I LOVE teenagers. They do say 'Once a teacher, always a teacher' and for me young people in their mid to late teens have always been my preferred age-group.
In the last couple of weeks I've been privileged to go into two local schools to speak about the Salvation Army – meeting young people aged 15 to 18.
The remit was slightly different in each case, as there are two distinct aspects to deal with.
I talked about both the history and beliefs of The SA as a church, and about the variety of social action in which we get involved. The students were very responsive, especially to the various DVD clips which they saw, each one highlighting a particular aspect of our work.
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But for me, the most encouraging and challenging part of the experience was the discussion time, when open and honest questions were asked.
Having worked with this age group for decades, the key issues came as no surprise.
Inevitably, I was asked about drinking, swearing, sex before marriage, and what lifestyle choices are expected of young people who are active members of a church these days.
The answer was literally staring them in the face when we looked at a clip from an International Youth Congress where 1,000 Salvationists aged between 18 and 25 met in Sweden.
The lively worship and various interviews proved that these delegates are typical of their generation in every way – but the SA epaulettes on their shirts also indicated that they are signed up 'soldiers' of the SA church.
That means they have promised not to drink alcohol, smoke or gamble, and to lead a life clean in thought, word and deed. That includes sexual purity.
That's a tall order in today's world – and some of them may struggle to keep the promises they have made to God.
So why would any church set such a high moral standard?
I suggest that the genuine and persistent questions of the students I was talking to gives a clue.
Our teenagers desperately need guidance and instruction in a society that has lost its way.
Of course, the fortunate ones live in the context of a stable, secure family. Their parents set a good example and they belong to excellent schools.
Even so, there is a responsibility here for those of us who represent the Church.
I asked each group how many of them were regular church-goers, and from around 250 students, there were only about 15.
Surely it is important for teenagers to make informed choices as they mature into young adults.
Sadly, the media and the world around us offer plenty of role models of lifestyles which no parent would wish their children to copy.
But where will they see the Christian lifestyle – based on Biblical principles – lived out in a contemporary and relevant way?
I would challenge every church to have courage to do whatever it takes to connect with young people, reach them and teach them, get to know them and show them what a young Christian can be.
We older people often despair at the state the world is in. But I would like to close on a positive note. The students I met were fabulous – intelligent, sensitive, full of fun, willing to learn, respectful and polite. Let's pray for our teenagers, and for those who live and work with them. They deserve the very best.
Christine Chadwick is from The Salvation Army, Newcastle.