Apathy is not the Problem

Teenagers do well if they want to.  This is a “fact;” there have been many resources trying to help parents, leaders, and youth workers get their teenagers to be less apathetic.  I’ve read some of these, and agree that apathy is certainly a problem.  So, we spend week after week at the pulpits trying to inspire teenagers to commit to change.  We pour into their lives with discipleship, trying to get them to see that someone cares about them, and therefore they should care too.  Yet at the end of the day, we leaders can feel extremely empty and dry.  I know personally that I can pour out everything that I have into students and often times it dries me up emotionally, physically, spiritually.  I read articles that tell me how to motivate, but I feel like I’m doing my best job!  I’m sure everyone who reads this relates to this frustration.

So what if apathy isn’t the problem?

It’s certainly a problem; I mean, if it’s not our teenagers’ lack of motivation, what is stopping them from growing in faith?  Instead of simply trying to inspire them, what if we looked at what they’re apathetic about and encourage change in action and not in behavior?  The mentality is no longer “Teens do well if they want to,” but “Teens do well if the’re able to.”

This model was first described in the book The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene.  Watch him explain more about this idea in this video.  I attended a training session on this idea this last month, and wanted to share what I learned with the youth ministry community.

Under the mentality of “Teenagers do well if they’re able to,” it’s no longer about if they want to or not.  Some teenagers want to advance the gospel but still can’t because all they’re being told is “do it” but they don’t know how.  Some teenagers want to quit a particular sin, but don’t have the tools to stop.  They want to, but can’t.  If you give them the tools, they’ll be able to.  And for those teenagers who don’t want to, even Martin Luther King couldn’t inspire that teen; but if you teach them the tools, they might change without even wanting to.  It’s like a teenager who doesn’t want to go to school–the underlying problem is they think they are stupid.  If you educate them, they can succeed anyway, even if they never wanted to. Ha! Tricksy!

This changes our roles as youth leaders drastically:  We are no longer a motivator, but an equipper.  Greene says that with the old model, our job greatly narrows what the teenager can do in their life–making them want  to do something and nothing more.  Under this new model, pastoring is not as much about transferring our desire for the gospel, but our knowledge of the gospel.  Pastoring isn’t about motivating teenagers with the best fluff and feel-good stuff you got, but about giving them the tools.  Sure, apathy is a problem.  Yes, we should definitely try to inspire and motivate our students to share the same passion as us.  Of course, there will be some teens that don’t change; this model is not the answer to all of your youth ministry problems.  If you give them the tools and they still aren’t changing, then you shouldn’t feel dry as you may have before; you’ve done your best job as a youth pastor.

What do you guys think about this model?  How do you think this may impact the way that you do ministry? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

2 thoughts on “Apathy is not the Problem

  1. Patrice says:

    “We are no longer a motivator, but an equipper” – That’s powerful. And such a key! I needed that reminder! For realz. With my kids, I’ve tried to make a practice of teaching in our small group setting with an immediate application. A simple example: If we teach on prayer, at the end of the meeting (And because we are a small youth group) I have the kids get in groups of 3 and pray with one another. And we continue to do it as a youth group intentionally each week as we study prayer more depth throughout the upcoming weeks. Then, a habit of genuine prayer is established and usually a hunger for it, and after a few weeks, the kids are encouraged because they have the tools to use themselves and have seen it for themselves the positive effects. xo

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