Gen Z (2000-2015) is an interesting generation. They have never licked a stamp and Google has always existed. 41% attend religious services at least weekly and 78% profess a belief in God (though not necessarily the Christian God.) They grew up with the internet, social media, and so much more.
With social media, they receive both positive and negative affirmations from society and the problem of “Keeping up with the Joneses” has been totally revolutionized. No longer do you see your neighbor’s new car when you pass by his house, you also see his new ride in pictures on Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat.
For Gen Z, keeping up with their peers is a big deal. Losing a SnapChat streak can be devastating and not getting enough “Likes” on an Instagram post can be discouraging. The problems Gen Z face, whether it be from social media, schedules that are too busy, the need to perform well in school, or to keep up with their peers are unique challenges for them, as they are experiencing it for the first time.
While we have experienced similar battles (and continue to experience these battles), we are not immune to trying to keep up with the Joneses. We are in the same rat race as our students, though we have a bit more experience with dealing with the problem. Since this be the case, we have a responsibility to help our students work through the challenges they face. When they feel like failures, outcasts, anxious and worried, or overcome with stress, what can we do?
First, we do not need to dismiss their feelings. While we may not see the number of followers (or lack thereof) as a big deal, it is often a big deal to our students. We need to listen to their concerns and then remind them that while “heaven and earth will pass away, [God’s] words will never pass away” (Mt. 24.35). God is much bigger than the number of followers we may (or may not) have on social media. He defines who we are in Christ…not another person. In other words, their worth and value is not connected to the number of followers they have on social media. What’s more, if they are stressed or worried because of overloaded schedules, the fix is simple: Consider their schedule with them and determine what can be cut out.
Second, we must pray for them and with them. We do not pray on them (i.e. “God jerk a knot into little Johnny and get him back on track so he doesn’t burn in hell.”) Rather, we pray for them. We pray that God would grow them in wisdom and in stature (Lk. 2.52) and that he would bless and guide them (Num. 6.24-26; Ps. 32.8). We must pray for them in their presence. May they know what it’s like to be prayed for by Mom and Dad, and Papaw and Mamaw. (While we do not need to “pray on them” in their presence, it may be necessary that we pray for the Holy Spirit to convict them of sin, righteousness, and judgement (Jh. 16.9). When that be the case, pray that God would bring them back to the fold.)
Furthermore, the Pastors of your local church do not need to be the only ones praying for and with your students. While we are more than happy to pray with people, students need to know that you are praying for them because as the parents, you are the primary influence (and disciple-maker) in their lives.
Finally, we encourage them to embrace their identity in Christ, as we embrace ours. It was once said, “we teach what we know, but reproduce who we are.” We cannot help mold and shape students into faithful disciples if we ourselves are not faithfully following the Lord Jesus. Granted, we are not a finished product either (Phil. 1.6), but we are to model a life of ongoing obedience and repentance.
In the end, Gen Z is an interesting generation and I love them deeply. As a Student Pastor, it is a joy to be able to serve and love on Gen Z students. If you’re reading this as a leader of Gen Z students (teachers, youth workers, coaches, etc.), then know you have an awesome responsibility. If you’re reading this as a parent, then know I am rooting for you as you get to experience the joy that is parenting.
On the Journey,
Interested in knowing more about Gen Z? Check out my PowerPoint: Gen Z: A Field Guide to the American Teenager.