Written by Aaron Helman


Let’s start the way all youth ministry blog posts should begin, with a quote from a Greek economist about teenagers:

“They only care about frivolous things. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly… impatient of restraint.”

If my grandfather read youth ministry blogs (he doesn’t, of course), he’d be happily nodding his head in agreement, but here’s the thing I didn’t yet mention:

That Greek economist is a man named Hesiod who died 650 years before Jesus was born and was a contemporary of the same Homer who wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey.

The idea that teenagers these days are somehow different – or worse – isn’t a new one.

For pretty much as long as we have recorded history, every generation of adults has had those who complained about teenagers.

The truth is, teenagers probably haven’t changed as much as many want to believe. Instead, it’s the world around teenagers that’s changing so radically.

It’s a world that – by any statistical measure – has left today’s teenagers more overworked and under slept than any generation of teenagers in history; and it absolutely changes the way that we have to be in ministry with them.


Here’s a fun statistic.

The average high school student reports doing three hours of homework a night.

That’s nearly twice as much as teenagers reported doing 15 years ago (back when I was a teenager).

As youth workers, it’s easy to complain when students are too busy to come to youth group, but I think we can all agree that teenagers are not the ones who chose to have three hours of homework a night.

When band camp lasts a full month for eight hours a day, we can agree that teenagers are not the ones who petitioned the band director for more rehearsals.

The largest change we’ve seen in teenagers is directly attributable to the world that adults have built for them.

They practice more, train more, rehearse more, and study more than ever before – almost always at the behest of the adults around them.

The most significant change in the teenage world is that the adults surrounding it expect teenagers to be bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, better rehearsed, and more trained than ever before.

Almost miraculously, teenagers are, for the most part, doing pretty well navigating this difficult, new world.

They’re getting most of their homework done, nailing auditions, and making football teams even though it’s literally harder to do those things than ever before.

And yes, I know it’s frustrating that youth ministry gets the short stick.

I know it’s frustrating that students seem to almost always choose school, then sports, then music and art, ahead of attending our Wednesday night program.

Yes, I wish they would learn to put their relationship with Jesus ahead of their obsession with being the first-chair trombone or the starting goalie or the Valedictorian.

And we’ll get to all that in a little bit, but first, let’s talk about sleep.


Physiologically, adolescents require a lot of sleep.

Depending on how hard puberty hits, it’s not uncommon for a 16-year-old to actually require more sleep than a pre-adolescent 12-year-old. Pubescent teenagers can need 8-10 hours of sleep a night.

They’re not getting it.

What do you suppose happens when teenagers are loaded with historic levels of stress and pressure, are chronically underslept, and turn to caffeine at younger and younger ages to deal with it?

Every expected outcome. Depression. Panic attacks. Anti-social behavior. Cutting. Suicide.

Today’s teenagers are more exhausted – physiologically, mentally, and emotionally – then any generation before them, and even though they’re trying their best, it’s taking a very real toll.


In the middle of all of this teenage stress and commitment is an unbelievable opportunity for youth ministry if we’ll just stop to realize that it’s there.

Every teacher wants teenagers to study more.

Every coach wants teenagers to practice more.

Every director want teenagers to rehearse more.

Every boss wants teenagers to work more.

And Jesus said this:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” -Matthew 11:28-30

Yes, we want our students to be more committed.

Yes, we want their attendance to be more steady.

Yes, we want them to sign up for retreats and missions trips and summer camps and service projects.

But if we look at this generation of teenagers – who are tired and broken and flat-out exhausted – and we don’t tell them that Jesus offers rest, we’ve failed to share the full story and especially the part of it that they so desperately need to hear.

While every other adult voice in a teenager’s life presses for more and more and more and more, the call of Jesus for the weary is to enter into the presence of Jesus and to rest.

It’s remarkable, really, but the kinds of activities that I hated doing as a teenager in youth group are actually the most popular among the teenagers I serve today.

