O Teenager, Where Art Thou?

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.

3 thoughts on “O Teenager, Where Art Thou?

  1. so strange that this is set in the limited context of teenager

    I know that’s your job description to consider the needs of teenagers, but this stuff applied to everyone, doesn’t it?

    I was talking with a psychologist friend, about milestones in development. And the popular understanding is that once you hit 18 or so, development stops. Psychologists are exploring that fallacy more and more

    why would we assume that a 30 year old’s “sense of themselves” is so much more reliable to “serve as a dependable source for durable personal formation”?

    I think teenagers are basically the same as adults, but without dependable emotional cloaking devices.

  2. Teenagers and young adults are in an unusual developmental stage where their brains are undergoing massive growth and change. Making them the focus of your ministry is a huge commitment with a great responsibility–kudos to you for taking it on and for wanting to do it thoughtfully and well.

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