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Church Kids: helping teens fall in love with a familiar God.

I was born on the front pew of a church during a Sunday night worship service. Before I could say momma, I said Jesus. Enough exaggerating. I wasn’t born on a pew, but I was born a preacher’s daughter. Going to church was more important than anything else in our world. Church was first. I missed out on school dances, birthday parties, and routine mall outings. Skipping church was not an option. God was first. I was a church kid.

At birth, my spiritual path had basically been laid out for me. Unlike the common tale of the preacher kid rebellion, I didn’t hate church or despise God. Church culture was all I knew and the familiarity of it made me very comfortable. By the 10th grade, I’d been to church at least three times a week for pretty much my entire life. That’s about 2,500 church services. On average, each service was three hours long. That would be the equivalent of going to church every day for almost an entire year. That’s a lot of church.

I’d heard powerful sermons, I’d been prayed for, healed, and delivered till I was blue in the face. But my experience of church and knowledge of God wasn’t completely mine; it was my family’s. I knew so much about God and the Bible, but I didn’t know or have a deep love for God until I had my own encounter with him at the age of 16.

How did I fall in love with a God I’d been arranged to believe in from birth?

I was at the Open Bible Summer Camp in Spokane, Washington. Night after night the camp speaker delivered a very clear message. God wanted to have a relationship with me. He loved me, simply because I was his. Everything he lived and died for was all to love and be connected with me. It seemed like a race to the altar every night. Everyone was in the race except for me. I sat completely still and emotionless. I’d heard it all so many times before. I’d seen all of it – crying, submitting, and going all-in. I had a conversation with myself in my head, “Could this moment be any different than the hundreds of altar calls during the thousands of services I’d been to?”

I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to, but I left the meeting room and headed for the open field in the middle of the campground. I was so tired of being instructed on how to receive God, how to love God, and others speaking on his behalf. I just wanted to get away from it all. Couldn’t God speak for himself?

There I stood in the middle of that huge field covered in the night stillness. It was quiet and I was alone. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t pray anything, but I felt a shift. During that shift I knew I really wasn’t alone. The presence of God in that moment was evident. God knew I wanted to be close to him. I wanted to feel his love firsthand. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but through the splendor of the star-filled sky, and in the beauty of that silence, I deeply encountered God’s presence. My eyes swelled with tears and without speaking a word I committed to God, “I am here, and I will follow you. You are my God.” That night, the God of heaven and earth became my God. I accepted the gift of his love and presence in my life because the brightness of the stars, the fullness of the moon reflecting off the mountains and trees, declared his majesty! Yes, God can speak for himself.

Maybe you have teens in your youth ministry who were born into Christianity. How will these teens fall in love with a God they’ve been arranged to love from their birth? Will it be our mentoring, our teaching, the cool games or retreats that pull them into his arms?

Church kids are familiar with the Bible, they know how to live out Christianity, they’re good at serving, and they’ve been to thousands of church services. So maybe the most powerful way to serve church kids is to facilitate moments that allow God to speak for himself.

How have you facilitated these kinds of moments for the students in your ministry? Share with us in the comments.

– Theresa

22 thoughts on “Church Kids: helping teens fall in love with a familiar God.

  1. Avatar

    Great post, Theresa!
    It always seemed like the light switch went on when students had the opportunity to take meaningful leadership. In trips to Mexico, they were the team leaders, and adult leaders on the teams allowed them to learn, grow, fail…supporting them without supplanting them.
    Students came back and when we asked what they learned, it often was related to a deepened reality of their own relationship to the Lord.

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    Theresa this is a powerful one. My message this Sunday is how to go deeper in a relationship with God and this right here just spoke to me. Great posts Theresa. Keep them coming.

    • Avatar
      Theresa Mazza

      So glad this is where you’re at. Always praying for you and the youth at Discovery!

