Category Archives: thinking…

Adding a Cultural Descriptor

back in 2007 or 2008, when Scott Rubin and i were writing the manuscript for Middle School Ministry: a Comprehensive Guide to Working With Early Adolescents, i wrote a chapter with seven descriptors of middle school culture. not long after the book was published in 2009, i realized they were descriptors of youth culture in general. then, a bit later, i realized they were apt descriptors of western culture in general, which brought me to the realization that my original identification of these realities was more about encroaching cultural realities, rather than uniquenesses of being a young teen (or teenager) in america today.

the uniqueness, for teenagers, is that they are indigenous to this culture (and these realities), whereas those of us over 30 are immigrants. for example: i live in a culture of information just as much as a 13-year-old does; but my immigrant status allows me to see it (if i choose to). for a teenager, it’s the air they breath, and the only cultural realities they’ve every known. that means their identities and world view and faith have been inseparable shaped by these realities every day of their entire lives.

a few years ago, i posted a blog series on these descriptors, and multiple people suggested an eighth descriptor (in varying language), which i’d then added as the fourth on this list:

  • A Culture of Information
  • A Culture of Immediacy
  • A Culture of Disposability
  • A Hyper-Sexualized Culture
  • A Culture of Consumerism
  • An Intense but Temporary Culture
  • A Networked Culture
  • A Driven/Sedentary Culture

reading an article in Time magazine the other day, i realized another shaping descriptor that needed to be my ninth:

  • An All-Access Culture

this reality has overlap with the first two on the list (really, all of them have overlap with one another, informing each other and creating the soup of cultural experience). but i think it’s worth noting separately.

until very recently, our lives, and the information we had access to, were almost-completely curated by people and organizations who acted as gate-keepers.

publishers curated reading options (books, magazines, newspaper). and our options were significantly limited by these gatekeepers.

TV was curated by a few networks and their broadcast schedules. i very much remember, as a child, how all of the kids playing on my detroit block would run simultaneously run inside on friday nights to make sure we didn’t miss The Brady Bunch at its scheduled broadcast time.

of course, there are still gatekeepers and curators (for good or ill). but in a revolutionary shift, most people now choose what (information, entertainment) to consume, from a functionally endless or infinite catalog of options. and most people now choose when they will access this what. and the what is just as likely to be user-generated (social media, for example) as it is to be curated. in fact: teenage engagement with information and entertainment certainly skews to user-generated content (us older folks access some of both, but still rely quite a bit on curators).

think about how this reality would shape you if it’s all you’d ever known. there are upsides, to be sure (cultural realities almost always have benefits as well as risks): having the ability to make choices is empowering, and offers us the advantage of parsing our intake toward our interests.

but this shift brings threats also, particularly when it shapes everything you understand about yourself and the world. some possibilities (i would love to hear more in comments below) include an increase in narcissistic egoistic perspective, along the lines of “i’m the best arbiter of what has worth.” marinating in an All-Access Culture for your entire life (and particularly, your formative years) could also lead to a distrust or dismissal of input from those with informed perspectives, or curators with the best intentions (like: a youth worker).

thoughts? additional implications?

 

Smoking Cigars to the Glory of God

I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed tonight. – Charles Spurgeon

I love good cigars. The taste of a long-filler, hand-rolled premium cigar is, to my pallet, simply sublime.

I enjoy the craft of a good cigar (not the cheap-o machine made dogs). I revel at the opportunity to explain to the uninitiated-but-intrigued the difference between the filler, the binder and the wrapper, and the role each plays in the subtly and complexity of a cigar worth smoking.

I love the experience of smoking a cigar. Like a good meal, a cigar with friends provides a necessarily prolonged time of calm, perfect for discussion and dialogue (I’ve had some of the best conversations of my adult life in the presence of cigars).

And when by myself, the 45 minutes to an hour it takes to smoke a premium cigar is one of the most contemplative, nourishing, reflective, recalibrating sections of my otherwise busy and noisy days. When I’m home, it’s more often than not that I will slip out to my backyard (I do live in San Diego, after all) to relax, unwind, and think about the day—while puffing on a hand-rolled beauty.

I don’t want to over-spiritualize it, but cigars—for me—are one component of a deeply satisfying and sustainable life. And, like Spurgeon, I consider them a gift, assistance to the life I want, and, well: life-giving.

