You may or may not know this, but we are practitioners. We want to reach students as badly as you do. We spend the school year on public school campuses with students, having conversations and sharing the Gospel through our non-profit, RLTK. Pre-Covid, we were in 11 public schools. This year we started the journey of getting back into public schools post-Covid. Here are some things we learned along the way:
Mental Health is here to stay.
This now seems to be the common language. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you believe; students are talking about it, experiencing it, and describing it. Covid did a number on young people where we are, and we are assuming that’s also true for you. All year, no matter what issue we talked about, depression, anxiety, and trauma always came up.
This gets more complex when you consider these words aren’t just technical definitions they are using, but words in pop culture. For example, “depression” to a teenager is often defined as feeling down for more than two weeks. “Anxiety” might be classified as when your heart races before a test. And “trauma” could be something embarrassing that happened to them in front of their friends.
We need to clarify what these words mean and listen and affirm their experiences where we can. We found this was the best way to influence their perspective.
If you create space for conversation, they will challenge each other.
We focus on creating a safe space for open-forum conversation. We found when this was successful, there was always a dissenting opinion in the midst of the popular perspective held by most people. This made it easy for meaningful conversation. We need to make our spaces safe for both popular and unpopular opinions. Honest discourse can happen when we do this, and students’ perspectives get challenged. We also often found that the dissenting opinion was actually held by more people than we realized; they just felt like they couldn’t say it.
Listen to them; they will listen to you.
We are committed to hearing students’ perspectives. When they speak, we often ask questions for clarity if we don’t understand or ask them to teach us. This lets them know we are genuinely interested in what they have to say. They don’t feel like were are pretending to listen so we can get to what we want to say. We also intentionally save our perspective for the end of the discussion to give them more room to talk. This has been helpful because it allows us to listen more and talk less. When we do share our perspectives, they are more likely to respond well because they feel like we have heard them.
Students generally don’t know anything about the Bible.
This one has been interesting for me, not because students don’t know scripture (we already knew this). But it seems like the Christian worldview, for the most part, has little or no influence on their lives. It’s been important for me to remember that most students don’t know anything about Christianity, let alone have a Christian worldview. This is a beautiful opportunity to paint the wonderful grand story of the Gospel and God’s reconciling power working in the world on a fresh canvas.
Students need a compelling story to live their lives by, and we have the most compelling one of all.
Jordan is a team member at Reframe Youth in Phoenix, Arizona.