This Post Is Mark Oestreicher Bait

This weekend was the Presbytery of Chicago’s Work of Love (AWOL) event for about 65 middle school youth, in which we learned about food insecurity, spent the night in a church, and then rode public transit to a community garden on Chicago’s south side, where we shoveled and raked and picked up trash in 30 degree weather.

I slept well last night.

An analogy for adolescent development occurred to me on the Red Line, as I urged a triad of squirrely seventh grade boys to pay attention to their surroundings and stop swinging from the hand straps. Early adolescence is a photograph with a blurry background but a clear foreground. Viewing it means focusing intently on the sole object in focus to the exclusion of everything else contained in the image. Development happens as the ability evolves to take in more of the photo and shift one’s focus from the foreground to the background and then back again.

Foreground: one’s immediate group of peers; the hand straps on the train; soda; Bible stories.

Background: the person addressing the group; the other riders on the train; dinner; the Biblical narrative.

It feels like the intensity of focus early teenagers have is an asset and not something to be disparaged until they grow out of it. But the challenge of working with adolescents still feels like nudging them toward adjusting their focus to take in more of what’s in the picture.

Oestreicher, I know you’re out there. Is this analogy helpful?




2 thoughts on “This Post Is Mark Oestreicher Bait

  1. Rocko!

    i like your analogy! a big part of why i enjoy middle schoolers so much is that there’s still so much of the blurry stuff — so much undefined. this is why i’ve some times described (using slight hyperbole) middle school ministry as preventive ministry (or maybe one could say ‘shaping’ or ‘future focused’ ministry), while high school ministry often feels like corrective ministry. certainly, the young teen years are uniquely marked by the confluence of a few realities:
    – new (but completely unarticulated) ability to exercise third-person perspective. this has a massively dynamic impact on all their social interactions and relationships, as they are experimenting with (but unsure of) how they are perceived by others.
    – changing bodies (among plenty of other changes!) that give rise to a hyper-sensitive focus on self.
    – shifting realities in how friendships are formed (from friendships based on proximity to friendships based on affinity) — which again requires all sorts of experimentation to figure out.

    i particularly like the positive perspective you bring to this: stating that their developmental reality should be viewed as an asset rather than a disability (or reason for dismissal). this hopeful perspective about middle schoolers is VERY rare in our world (and in our churches — EVEN in the world of youth ministry, where middle school ministry is often still viewed as starter youth ministry); and i believe it can easily and fairly be supported both developmentally (scientists who study teenage brains these days are looking for–and finding–the evolutionary benefits to ‘the way they are’) and theologically (unless we wrongly ascribe teenage development solely to cultural influence, or unless we wrongly project a ‘mistake’ on God’s creation intent). in the last few years, i’ve taken to framing this as a critical perspective question we must all face: Do we view teenagers as a problem to be solved or a wonder to behold? (oh, that more churches would embrace the latter!)

    all that said: you’re also correct that part of our calling as youth workers is to help teenagers (young teens, in this case) experience moments of diseqilibration, where they are stretched to see new things, experience new things. for young teens — as you experienced that day — having ANY sense of ‘the other’ is a BIT STRETCH, and can have powerful, shaping impact on their lives and faith.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s