I’m coming to view more and more of youth ministry as a constellation of relationships and activities for helping teenagers take account for where they are. This is a subtle shift away from a focus on who they are. Identity is slippery, especially in adolescence, and I am less confident every day in a person’s sense of themselves at 13 or 17 to serve as a dependable source for durable personal formation.
Coaxing along a young person’s sense of their location in the world might be a better approach for developing empathy, imagination, and, alas, even identity.
So where is a North American adolescent in 2016?
If I know her, she’s like in a particular congregation with a unique history and indispensable participants. My work is to nurture her sense of that place and those people.
A teenager in church also finds himself in a Christian tradition. Catholic, Presbyterian, Evangelical–whatever expression of Christianity affords us our interactions with teens, our work is to help them see it for what it is, which means helping them take in other Christian traditions clearly too.
For that matter, your teenager is in a religion. This is not a solitary experience, as David Dark is reminding us in Life’s Too Short To Pretend You’re Not Religious, and yet are we doing enough to honor the religious context teenagers are living in when they come to youth group or sit through a sermon?
There are a bunch of other ways for conceiving of location with youth, but here’s just one more. Youth are in a culture. It is densely layered, this culture, and contains sub culture upon sub culture. Directing the focus of our students to where they’re standing, culturally, as North Americans, as teenagers, feels very important.