IT IS a mistake to think that teenagers are not interested in
Christianity. They are hungry for knowledge and experience. We need
to learn more about how to feed them.
Teenagers understand human relations better than we older people
do. We no longer live in a world where they must be seen but not
heard, but we do often treat them like wallpaper. I have seen
people talk about teenagers in front of them, as if they are not
there. But I have also seen how teenagers are alert to everything
that is going on around them (while apparently still being only
Teenage boys in particular are renowned for going into the dark
tunnel of adolescence and reducing communication to single-syllable
grunts. But try asking them about the relationships between the
extended family after attending a wedding, and they will shock you
with their insights.
I am certain that being 14 or 16 gives you an alertness to
relationships that older people have long since lost. At the age of
16, you notice the messages that people give with their eyes and
their bodies. You notice the way a lip curls, or a hip sways.
We live out our relationships in front of them daily, and they
learn from every single thing that parents do. The lesson is to ask
them questions, expecting wisdom; and to teach by example.
TEENAGERS have a more intense relationship with God than we
have. I tell my pupils that the prayers of children reach the ears
of God faster than anyone else's. And I believe it.
There is something about the circle of life and children's being
closer to its genesis that makes me believe that they have a purer
connection to God. We hear about "thin" places and times, where the
veil between God and humankind seems permeable. Teenagers live in
thin spaces all the time. Their senses are on overdrive, and their
antennae will pick up God in an instant, if there are people whose
lives or teaching can lift the veil.
We find it hard to talk to teenagers at the best of times; so
the idea of talking about their prayer life may seem intrusive. In
my experience, it opens up the most extraordinary conversations.
One boy said to me recently: "I live in a permanent state of
thanksgiving to God. Every day is precious."
They pray at the end of the day, in the shower, and on the bus.
They pray song lyrics with their earphones in, and they always want
to talk about prayer. When I tell them that I pray for the whole
school, by name, every day, they are delighted.
TEENAGERS understand God because they understand suffering. Part
of living in thin places is the fact that many teenagers are
acquainted with the valley of the shadow of death. They live with
life-and-death issues in a way that feels shocking to adults,
because they seem to treat life with little care.
They take drugs, they drink themselves stupid, they have risky
sex, they drive too fast, they never wear cycle helmets. Life is
lived right up to the edges and in abundance. Of course, not all
teenagers indulge in this stereotype, and many will not have got
blindingly drunk nor had sex until after they leave school. But the
notion of living life to its fullest still holds true.
The fact that she cannot find her hair clips, two minutes before
she is supposed to be leaving, is actually the end of the world.
The fact that his gum shield is not immediately available as he
runs out of the door is worse than the Syrian crisis. But the truth
is also that she has spent the day at school trying to get her head
around another friend's anorexia, and he spent last night working
out ways to say no to drugs.
This abundance of life is what God knows about. What we need to
learn how to do is to teach and show them the abundance of God's
TEENAGERS are deeply conservative. In church, they are the ones
who complain about proposals to sell the pews and buy chairs. In
school chapel, they are the ones who complain when we change the
translation of the Bible from King James to New International
They value tradition, although they will not often be able to
express this until they move on to the next stage of their lives. I
am convinced that it is because their internal lives are in a state
of flux. They need a place of safety and constancy.
This is not to argue for all churches to follow my particular
tradition of Anglo-Catholic worship (although we can do lights,
smoke, and mystery as well as any night-club), but to say that
priests and worship leaders should not fall into the trap of
assuming that youth work is about endless innovation.
Do what you do, do it well, ask the young people for their
opinions (have them on the PCC, for example), and don't change it.
These are simple suggestions for any church tradition. Young people
need stability. They might not appreciate it for many years, and at
times they will be very rude about it. But they need it.
TEENAGERS are ignorant about God, but open to the idea of God.
We all know that the majority of young people are uneducated in
religion. It is alien, but interesting. Adolescence is one of the
times of life when you are genuinely open to the world. You are
constantly trying to work out who you are, and what you are here
for: hence the experimentation with hair, make-up, drugs, alcohol,
They live as closely to the huge