My students would report that their favorite times are the silent, meditative moments we build into our services – not the up-tempo music that I loved when I was a teenager.

They love kneeling at the rail and whispering prayers and confessions to God.

My students want to sleep at overnighters and retreats.

My students aren’t clamoring for high-energy, hyper-programmed gatherings named after energy drinks.

More often than not, they’d rather recline into a comfortable chair with a cup of hot chocolate and talk about life and faith.

And at the end of the day, they are more content than I ever was as a teenager to merely dwell quietly in the presence of God, to experience a moment of stillness and piece, and to pray and breathe.

Now, more than ever, this generation needs the message of Matthew 11:28 to fall back on.

Everything else in the world is trying to wear them out, but the promise of Jesus is rest.


Liked this blog post? You’ll also like this one:

How to Write Life-Changing Youth Group Messages

Written by Aaron Helman. Aaron has been in youth ministry for over 15 years and is currently a youth pastor in South Bend, Indiana.


  • August 29, 2017 at 8:06 am

    I taught for 25 years in 3rd grade . Each of my last 2 years I had a student each year who fell asleep in class every day. It broke my heart. Their homes were chaotic. I tried to send them to the nurse to let them sleep on her cot and they wouldn’t let them. The principal was no help. I was so grieved for them and as a teacher, helpless.

    • September 4, 2017 at 12:31 am

      Sometimes all you can do, is what you can do – and it sounds like you tried. Teachers that care about their students make an impact that lasts for a lifetime. Although you may never see the results of your time with them, I’m sure they knew that you cared and that means a lot!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on this post!

  • September 5, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    YES! Nick, I have been feeling this way for awhile now! I have teenagers at home and I don’t want one more requirement of their time for them–and I’m their youth pastor!! I just gave our middle school youth a whole evening (about 40 min) after our game to go off with a specific scripture and answer questions about Jesus–I couldn’t believe how quiet and focused they ALL were (yes, even the boys)! 20 middle schoolers, totally quiet, for 40 min!! It was to focus on finding peace in Him, and they loved it! Thanks for writing this piece.

  • September 6, 2017 at 8:04 am

    I’m finding youth a being “pushed” by many parents into sports and many other programs to make their kids popular and stand out. Many parents are trying to live through their children and the burden is wearing the kids out.
    Coaches agreeing to have practice on Sundays is NOT helping the issue.
    Focus needs to remain on God.

    • September 17, 2017 at 10:26 pm

      Hi Stephanie.Thanks for adding to the conversation.
      With all the distractions in the world, we need to partner with parents to help our students stay focused on God.

  • September 7, 2017 at 2:38 am

    I had never taken time to think about it this way. Teenagers in my church are always late for service and it is sad that i have been part of the ‘adults’ questioning their commitment without appreciating the burden they carry. Thank you for giving me a better way to speak to them.

    • September 17, 2017 at 10:29 pm

      Hi Caroline.
      You’re a good leader to take the time to listen to and try to understand the students that you are ministering to. That’s so important!

  • October 18, 2017 at 8:00 am

    Thanks for the good words. I have found that this is too true, and startling. I remember being a teen with a billion things to do and when I got home I crammed some food in my mouth and headed for bed by 8:30-9pm, only to start the routine again at 6am for 7 days a week. Opening my home has been huge…too huge. So many of these kids come from chaos or overly structured and massive expectations. For some reason bringing teens to my house, where I pray for peace, and have a good ol spiritual campfire, they become responsive, relaxed, reflective, open, and many of them develop relationships with my wife and I that stick…which hopefully leads to a faith that sticks. In our area, my home is a refuge and my observation is that not enough homes are that way. Youth group is youth group. The numbers fluctuate up and down. But this article reminded me that my home plays an even more important role than I realize most days. Thanks!

  • April 3, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    Thank you all for your insights, my husband and I have been praying about taking the position as youth leaders at our church, and God has given us confirmation. We really enjoy the youth, thank you for the many resources that are available to us. May God bless you all in help in his ministry.


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