 1993 and have been falling ever since. Murder rates among Los Angeles’s black, Hispanic, and Asian youths fell 85% from 1993 - ‘99.

·          In 1990, one black youth was arrested for murder every 80 hours in Los Angeles. By 2000, the number declined to one arrest a month.

·          Violent crime committed by adolescents dropped from 52 violent crimes per 1,000 kids in 1993 to 14 per 1,000 in 2005.

·          For the record, for the first time in a decade, violent crimes against 15-17 year-olds and violent crimes committed by juveniles were up year over year in 2005.  only slightly…

·          What we do know from the numbers — even if it isn’t always clear on the evening [air quotes] “news” — is that white adults over age 30 perpetrate far more violent crime across the nation than youths of all colors put together. Is it the kids we need to watch out for, or their parents and uncles and aunts…

DRUG ABUSE - In 1980, 40% of American 12th graders misused drugs. That number has been up and down ever since — dropping near 15% in the early 90s, back up to 26% in the early 2000s. In 2006, the rate of drug abuse among high school seniors was about 22%.

TOBACCO USE - The number of middle and high school students who smoked daily was cut in half between 1995 and 2006.

        Smoking would hardly be worth mentioning compared with drug and alcohol abuse if it weren’t for one thing: In recent years, smoking caused about five times more premature deaths than        alcohol and about 25 times more premature deaths than illegal drugs in the United States.

BINGE DRINKING

·          The working definition for binge drinking is downing five or more adult beverages in a row. In 1980 more than 40% of high school seniors reported binge drinking in the two weeks prior to the survey. In 2006, the percentage stood at 25%

·          Contemporary adolescents tend to make better choices about alcohol than their parents did at the same age. In fact, they tend to make better choices than many of their parents make today

·          Twice as many 35-54 year-olds binge drink as teenagers and college students combined.

If you’re sitting there trying to calculate the raw number of Boomers and older Baby Busters compared to their offspring, I think you’re missing the point: Adults are supposed to grow more responsible over time. If binge drinking is a mark of poor judgment, maybe it’s parents we need to talk some sense to.

Activities Among Teens – most adults had trouble believing these stats, here is what kids are doing now.

Have attended a cultural event or visited a museum in the past year 74%

Took algebra in the eighth grade 61%

Read the newspaper twice a week or more 58%

Go to church or synagogue once a week or more 55%

Participate in an after-school activity other than sports 54%

Volunteer for a community organization 52%

Have had a teacher who changed your life 49%

Currently work ten hours a week or more at a paying job 45%

Received at least one varsity letter 40%

Finally, according to a Nationwide Survey found that on virtually EVERY social indicator “youth today are at least as healthy, if not healthier, than their parents’ generation.” 

So… the state of the youth is not ideal, but on the other hand, things are not as bad as what the news and adult perception believes it to be. 

What Youth Need

This issue concerning youth is a hot-button topic among secular institutions as well as in churches.  Amazingly, the message of what youth need according to the Bible and these specialists is very similar.  Now, this doesn’t come as a surprise to many of you.  Most of you understand that the wisdom of God simply works and that the message of God’s Word is universal truth no matter the circumstance.

The first thing that both experts and the Bible say teens need is support.  The two most important groups of people that provide support are parents the community at large.  We see this in Deuteronomy 6:4 "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.”You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  We see here that God views parents as the number one influencer on kids.  As parents even if you and I do “nothing” to teach our children about Christ, morals and life, we speak very loudly with our actions. No matter what you do you are teaching your teens with your actions.  In a recent study Christian Smith of Notre Dame stated from the largest youth survey of its kind that parents are still the number one influencer of their own kids.  Not peers, not youth pastor, not anyone but parents are the number one influencer.  So, exam your life and see what, not if, you are teaching your kids. 

The next important group is the community.  These youth development experts have all seen that in the community- The largest improvements in positive youth development will occur more in response to interventions at the community level than those aimed at individuals. In other words, when communities join forces it is better than any one group within the community doing something.  Also, they have found that Community-level support and opportunities will benefit all or almost all youth.  Maximum effect happens when we all work together.  Not that everyone does the same thing.  No, rather, it is when the community joins together for a common cause.  In this case it is young people. The Bible has been supporting this idea for centuries.  In Galatians 6:2 tells us to carry one another’s burdens.  This is that community support.  We are joined at the soul by the Holy Spirit and [Eph 2] we are a building being built up with Christ as the cornerstone.  Teens need support from their parents and their community.

Empowerment is the next aspect helping youth succeed. Adults tend to categorize youths as either objects, recipients, or resources. As objects and recipients, youths have no hope of sharing in any kind of decision-making. However, once adults begin to view youths as resources -- to value them as they are -- great strides can be made towards a successful future.  I can think of no other system of values that has fought so hard for equality more than Christianity.  Slaves, once thought to be less-than-human, Christian values helped erase that.  Women, also treated as less than human, have been given great advancement because of biblical values.  Children as well. And while none of these have been done perfectly, or are finished, it is better than the alternative.  When adults realize that youth have the indwelling of the same Holy Spirit they have.  And that the Christ who give us strength to do all things is the SAME Christ who empowers youth to do great things for God.  Teens need empowerment from people who value them.

The last thing they need is high expectations.  God sets high standards for us as Christians.  1 Peter 1:16 commands believers to be holy as God is holy.  God sets high expectations and we adults should communicate those standards God has for us.  I have seen adults (both parents and other adults, so you don’t think I’m picking on parents) set HIGH expectations concerning sports, academics, extra-curricular activities, dance, etc… but then choose not to set any expectations concerning Christianity and hope for the best.  I’m not saying that we should be shoving Christianity down anyone’s throat, or forcing people to believe. Not possible.  But as parents and as community we need to set high standards for our teens in all areas of lfe.  Teens need high expectations for their success.

Our Response

So, what can we do as Grace Church?  The two most important things we can do as adults is engage students and set a good example for them.  One without the other is relatively ineffective.  Don’t think I am only thinking about 6th-12th graders.  If you take this to the elementary school or even the nursery you will have done much of my job by the time they reach the youth ministry.  The adults in this church have the responsibility to bridge the gap between generations.  Adults have a biblical mandate for mature men invest and help immature men grow, likewise for the ladies.  Don’t leave it up to the kids, think about how you were when you were a kid; you need to do what you can to bridge that gap. If have a desire to bridge the gap we are starting a mentoring program, come talk to me.  But if that is not your thing or you would like to start sooner come talk to me.  We need you in the ministry for all the reasons I listed above.  If youth scare you, which is understandable and younger kids are your thing talk to Bruce about the children’s ministry or Jonathan talking about how you can work with the youth of all ages in the community.   Bottom line… get involved.

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