No Invisible Students
Ding! A notification pops up on a student’s phone in the middle of our conversation. Without skipping a beat, she looks at it and smiles, then types a quick response and lays the phone back on the table. This is the second time this has happened in the last five minutes. I ask who it is, making sure her ride isn’t outside waiting for her. “Oh, it was just another comment on the picture I posted this morning, I have like over 80 people comment on my posts and if I don’t respond right away, it’s a lot to keep up with later.”
Being that this took place years ago, and I was fairly new to youth ministry, I sat there dumbfounded. Moments before the comments interrupted our conversation, she had been confessing how loneliness and isolation were taking over her world. She confessed feelings of frustration as she told me how she felt as if no one cared for her and she had no true friends, yet there were nearly 80 people leaving positive messages on a simple picture of her posted to Instagram! I didn’t understand. How could there be such deep loneliness in a world that is connected 24/7 through technology? What I didn’t realize then is that behind the masks of happy posts overflowing with likes and comments, our teens are struggling with serious loneliness and isolation, slowly becoming invisible to our congregation.
It’s not news to anyone that we are living in some of the most virtually connected times our world has ever seen. From social media, to unlimited texting, to the all too familiar Zoom, we have the ability to be in constant connection with people from around the world 24/7. Yet in the same breath, while these are the most connected times our world has seen, they are also some of the most isolated times our world has seen—especially for our teens.
According to a study done by Common Sense Media in 2019, “Teens use an average of just under seven and a half hours’ worth [of screen time a day]—not including time spent using screens for school or homework.” 1Yet despite being connected through social media for much of the day, there is still immense loneliness and isolation. So, what is to blame for this intense isolation? Social media? Technology as a whole? The label we put on GenZ?
While it would be convenient to push the blame onto one aspect of society, the truth of the matter is that there are a combination of factors playing into the isolation issue. One reason takes us back to Genesis, where in the Garden of Eden, God has created man and deemed his creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31). As we continue reading to Genesis 2:18, we are confronted with a problem: man was alone! God decided that it was not good for man to be alone, so he made him a helper, Eve. From the beginning, we were created for community with one another. Our souls long for it, therefore, we seek it.
While online communities can be a blessing, there is nothing that compares to the true community and fellowship that takes place among believers. Even the student who seems to show no signs of longing for community does desire it because of the way their creator made them. They long for people who truly care about them. They long for a community that comes around them when the trials and struggles of life feel unbearable—a community that encourages and lifts them up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), a community that allows them to learn from one another and challenge them spiritually. Most importantly, they long for a community who loves them the way their Savior loves. Isn’t that something we all desire so deeply?
The problem is that we forget to pursue this particular group of isolated students. We forget those who, for whatever reason, have fallen out of community and into isolation and loneliness. We can spend so much of our time pouring into other (really great) causes, while the quiet, shy, hurting students of our congregation are turning invisible.
As the church, we are called to action. Most of us have been encouraged either to pursue a Paul (teacher) or to train a Timothy (student), and I’d like to call you to take that step today. No matter how invisible they may seem, they are still out there. And fortunately for you and me, that means we can still take action in bringing them into the community God commands us to be in. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” So how do we do this? How do we encourage the teens of our church not to neglect meeting together?
If you’re an adult: I want to encourage you to find opportunities to speak into students’ lives. Whether that be your own teens or maybe just the teens you see at church. Ask them about their lives and what God is doing in it; encourage them! Who knows, perhaps that conversation will lead to a great mentoring opportunity! I would then encourage you to be praying diligently for the students of our community. They are under attack and the world tries so hard to get their attention. Pray that they would first and foremost know and love Jesus with all their hearts, and then that they would find good community. We also ask that you would pray for the Verge leaders who walk alongside students who struggle with loneliness. Pray for wisdom and that the Holy Spirit would speak through us.
If you are a teenager: I want to call you to pursue community with other believers. If you don’t know where to start, go to the Lord in prayer and ask him where you can start! You can always reach out to any leader on the Verge team for guidance in that area as well. We are here for you. When you get to that community, I want to encourage you to participate, engage, and actively seek out relationships! Attend Verge or attend clubs with other believers at your school. Embrace the community the Lord has given you. The next thing I would encourage students to do is to seek out a mentor. Community doesn’t have to only be with people your age. Mentorships are not only biblical, they are a blessing!
The big call to action for all of us is this: step out of your comfort zone. Find an invisible student and pull them into fellowship. Community is a gift and as Romans 12:4-5 reminds us, we are better together.
References [ + ]
|1.||Victoria Rideout, M.A., VJR Consulting, Michael B. Robb, Ph.D., Common Sense, 2019 The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Teens and Tweens, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/research/2019-census-8-to-18-key-findings-updated.pdf, 6.|