Are teenagers any of our business? Oh yes, says the Psalmist – and here’s 5 practical insights to do your best.

Trying to understand the behaviour and culture of today’s teens can be as challenging as attempting to eat jelly with chopsticks.

For that reason, it’s not surprising those of us who no longer have teenagers can feel we’ve done our bit and survived. So let’s leave it at that. But should it be how it is?

After all, what about the powerful words of the Psalmist – a promise and a command – that ‘We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them’. Psalm 78.4-6.

And there’s more here. Read on and we hear the positive and the negative consequences of our actions. If we do it right then they will ‘trust in God’ (v7) and ‘keep his commands’ (v7). While verse 8 gives us the negatives. Failure to engage produces a ‘stubborn and rebellious generation whose hearts are not loyal to God’.

Sorry, there’s no dodging it. But here’s some good news to encourage you. The findings of a new report about teens, The State of the Nation, from five Christian agencies, includes a significant finding.

Asked what made them feel good about themselves, more than 9 out of 10 said ‘my family’. They may not breeze up to you and ask for your opinion or help – but relationships need to be cultivated.

That means if you have teens within your family circle you are already ahead of the game. But our call to follow the instructions of the Psalmist doesn’t stop there and has huge implications in the context of church life. But how do we do it?

I’m not saying it is easy. We will not always get a listening ear or an acceptance of our perspective. However, that’s not a reason to chicken out.

With that in mind, here are 5 simple principles to help you give it your best shot.

  1. Listen, listen and listen. To put it bluntly, if we want to be heard we first have to listen – and listen hard.

    It can be a tough and confusing world for today’s teens. They need to know we at least want to understand what it’s like for them to live in an increasingly baffling world where ‘truth’ is a matter of opinion, peer pressure is huge, the environment charging towards it sell by date, and huge debt from a student loan beckons.
  2. Beware of the word ‘tell’. There’s a danger wrapped up in word ‘tell’; a danger which springs from today’s culture. In our day we were used to being ‘told’. Because that’s how education worked. But things have changed – dramatically. 

    Today, teens who need to hear have experienced an education based on investigation and questioning. This means we need to find ways to help them explore rather than poking them in the eye with ‘truth’. So don’t dismiss the value of floating questions in their direction for them to explore. But there is a telling that should be done which is to . . . .
  3. Speak of God in action. Note where the Psalmist says we are to start It’s not with hard facts or doctrinal statements. Rather, we are to tell them of ‘the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power and the wonders he has done’. 

    The implication is to be sure the next generation know what God has done for us. It is about our story and we need to have one.

    Forgive me for asking, but what exactly is it you are seeing God do for you today that causes you to praise his power and actions on your behalf? What is your own story; the story made possible because you are out to live your afterwork life to the full? That living story of a living God is where the communication begins.
  4. Don’t fudge what God expects. God’s statutes – what he expects of his people in the way they are to live, is also on the Psalmist’s agenda. But note, when God delivered his Commandments, he’d already giving the people good reason to praise his deeds and power – delivering them from slavery, parting the Red Sea, meeting their needs in the wilderness and more.

    If teens are to understand God’s Commandments they need to see they come from a God who wants the best for his people and has shown this in the way he acts. To use an old phrase – ‘it’s talking the talk and walking the walk’.

    More than that, it can be surprising to discover teens can welcome the clarity that comes from God’s instructions for living in contrast to the anything goes assumptions inflicted on them by the world around them.
  5. Buck the system. Churches don’t make it easy for us to share what God has done, and is doing, with other generations. That’s because in most churches there are groups for children, young people, men women and seniors. Often these groups are isolated. As a result, church operates as MULTI-generational with groups for all individual ages rather than INTER-generational which allows generations to mix together).

As a result, most of us in our later years rarely come across teenagers, let alone have the opportunity to talk with them about God and his wonders. What a loss that represents.

Which is why, if we are to fulfil the aspirations of the Psalmist, we need to work smart. Perhaps it’s something you could get your church leaders to face up to? Possible ways forward include.

  • Talk to a teenager in a church meeting – ask about their exams or where they’re heading, current issues or whatever
  • In your family, take a genuine interest in your teenagers Do you know what they are learning what floats their boat, what troubles them, and more? And be aware that statements such as ‘in my day ….’ are killers.
  • Pray regularly for a leader or group in your church and ask for prayer information.
  • Invite teens round for a meal and give them a belter. It may take a few goes at this but pray for interesting things to talk about and ask them what they think about the big issues.
  • Don’t assume all teenagers and culture ridden grunters.
  • If you have teenagers in church do what you can to see them fully integrated. A wise vicar used to ask ‘What CAN’T teenagers do in our church’ – the answer is ‘not a lot’. So rope them in.
  • Love them for who they are – even when they mess up. Because they will, just as we did.

It’s very easy to be critical of teenagers but the ones in our church or family come under the Psalm 78 command to pass on what’s true about God and his loving relationship with us.

I have worked with teenagers for over 50 years and sometimes they drive me crazy. But the overwhelming desire is to see them make sense of their world in a Biblical context. Let’s listen and love and help in any way we can.

Dave Fenton

Dave is a retired clergyman spending his after-work time lecturing at Moorlands College, building relationships and sharing his faith at his local golf club, and escaping to a cliff-top caravan in Cornwall where his seven grandchildren enjoy the local surfing beach.

What has your church done to make its teens more integrated into its life? Please share here or with our Facebook group.


  1. Thanks Dave. this is so wise, clear and helpful. I found a lot of “Oh, I’d never thought of that”s. (If the ‘print’ button could print it on 2 sides of A4 rather than spread over 8, afterworknet, even better!)

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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years"

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife