Alongside: Loving Students with the Gospel - Christian Book Award Finalist

Last week, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) named today 64 finalists in twelve categories for the 2019 Christian Book Award® program.

Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel by Drew Hill is one of five finalists in the Ministry Resources category. Learn more about Alongside in the interview below. 

An interview with Drew Hill
Author of Alongside:
Loving Students with the Gospel

In today’s instant gratification world obsessed with curating the perfect online presence to gain followers and likes, teenagers are more isolated and lonelier than ever. Middle and high school kids are longing to be chased, seen, and loved—and the gospel is the only answer to their questions, hurt, and desire for belonging. Unfortunately, parents and youth ministry leaders in the lives of young adults are missing opportunities not only to share the gospel with teenagers but to share their very lives as well. In this pivotal developmental time for teens, Christian communities neglect to care for them well, and too often, youth ministries and parents focus on behavioral change rather than heart change.

In Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel (New Growth Press), author Drew Hill invites readers to step into intentional, relational youth ministry while viewing teenagers through a gospel lens. This transformative book on youth ministry serves as an invaluable tool to anyone pursuing teenagers with the hope of the gospel. It provides practical help through a biblical framework and addresses challenging questions regarding how to reach teenagers and how Jesus cares for them and uses parents and youth leaders to rescue them.

Q: What would you say is the biggest wall to break down when establishing relationships with teenagers?

I’m convinced the prevailing emotion haunting most kids is shame. If we want to build relationships with kids, we’ve got to help them tear down that wall of shame and rebuild trust through acceptance. There’s this one question kids are asking when it comes to most of their relationships, “If you really knew me, would you really love me?

“Mom and Dad, if you knew my secret sins, would you still want me as your child?”

“Boyfriend, if you saw me without make-up, would you still think I’m pretty?”

“Coach, if I drop that pass, would you still be proud of me and want me on your team?”

“Everyone, if you saw the real me, if you saw my mess, would you still accept me?

They’re wondering if their worth is dependent upon their performance. So, if we’re going to be in relationships with them, we’ve got to convince them we love them and accept them, not because of what they do but simply because of who they are.

Q: How can parents cultivate renewed relationships with their own teenage children?

In Alongside, almost half of the book is dedicated to answering that question. An interesting exercise to do when reading the Gospels is to ask, “What did Jesus do outside of the miracle?” For example, he healed the bleeding woman, but he also listened to her whole story. So each chapter in that section of the book gives practical ways parents can step into these rhythms Jesus taught us with his life: Listening, asking good questions, taking walks with kids, leading them into adventure, etc.

Q: How can readers speak into shame when coming alongside their teenage friends?

I once heard a friend say that the amount of shame we feel is determined by the distance between our presenting self and our perceived self. Our presenting self (who we are on social media and who we pretend to be in public) and our perceived self (who we really believe ourselves to be). The greater the gap, the greater the shame. We’ve got to give kids a space to take off their masks, let down their walls and be known and loved, even in their mess. It takes time to earn the right to be trusted. If we continue to show up in their spaces, they will eventually get to a place where they feel safe taking off their masks.

Q: How would you encourage readers who are just dipping their toes into youth ministry or want to strike up that first conversation with a teenager in their lives?

I’m 40 years old and still fear being left out. Kids are the same way. They long to be pursued and for adults to want to get to know them, but the reality is, most teenagers are not going to come to us. We’re going to have to make that awkward step towards them first. But once we take that step and begin the conversation, we realize we’re not so different from them after all. Get someone who knows them to introduce you and help navigate that first conversation. Ask them questions that make them feel like experts. Get to know them just like you would any friend. We’ve got to help teach them the art of conversation in a culture that has quickly lost it to text messaging and screens.

Q: What are some of the negative impacts of treating the behavior instead of the heart?

Kids have been trained to believe their value is determined by their performance. We’ve got to constantly affirm that their value is in the fact that God created them and died for them. I read an article a few years back about the mothers of NFL players. One player talked about how growing up, after he lost a game, he would remember his mama coming on the field and hugging him and simply saying “I just love to watch you play.” When kids fail, we’ve got to remind them that we still want to be with them, even in their mess.

Q: How would you encourage those who want to walk alongside leaders and parents directly in the battlefield or in the midst of challenging youth ministry situations?

Help them keep a long view. We often overestimate what we can accomplish and get done in a day or a week, but often underestimate what we can accomplish in a year or more. Make small, daily investments in their lives over time and, much like an IRA, it will grow over time. Patience is a key to both parenting and youth ministry.

Also, make sure to not just dwell on what they’re doing wrong. Point out where the light of Christ is shining through their cracks. Hold out hope. Remind them of their own past and how far Christ has brought them.

Q: How do you assess a care rather than cure mindset?

The reality is that as parents, when our kids mess up, our reactions are often more about how bad it makes us look as parents. When they make public mistakes, we have to carefully consider if we are valuing our own appearance over our relationship with our children. When your child is in a crisis, how you respond in that first moment is going to determine so much of the future of your relationship with your son or daughter. If we are convinced God has forgiven us and shown us grace when we deserved justice, we’ll be much more likely to have a knee-jerk of grace with our kids.

Q: How would you encourage parents or youth ministry leaders who feel overwhelmed or in over their heads with youth ministry?

You’re not meant to do it alone. It’s such an important and big task that we can only do it through the power of the Holy Spirit. And God designed us to not do it alone. Raising kids and discipling kids is a village activity. We need a squad. But in our independent culture, we’re often slow to admit we need help.

If a child were diagnosed with cancer, we’d gather a prayer team and support network around them without thinking twice. In much the same way, they are facing a danger similar to cancer. We have to surround them in prayer and with people who will support both them and us.

Q: How could church communities better serve young adults as a whole?

We have to show them that we value them by giving them ownership. We have to let them lead and give them real authority. Not just behind the scenes roles, but roles where they can exercise gifts and passions they’ve been given by the Lord. My church let me step into leadership as a 13 year-old. I was leading a Bible Study group of 4th grade guys. Did I know enough theology at the time? No. But I knew the Gospel, and I knew how to ask for help. They let me lead worship when I could only play three chords on a guitar. They let me write articles for the church newsletter. They told me God could use me and handed me the keys to the church, and wouldn’t you know, I believed them and acted like it.

Q: Is simply showing up enough in youth ministry?

If we are personally experiencing intimacy with Christ, then yes it is, because we carry the light of Christ with us. We can go with confidence that He will move in and through us. However, we have to experience the Gospel before we can share it. We can’t give kids a tour of a place we’ve never been.

Q: How can youth leaders love parents well when they build relationships with their teenage children?

When I first started in youth ministry, in order to chat with a kid, I’d have to call the home phone. Those days are long gone, and it makes it more difficult to know both students and parents. It’s crucial to over communicate with both. Text, email, call and show up regularly in their lives. Make an effort to get to know parents and kids. View yourself, not as a substitute spiritual parent, but as a bridge between the parents and the kids. Praise the parent in front of the kid and vice versa. Interact with them as a family, not just individually. The reality is parents have way more influence than youth leaders ever will, so if we want to influence kids, it’s most strategic to invest in the whole family.

Q: How do you cultivate a like-minded missional community?

People are drawn to transformation stories. It’s why we love shows like The Biggest Loser and “rags to riches” movies. Highlight the transformation you’re seeing happen and people will be drawn to it. Ask people to share testimonies of how the Lord is moving.

And cast vision. Dream together about what can happen in kids lives if an intentional investment is made over a long period of time. Before we know it, these teenagers will be doctors, lawyers, teachers and parents themselves.

Learn more about Drew Hill and Alongside at He can also be found on Twitter (@DrewHillNC).