  3. Avatar

    we run summer camps and I have concluded that the most important thing we do is give teenagers space to think. They so rarely get that between the busyness of school, tv/Internet and dare I say, church life. Talk less, reflect more.

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    Theresa, I first want to thank so very much for this post. I have just started working with to youth in my church and I have been trying everything from Louie Giglio videos, to object lesson to mentoring and like you said none of this is having an impact on these “church kids”. Iam so passionate about them embracing that God wants a real and true relationship with them. I truly want them to have a life changing experience with God. Your post has given me much to pray about. Thank you

    • Avatar
      Theresa Mazza

      Mece, so glad this post spoke to you right where your at. I’m praying for you as you lead your students.

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    Wow! Thank you for sharing. We are part of a church plant in Riverton, Wyoming & are just getting ready to start our youth group in a couple of weeks. I’m one of our leaders and have been really searching scripture along with research, for guidance in leading our kids. Most are straight from our church and my prayer and my hope is for them to really experience Christ for themselves. That personal relationship with Jesus is key! We have many clear nights here in Wyoming. The stars shine brightly, I just may use that for an evening of showing our kids the amazing creation our God has done and allow quiet time in this. Thank you!

    • Avatar
      Theresa Mazza

      Create time for students to look at the stars, and not have be anywhere else, not have to check their phones, sounds amazing.

    • Avatar
      Theresa Mazza

      Creating time for students to look at the stars, and not have be anywhere else, not have to check their phones, sounds amazing.

  6. Avatar
    pastor Daryle Billadeau

    This is a very good message Theresa! I think it applies to all people who attend church. I was on Young Life staff and watched a lot of kids make decisions because of personal encounters, but I’ve found that a lot of adults need the same “God Encounter”

    • Avatar
      Theresa Mazza

      Pastor, how do you encourage adults to have a new encounter with God?

      • Avatar
        Genie Marklund

        I think that adults need to get away and have personal encounters much like teens do. They/we need to unplug, stop checking our phones and get away from the busyness of life!

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    Bonnie Summerill

    Theresa, camps and retreats are often the way that youth encounter Jesus!!!!!!!!! I am so glad I was able to be a part of retreats for kids with you!!! I learned a lot and have put it to use! And want to keep doing so!

    • Avatar
      Theresa Mazza

      Bonnie, we were so blessed! I’m so encouraged by your desire to bring people to the arms of Jesus! You amaze me!

  8. Avatar

    I would love to hear more about how you have created moments where God is able to speak for Himself. I am struggling with how to impact the youth in my church and I’m thinking this is why, I am not allowing God to speak for Himself. Thanks for sharing.

    • Avatar
      Theresa Mazza

      Be encouraged Allison. Your heart shines through in this comment and I know God is working in and through you. In response to your desire to hear more on how to create these moments I’ll work on a post to share a few things/ways I’ve seen God speak to students. Keep your eyes open for a post like that.

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    That was a wonderfully powerful message. I remember so many times when this has happened in my life (being as involved as I am in church). It always seems that as the one trying to be the voice of God to others that what we need most is time when the only voice that can be heard is God’s. Silence moves me, thank you for your story.

    • Avatar
      Theresa Mazza

      Josh thanks for the encouragement and reminder. Silence is powerful. What a great message. Thank you.

  10. Avatar
    Theresa Mazza

    I completely agree with you. We can demonstrate a life in pursuit of God to the teens we work with.

  11. Avatar
    Neal Folger

    We had a very powerful worship experience at our high school summer camp called “Blindfold Worship.” The camp leaders gave all the camp’s attendees, students & leaders, a blindfold + instructed them to spread out – to get some space to be alone. As the blindfolds were put on, 2-4 worship songs were played. All we had were our ears, heart, mind, and spirit. It was so special to use those senses to experience God’s presence. It left a mark so deep that I’ll be using that for one of our regular youth gatherings in the fall….

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Church Kids: helping teens fall in lo...

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