What do you do when young people behave inappropriately? Sometimes as adults we are very quick to censure and find fault. This is particularly true when the young people are not in our circle. More often than not, it is time to ask yourself the question we posed in part 1: Are we failing our youth. ” You must ask the question and and take 3.
“My father [Dr Martin Luther King Jr] would have worked to elevate them, to connect with them, and bring them into the movement,” said Dr Bernice King. In saying this, Dr King has given you 3 steps that she feels her father would have taken to reach young people.
It’s time for you to take 3 and examine these steps, all the while asking, “am I willing to walk these steps?” Are you willing, especially when it is “those young people.”
Take 1: Connect
Have you noticed connection between a guide dog and it’s owner?In many ways, connecting is the foundation and necessary starting point for the other 2 steps you will take. It is hard to accompany, guide, and elevate when there is no connection. These require trust that can only be established through connection, through relationships.
It is evident from Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s life that he connected. He went where the people were. He knew their stories. He stood with them in the struggle and did not try to save himself. He really followed the God he served.
God came down in Jesus Christ and connected with us on the human level. Hebrews 4:15 puts it up this way: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (NRSV).
When you see or hear of young people acting out, connect.
- Go where they are.
- Learn their stories.
- Find out who they really are.
- Stand with them in their challenges.
- Build trust.
Take 2: Accompany and Guide
Take time to stay and journey with them as a guide. Don’t do a hit and run—get to know them, build their trust, and then leave. Many young people have been hurt by adults who come and go just as they were getting to know them. I remember hearing a group of young people talk about the coming and going of their youth worker. I could hear the pain in their voices and the sense of betrayal.
When you connect, therefore, do it for the long haul with the intention of being a companion and guide. Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s life was threatened but he did not turn back. Jesus knew what was before him and he resolutely went to Jerusalem and the cross. Both were leaders who were with their followers, but had a large enough vision, sense of purpose, and authority that they were always the leaders.
- Commit for the long haul.
- Be present in the good times and the bad.
- Be friendly without being pals. Be the adult.
- Have a vision for life and for the young people’s lives.
- Have a sense of God’s purpose for us as human beings and for them in particular.
- As you go alongside and along with them, bring them along with you.
Take 3: Elevate
It would be sad if you connected, accompanied and guided and they were not elevated. You, after all, bring experience and wisdom that they are still working on acquiring.
Young people have many great ideas. They have a lot of enthusiasm. In their process of becoming they are still testing their ideas, boundaries, and learning what’s acceptable and what isn’t. With all the best intentions in the world, they will have ideas that push against the norms. When this happens, it is your great opportunity.
Martin Luther King Jr was opposed to violence in the movement. It was a non-negotiable. Yet, from all accounts, this was communicated in love to those who thought differently. He was able to bring along a multitude into the non-violent movement.
The disciples were never the same after their encounter with Jesus Christ. They were more than they had ever been before. You might say, that’s Jesus Christ. Yet, he has called you to be his disciple and sent you as he was sent (John 20:21).
Seize your opportunity:
- Even as you know their story, provide them with alternative stories.
- Even as you know their language, provide them with new words and thoughts.
- Say when something is not acceptable. Say it with love, but say it.
- Offer alternative behaviors.
- Commend the motives behind their ideas.
- Support them.
Young people are young. You once were. Unless you connect, accompany and guide, and elevate, you will be failing your young. Take 3. Can you take these steps?