I have, occasionally, been called out on my tattoos by well-meaning Christians completely misinterpreting Leviticus 19:28. A few times, I’ve been asked to remove my earrings, in a church context where they’re considered inappropriate on a man.

But when fellow Christians find out I’m a cigar smoker, the most I usually get–even from those who would never think of partaking—is a disapproving chuckle.

I think that’s because, deep down, most thoughtful Christians realize an anti-cigar stance is a tough one to support biblically.

The most common pushback against cigars, from Christians misusing the Bible, is to reference the “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” bit from 1 Corinthians 16. Of course, this is a good and helpful teaching. It just doesn’t have anything to do with cigars! Paul is referring to sleeping with prostitutes in that passage. And even if we broaden it to a general spiritual principal, there is no significant health risk in moderate cigar smoking (cigar smoke, in case you don’t know, is not meant to be inhaled, and doesn’t contain the nasty—and addictive–stuff found in cigarettes).

The only biblical bit that gives me pause, when it comes to cigar smoking, is the stumbling block question (which makes me a little nervous to even write this article!).

Once, on the pastoral team retreat for a large church where I worked (we had about 25 pastors on our team), my sub-group, including the children, youth, and young adults pastors all had one of our meetings outdoors with cigars. I was the Executive Pastor at that church, and my peer, the Executive Administrator, called me out on it in a meeting we had with the Senior Pastor. The Senior Pastor responded: “I want you to give me one biblical justification for your objection. And don’t even try to use the stumbling block passage; because, if any of our pastors aren’t mature enough that this would be a stumbling block to them, they shouldn’t be on our staff.” I loved that Senior Pastor.

Still, as a youth worker, this is a question, and a biblical principle, I have to take very seriously. While I know that cigars aren’t addictive (any more than food, and certainly less addictive than coffee or Twitter), I also know that the students I work with don’t have the discernment to see the difference between cigars and cigarettes and excessive use of alcohol and a host of other things I don’t want them partaking in. So I use caution and restraint, and I’m careful to be aware of my context.

I’m not trying to convince you to smoke cigars. If you have other regular ways to enjoy the goodness of God’s creation; if you have others ways to enjoy regular, extended quiet conversations with friends; if you have other ways to quietly unwind at the end of a day and reflect; and if none of those things is unnecessarily addictive or harmful, enjoy them. Enjoy them to the glory of God!

minimum wage laws and implications for youth workers

I AM NOT AN EMPLOYMENT LAW EXPERT OR AUTHORITY. and this post should NOT be taken as ‘legal advice.’

BUT: the other day over lunch, a graduate of our Youth Ministry Coaching Program, who leads a wonderful nonprofit ministry not too disimilar from the Cartel, but local and Catholic, asked me a question just as we were wrapping up:

So, how do you think the new California minimum wage is going to impact youth ministry?

my first response: huh? (it was a deeply thoughtful response.)

she unpacked her question, and it drove me to an afternoon of searching the internet, ruminating on the implications of what i was finding.

we all know that many, many youth workers are underpaid. old story. but i think — from what i can understand — that many churches are going to operating illegally in how they pay their youth workers, at least in California and other states that are raising their minimum wage. in fact, i suspect that a ton of California churches are already operating illegally, and the issue is about to get worse.

the issue surrounds the classification of exempt and non-exempt employees. i had to deal with compliance on this all the time when i was leading YS, so it was all coming back to me as i read today.

the simplest, lay terminology for understanding an exempt employee is a salaried employee (that’s not technically accurate, but easiest to understand). in other words, federal employment law (for which nonprofits like churches are NOT exempt) says that any employee must be paid at least time-and-a-half for any time more than 40 hours a week. that sort of employee then is ‘non-exempt.’ an exempt employee is one who is exempt from that rule.

sure, a few youth workers are probably hourly employees. but the vast majority are salaried (and their churches treat them as exempt employees, whether they do so intentionally or not).

what the federal law says:

3 tests for exempt status (employees must meet ALL THREE):

the duties test

this one takes LOTS of words to unpack it on every description i could find. but the bottom line for our purposes here is that youth workers can easily fall under the heading of “professional exemption.” in other words: most youth ministry employment easily passes this test.

the salary basis test

this one is simple. for an employee to be exempt, she must be paid a base weekly amount (however often pay is actually distributed) that doesn’t change based on how many hours she worked that week. in other words: most youth ministry employment easily passes this test.

