how do I motivate young people?
Updated: May 5
I stared at my digital grade book, shaking my head in disbelief. Not a single student had turned in their science project on time. They were failing my classes, ignoring my demands for completed homework, and goofing off during study hall. Why couldn't these 7th graders take school seriously? Was it a home issue? A discipline issue? Was it because I was a new teacher? I pondered all the variables for quite some time.
A year later, that same group of students had improved their academics by nearly two grade levels. Do you want to know my secret to success? What changed?
The answer is simple- their motivation.
It sounds too obvious to be useful. Of course we want young people to be motivated about school or family values or God. Yet instead of focusing on the idea of motivation itself, we get all wrapped up in other factors. Instead of expecting students to motivate themselves we try to do it for them. We come up with incentives or threats to coax them along... and we aren't just doing this in school; we do it in churches as well.
We start finding ways to substitute motivation from the time a child starts attending Sabbath school. This isn't all bad at first because young children do need some help initially finding their way. We give out prizes to the child who memorized the memory verse. The little girl who participates gets a sticker. The little boy who says he loves Jesus gets applause. The problem arises, when we are unable to shift from this mindset of coddling our young people even after they are ready to start doing things for themselves. Suddenly someone is reading the Bible or going to church for the extrinsic benefits instead of the intrinsic ones.
How many times have we heard the dreaded church argument about music style or dress code or Sabbath afternoon activities? Often amidst the discussion, someone will exclaim, "We need to do XYZ for the youth so they will feel comfortable!"
I should not be in church just because I like the music style or someone let me wear my mini skirt. I should not have a negative or positive view of God himself based on what other people have provided or failed to provide me. My relationship with God is my own. When Christ comes again the only person responsible for my salvation is ME. People need to be reminded of this. Instead of trying to do everything for me so I can feel comfortable and included, help me desire to do things for myself.
I'm not just speaking to old people here. I am also speaking to people my age. We are partly to blame. We sit around with a sense of entitlement. When someone does something we don't like we pout and we blame other people for our lack of interest in spiritual matters. It is time to wake up! Stop coasting through life like a boat lost at sea allowing every wave to ruffle you. If your motivation comes from your own heart, you will not be so easily swayed when people disappoint you.
Our church needs reformation. We have become so good at explaining how to have a Christian lifestyle and accept Jesus, that we have cheapened the experience. We are raising our youth in an environment where everything is handed to them. Here is a list of things to do as a Christian. Here is a list of things not to do. Here is a Bible. Here is a church family. Each of these elements is nice and necessary in a Christian's life, but they are not what keeps someone close to God. Young people are brilliant! They might not even realize it, but they want something more. If we can rekindle a passion in their hearts to seek out God for themselves, many of these other issues will subside. Honestly, we need to do this for all people.
How do you motivate someone? The short answer is- you can't. Frustrating isn't it? However, you can show them the value of being motivated and living a passionate life. You can live by example. When I was working with my "lazy" 7th-grade students, the first step to improvement was accepting them as they were. I told them that I believed in them. I told them that even if they never gave me more effort, I knew they could if they chose to. I showed them their potential. I pointed out that if they decided to try harder I would help them. I shared personal stories from when I was in their position. I applauded even the tiniest of efforts on their part. Miraculously, their motivation began to grow.
I think this same approach can be taken when we help people learn about God. Instead of talking down to someone or telling them how they need to live their life, we need to intrigue them. Ask them questions about what they believe. Encourage them to study things for themselves. Share how Jesus has worked in your personal life. Give them resources. Allow them to have a different opinion from yours. Let me repeat that... ALLOW THEM TO HAVE DIFFERENT OPINIONS. They are learning. We all are. You cannot force your views on someone and no they aren't going to hell if you don't.
Here is a piece of information that you might not agree with: God doesn't care about you always getting things right. Are the truths in the Bible important? Absolutely- and we should always continue to study and strive to improve our characters, but that isn't what God values the most. God values your effort. He wants to see that you are trying to know him. He wants to see that you are trying to understand the world for yourself. He wants to see that you desire him. You might get the Bible all wrong, but God will still accept your intentions. He will not leave you hanging if you earnestly seek him. He will send you guidance. Nothing is more important than the desire to learn and grow in Christ. It is within that growth mindset that we become more effective witnesses.
As I wrap up this thought, I want to close with a key detail- prayer. It is through prayer that the Holy Spirit can unleash his powers in ways we don't always allow ourselves to experience. Prayer allows the impossible to take place. There is only so much I can do or say to encourage someone to seek Jesus for themselves. The Holy Spirit goes where we cannot. You see, motivation is a heart issue. It is Jesus himself who must reach those people who are unable to see value in him. We can help through prayer.
I am praying for each of my readers, and no matter how you feel about the posts I share, I hope I am in some way motivating you to study and spend time with God for yourself.