To Challenge or Not to Challenge? How About BOTH


By Mark Eades

My high school coach was encouraging me – LOUDLY – during a 2-mile race. He encouraged as I ran, “Don’t slow down once you get around that guy – you can stay that pace!” I thought he was crazy because I still had 1.5 miles to go. But I tried it; and you know what – it worked! I won that race and had my best time ever. My coach challenged me to go a little harder and run a little faster. He helped me see that I had more in me than I thought. Shouldn’t we be doing the same with our youth?

I once heard veteran youth worker Kurt Johnston say, “Raise the bar; or don’t; but maybe a little; but not too much.” He was talking about challenging middle school kids, while still allowing them to be middle school kids. That idea has stuck with me and I’ve been excited to see what happens when you raise the bar on youth, for a little while, and see what happens.

Here is an example of something we have done that challenged our teenagers – for a while. We have a winter retreat ever year for our middle schoolers where we get away and really focus on challenging them in different spiritual areas of their lives. One of the things we did was create a Bible reading room. Students signed up to read the Bible for 15 minutes at a time during the entire retreat (except when we were sleeping), and wow! They loved it! Not only did they make sure to be there for their time to read, but they encouraged their friends to sign up for a time before or after their reading time. That way, they could hear each other read God’s word. One of the biggest highlights for our teens at our retreat these days is the Bible reading room. Simple, but yet something that challenged them – for a while.

Are there ways that you can challenge your teenagers to step up and try something? It could be something as simple as reading the Bible for 15 minutes or it could be as challenging as going overseas to do missions in Haiti.  I think the secret to this is knowing each kid and challenging them to go for it. If it works, great! Talk it through with them and see how it worked. If it doesn’t work, that’s okay too. Talk it through with them and see what happened and what can be changed. In Ephesians 4:11-12 it says, “He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church.” As we spend time with youth we get a chance to start showing them the shape God wants them to be as adults.  The next time you are with a group of youth see what happens if you challenge them just a little – you might be very surprised.