the salary level test

here’s were things get problematic!

federal employment law says an exempt employee must make at least $23,600/year. most full-time youth workers make at least that. but it seems (as far as i can tell) that state laws trump this when they exist. in california, for example, an exempt employee must earn more than twice the minimum wage.

current minimum wage in Cali is $10/hour, or $20,800 for 40 hours/week. that means an exempt employee must currently make a minimum of $41,600.

think about the implications of this:

  • if you are a full time california youth worker making less than $41,600 (assuming you’re salaried), your church is breaking the law.
  • and if you’re a full-time youth worker anywhere in the US, and you’re being paid hourly, your church is legally obligated to pay overtime for anything past 40 hours in any week (think: camp, missions trip!).

but here’s where things are going to get tricky and more complicated (i’m using my state of california as the example, but this is playing out in many states):

California minimum wage is now set to move to $15/hour by 2022 or 2023 (depending on the organization’s size — if you’re not sure what your state’s minimum wage is, click here). that means the minimum wage (with no overtime) will be $31,200/year for a full-time employee (working 40 hours/week). AND THAT MEANS that an employee will need to make a minimum salary of $62,400 to be considered an exempt employee. and if the employee is non-exempt, they are required (by law) to be paid time-and-a-half for every hour over 40/week.

got that? in california, by the year 2023 (that’s less than 7 years from now!), churches employing full-time youth workers will have two options:

  • pay them a minimum salary of $62,400 (and consider them exempt)
  • or pay them something less than that and make them a non-exempt employee, but pay overtime any time the youth worker works a minute over 40 hours/week.

OH, and before you ask: churches (or any other nonprofit) are NOT allowed to have employees volunteer hours (a common misconception and violation of the law).

on one hand, this is great news for youth workers, right? really, i’d love to see all my youth ministry friends receive salaries that allow them to stay in their jobs as they move out of their young adult years.

on the other hand, i’m concerned that this will result in plenty of churches who simply can no longer afford a full-time youth worker. in other words: i expect a bunch of california youth workers to lose their jobs on january 1, 2023.

of course: tons of churches will ignore the law and be non-compliant. that’s thin ice to be on, both morally and legally. (think: massive fines and 100% exposure to lawsuits.)

your state might be different than cali (heck: south carolina has NO minimum wage! so only the federal laws apply). so do some looking. but i hope churches will be both proactive and legally compliant!

thoughts?

FRIDAY NUGGET: Courage for Leading Change

Anyone with healthy or unhealthy resistance to change (most of us have this) need a dose of courage from time to time to push us in the direction of innovation. Here’s what I have learned: I cannot make myself have courage anymore than I can make myself have the fruit of the Spirit. Spiritual courage comes from the Holy Spirit.

The etymology of the word itself tells us this. The root of courage (“cour”) means “heart”; and courage literally means “to have a full heart.” Excitement and praise and rewards and potential can partially fill my heart. But they’re not sustainable. My heart can only be truly topped off in the face of significant risk by the fuel of the Holy Spirit.

FRIDAY NUGGET: dependence and assurance

Confidence misplaced is arrogance and a complete lack of dependence on God. We’ve all seen that kind of leader. Nope, don’t want to be that guy.

But the ragingly insecure leader, whose every word and action is colored by his or her lack of confidence is equally undesirable. I’ve been around those leaders plenty, and I can’t trust them. I never know if what they’re saying is actually true.

So this must be one of those tensions to be nurtured, rather than problems to be solved. I need to bring my insecurity to God, as well as my confidence. I have to cultivate dependence and assurance.

two overlaid planes of ministry

Dream about this with me. What would it look like for you to live into a ministry that takes place on two overlaid planes: organic, contextualized youth work within the existing social networks your teenagers are living in; AND, a Kingdom-of-God gathering of the tribes–a place where our “preferences” (our sub-cultural norms) aren’t ignored, and aren’t diminished, but melt away in the context of a greater unity of the Spirit?

it’s a parallel mindset to the thinking behind the mash-up word GLOCAL (global AND local).

my bucket list, end o’ 2014 edition

i am a person not short of longings and daydreams. and i collect experiences like others collect trinkets. so it should not be a surprise that i think ‘bucket lists’ are fun. in fact, at the first meeting of each new cohort of the Cartel’s Youth Ministry Coaching Program, i have participants give us a little glimpse into who they are by sharing 3 bucket list items: one they have done in the last few years, one they’d like to do and probably will, and one they’d like to do but probably never will.

so, i’m gonna put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were) to list some of my own. some of these were already in place; but others i’m making up on the spot.

in no particular order:

  1. continue to visit one new country, at least every other year. i’d love to visit one new country per year, but that’s not always reasonable. however, i have 2 (and maybe 3) on deck for 2015 already (Italy, Spain, and maybe Jamaica). i’m at about 41 or 43 countries visited so far, and i’d certainly like that to cross 50. 75 would be nice.
  2. visit the two remaining states i have not been to (Vermont and Idaho), merely to complete the 50.
  3. vacation with my wife in Italy for our 30th anniversary for 3 full weeks (this one is likely, for 2016).
  4. write a handful of books for the broader christian market (meaning: not youth ministry or teens or parents). i have my first–Hopecasting–releasing in march. how it does will greatly determine whether this is a one-and-done item, or a broader impact and new area of growth for me.
  5. grow The Youth Cartel to a sustainable place where i’m less necessary. i imagine about 5 or 7 staff, a fun office, ongoing creativity and impact, and the ability for me to play an active role without being so busy.
  6. bucket list

  7. be involved in raising up a couple UH-MAZE-ING next leaders for The Youth Cartel–people who are WAY more talented than me and WAY more likely to instigate a revolution in youth ministry.
  8. be an 80 year-old middle school ministry volunteer, if i make it that long (in life, that is, not in ministry).
  9. speaking of being less busy, i would love to scale back but still be meaningfully involved in youth ministry and Cartel-y things, post 60.
  10. move to a house with an ocean view.
  11. have a cabin in the mountains where i can retreat whenever the heck i feel like it.
  12. a harley. or a vespa. (yeah, i know those couldn’t be more different; but i’d love them both and realize that’s absurd.)
  13. get asked to speak in chapel at my alma mater.
  14. paint. (i loved this back in college, and would love to revive it when i reach that partial retirement mentioned above.)

and then, all the more noble things that don’t quite qualify as bucket list items, like launching two independent and passionate adults (who are currently teenage and young adult), loving my wife better, and stuff like that. but, yeah, those aren’t really bucket list items.

how about you? what’s the item on your list that you might actually do, one day?

my (youth) ministry language pet peeves

everyone has pet peeves, right? i know i do. by their nature and name, ‘pet’ peeves are subjective and personal. so i fully admit that while there are four terms/phrases i’m quite confident we should do away with in ministry circles, i realize these are my issue. in other words, you are more than welcome to disagree and be wrong!

Slide1students

several years ago now, i was hosting a group of 20 junior high pastors for a few days of interaction and thinking. and christian smith, the noted sociologist responsible for the National Study of Youth and Religion was our guest for a half day. at the end of our time with him, i asked, “if you could get all youth workers to stop doing one thing, what would it be?” i expected his response to have something to do with how we talk about or lead teenagers in faith formation. but he surprised me with, “I wish all youth workers would stop using the word ‘students’ when referring to teenagers.” (or he may have said ‘young people,’ or some other term.) he went on, “‘student’ is a role, not an identity.”

Smith’s little statement had a big impact on my thinking, and i’ve come around to completely agree. when i’m speaking about teenagers these days, i usually use that word (teenagers); and when i’m speaking to them, i usually use something aspirational, like ‘young men’ and ‘young women,’ or something similar. i agree (i’m projecting that some of you are thinking this) that we don’t have a perfect term. but i try hard not to use ‘students’ unless i’m specifically talking about that role.

kids

along the same lines, i try very hard not to use the term ‘kids’ when referring to (or even more so when talking to) teenagers. really, i feel MUCH more strongly about this one than i do ‘students.’ i think it’s demeaning and diminishing. i know it’s easy, and a natural part of our language. but language communicates all sorts of meaning. language teaches.

ladies

this one isn’t so much a ‘youth ministry’ term; but i see and hear it used all the time in youth ministry circles when referring to female youth workers, female volunteers, and teenage girls. the term ‘lady’ refers to behavior. a woman is (in the true sense of the word) considered to be a lady if she is ‘behaving’ properly, meeting the imposed expectations of ladylike behavior. in the same sense that ‘students’ refers to role, not identity, ‘ladies’ refers to behavior, not identity. you might think i’m overstating this, but the use of this word does harm to women, implying that their value and worth is based on their behavior.

‘love on’

and finally, a phrase. youth workers seem to think it’s great to say that they want to ‘love on students’ or ‘love on teenagers.’ i understand (and very support) the sentiment behind this. but it is simply creepy language usage. find another way to explain your good and worthy intentions. ‘show love’ or simply ‘love’ are both much better.

so: what ministry language pet peeves do you have?

my new working metaphor for young teens and doubt

for years, as i’ve talked about the spiritual development of young teens and their brain development, i’ve said something along these lines:

abstract thinking is a beautiful gift from god that comes with the onset of puberty. abstract thinking is, in a nutshell, thinking about thinking. there are tons of implications, but the primary biggies are speculation (asking ‘what if’ and ‘why’ questions), and third person perspective (seeing myself from someone else’s point of view, or seeing someone else from someone else’s point of view, or even considering an idea from someone else’s point of view). these two results of abstract thinking are revolutionary to the spiritual development of teenagers (as well as for their emotional development, relational growth, and identity formation). preteens are some of the most concluded people on the planet. they have a completely worked out (albeit naive) worldview and systematic theology — concrete, but functional. then puberty comes along like a tsunami and obliterates all that conclusiveness, creating a space for questions and doubts and a move toward either rejecting childhood faith or growing into a more robust, complex, adult faith.

i think i’d picked up that ‘tsunami’ metaphorical language years and years ago from one of my own junior high ministry mentors. it’s dramatic, and sounds nice.

but it’s not accurate.

and i’ve replaced that metaphor recently in how i talk about this shift.

the reason it’s not accurate is that young teens don’t suddenly acquire fully-functioning abstract thinking. they get the capacity; but it’s like an underdeveloped super-wimpy muscle that has to be exercised for a number of years in order to gain strength. so, yes, young teens (post-puberty) have the capacity for abstract thinking; and it DOES have huge implications for all those developmental realities (including spiritual). but it doesn’t happen overnight. it’s not a light switch. and the ‘elimination’ of concrete childhood beliefs does NOT take place like the arrival of tsunami.

picture a giant cliff at the edge of a sea. but this cliff is made of something soft and easy to erode — like dirt, or sandstone, or chalk (think: cliffs of dover). when the capacity for abstract thinking kicks in, nothing changes immediately. those concluded faith bits still stand like a proud sea cliff as long as the sea below is calm.

but then something happens that creates a gap or tension between experience and belief. like: a 12 year-old who has always had a beautiful and confident belief that god answers my prayers, that if i really pray and it’s not selfish, i can throw a mountain into a sea. and that kid’s favorite grandpa gets inoperable cancer. the kid is confident (full of faith) that prayer will heal his grandpa; but grandpa dies. now, suddenly, there are stormy seas below the cliff. waves crash against that edifice, and erosion happens. the concrete beliefs of the preteen years can’t stand against the barrage of powerful storm waves.

btw: at this point, a young teen almost always needs an adult who can come alongside and help them move all this erosion/storm waves/doubts stuff out of the murky world of subconscious if they hope to do anything other than reject that previous faith bit (if they hope to consider alternatives and new, more abstract, ways of thinking and believing).

so there you have it: doubt comes to young teen faith not like a tsunami of change, but like a storm wave crashing into a sea cliff made of easily-erodible stuff.

let’s get in there, storm chasers.

cliffs of dover.erosion

Why Should We Care About Adolescent Brain Development? (part 2)

with youthworker journal focusing an issue recently on adolescent brain development, tim baker (the editor) asked if i would write a feature article on the implications. he said he had a few articles focusing on theory and research, but wanted something of a “so what?” and i realized, in all my writing on this topic, i’d written very little in response to that pragmatic question. so i agreed, and this was the result. yesterday, in part 1, i laid out a summary and basis for pragmatic response. today, the list of how i’m responding:

Neuron, Shmeuron or,
Why Should We Care About Adolescent Brain Development?

How I’m Responding

ywj coverI hope you’ll join me in this handful of “living in the tension” implications (some completely unresolved):

• Read about teenage brains!
I wasn’t kidding when I said that my growing understanding of neurology shapes everything I do in youth ministry. What I teach and how I teach; how I interact with students; the sorts of questions I ask; what and how I communicate with parents; How I plan my youth ministry calendar; what’s most important and emphasized in our youth ministry.

What to read? Read The Primal Teen (Strauch), because it gives a great perspective on what we were learning about teen brains 10 years ago. You could read my little book, A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains. Please read the National Geographic article on teenage brains, as it’s a great glimpse at a turn toward a more positive look at teenage brains. On my stack right now are Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience (Satel and Lilienfeld), and Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain (Siegel).

• Ask speculative questions
I’m not a scientist or a researcher, but I’m sure passionate about my hypothesis that we can help teenagers grow in their ability to make good decisions. Speculative questions are “What if?” and “Why?” questions. Even if we can’t increase frontal lobe growth, I know we can help teenagers step into the use of the abstract thinking they’ve had since the onset of puberty. They have the capability, that is; but they haven’t used it much and tend to be lousy with it. So when we “take them to the shores of speculation,” we help them test out the waters they’ll return to on their own. And since SO MUCH of spiritual growth in the teen and young adult years requires speculation, I’m 100% convinced that helping teenagers develop the ability to speculate will help them build a sustainable faith.

• Become a competency facilitator
Epstein once suggested to me that good parenting (and, by extension, I’ve come to see this as a framing for great youth ministry) is about moving from control to facilitation, where facilitation means identifying and nurturing competencies. If you, like me, don’t buy into the increasingly popular notion that teenagers are incapable, and should therefore be protected and treated like children, then we need to every teenager’s competency champion.

• Allow for failure
Their frontal lobes are underdeveloped; and they do struggle with decision-making. Don’t respond, in the way our culture (and educational approaches and legal systems) is by removing decisions. Instead, create safe places for decision making, assuming a healthy percentage of failure and mistakes. Really, we all learn more from our bad decisions than from our good decisions, right?

• Make way for passion
If teenagers are a wonder to behold, than the kernel of awesomeness at the center of that wonder is their potential for passion. Maybe that’s why they’re not great at impulse control and measuring risk. Maybe they need to be limited (think: God’s creation intent) in those areas in order to learn about the world in ways that us risk-averse adults have long ceased learning. And what if teenagers’ passion could be invited as a great gift to your church? (While she doesn’t directly tie this to brain research, this is the core proposal of Kenda Creasy Dean’s excellent youth ministry book, Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church.)

• Act as a surrogate temporal lobe
The frontal lobes aren’t the only underdeveloped parts of the teenage brain: the temporal lobes are also. Those are responsible for emotional understanding and interpretation. Ben was sharing in my small group about how he was nervous about going home that evening, because his brother was returning from drug rehab. He was visibly emotional while explaining this. But Mitch piped in with “You should tell your brother than drugs are stupid!” Rather than shaming Mitch, who wasn’t being mean or rude and was merely missing the emotional clues that would have been so obvious to an adult, my role became that of simultaneously redirecting the focus back to Ben’s sharing while gently pointing out to Mitch the emotion that Ben was feeling. In that moment, I was helping Mitch see the emotion and learn to spot it in a way that he could help his friend.

• Be patient
Patience with teenagers is a pre-requisite for a good youth worker, and always has been. But with our growing understanding of teenage brain development, we have that much more reason to be patient. Great youth workers, those who will be used by God in the lives of real teenagers, will always be gracious and loving, ready to listen, full of encouragement, and abounding in patience.

• Be thoughtful about the use of young adults as youth ministry volunteers.
This is a sensitive one; and please don’t think I’m suggesting young adults are inferior youth workers. I love having young adults as equal members of the youth ministry team I’m a part of. Just like teenagers, they bring a level of passion that’s a wonder to behold. But…remember that their brains are still developing, and they will occasionally struggle with wisdom, prioritization, impulse control, and decision-making. Our ministry effectively (I’d like to think) addresses this by pairing young adult leaders with more mature leaders for small group leadership. Aaron, my 20 year-old small group co-leader, brings things to the group that I couldn’t bring; and hopefully, I bring things he couldn’t (or struggles to) bring.

All of these new discoveries about teenage brains are fascinating. I welcome anything that can help me know and understand better the teenagers I’m called to. But I’m committed to doing ministry in the tension of reality and skepticism. Living in that tension keeps me on my toes, reminds me to be dependent on God and drives me toward curiosity rather than blind assumption.