youth ministry 3.0, part 19

youth ministry 3.0 is the working title of a book i’ve mostly written, which is expected to release this fall. it’s an attempt to name where and how we’re missing the mark in youth ministry, and what needs to change in order to more truly live into our calling as youth workers.

we’ve decided to open up the book a bit and solicit youth worker contributions as sidebar comments, and i’m going to use my blog for this purpose. until late april, i’ll be posting a series of snapshots from the rough draft of the manuscript. i invite lots of comments — questions, disagreements, ideas, very short stories or examples, reflections — which will be considered as additions to the book.

by posting a comment, you are giving permission for your comment, with your screen name, to be added to the print book.

so, here’s the nineteenth bit, from chapter 6:

Help students be missional

Having already defined “missional” as joining up with the mission of God in the world, I want to parse the concept a bit, in order to move toward practical application. Joining up with the mission of God in the world sounds good and all, but could leave youth workers who resonate with this a bit like a dragster with no tires, revving its engine, but with no means of going anywhere.

Joining up with God’s mission in the world can happen without intention: students suddenly find themselves (or we find ourselves) in the midst of some action or effort or people in which the presence of God is palpable. They just know (ahem: because they feel it) that they’ve stumbled into the movement of God, and they’re along for the ride.

Surely, we need to help our teenagers watch for these moments – and we all experience them.

But most youth ministry doesn’t happen this way. Most communional groups need to choose to be missional, choose to find the active work of God. In most cases, this takes a reorientation of our vision. This is particularly true for teenagers, who, because of the massive quantity of change going on in their bodies, minds and lives, are naturally, and understandably, self-focused. Opening their eyes and minds and hearts to others is a huge step, a big shift, and a wonderful disequilibrating opportunity.

I found a wonderfully helpful unpacking of real change in a new-agey business book called Presence: xxxxxxx. The authors contend that deep and lasting change (for an organization or an individual) entails four stages. They call this diagram “the U”, because the first two stages are a tearing down, or deconstruction of what was, and the last two stages are a rebuilding, or reconstruction.

To grossly paraphrase their brilliant work, stage one (the first half of the downward side of the U) is a naming of the current reality. This is a gut-check honest acknowledgement of observed, sensed, discerned, or revealed truth (or, likely, some combination of those).

For a teenager on her first Friday night of joining a group of kids who hand out sandwiches and engage in conversation with homeless people, this first stage could look like the disequilibrating a-ha that homeless people are real people, with real stories and emotions. They’re not merely dirty two-dimensional scenery that needs to be cleaned up.

The second stage of deep change (the bottom half of the downward side of the U), is the hard work of deconstruction. Naming the current reality creates a gap between itself and the previously held assumptions or beliefs. These previously held assumptions or beliefs need to be torn down, to one extent or another, before any rebuilding can occur.

Can’t you see how this happens in your own life? Think of it as a house remodel. We can’t get to “a whole new look” before going through the dusty, messy, annoying (and sometimes costly) task of cleaning out, clearing away, ripping down, dismantling and discarding the old stuff.

For that teenager we met above, this second step takes place through weeks and weeks of continued involvement in this ministry, hear more stories of homeless people, having one of them remember her name, and her their name, multiple discussions with her friends and leaders about what she had previously wrongly assumed or believed, and hours of thinking on her own.

Now comes the work of rebuilding. Stage three of the U (the bottom section of the upswing on the U) is the conscious or subconscious act of naming a new reality. This articulation is much more complex and dimensional that would have been possible in the first stage. And, instead a naming that is connected to misunderstanding, this is a naming connected to hope and a new vision. This is “stake in the ground” stuff.

For our teenager, this is a lengthy process of formulating new opinions and vocabulary, emotional responses and commitment about, for and to the homeless she has come to know. (Can you see how this fits in with the identity, autonomy and affinity tasks we’ve talked about so much in this book?)

Finally, we get to stage four (the top half of the upswing on the U), which is the practical living out of this new belief and understanding. If action hasn’t occurred yet, it sure does at this point. Behaviors and choices are modified in response to this new perspective, understanding and commitment.

Our teenager, who has, in a sense, been living all of this out in action since her first evening with the homeless, now has the wherewithal to make informed choices and take proactive steps without being told what to do. She has a confidence about her involvement in this missional work because it has become a part of her belief system, part of her identity (of course, the group she goes into the city with each week have grown into a strong communional affinity group for her also).

Other ways we can help students to discover and join up with God’s work in the world are:
• Regularly share stories, and ask for teenagers to share stories, of places we “caught a glimpse of God.” Allow this storytelling to become natural and normative in your group.
• Encourage your students with the biblical reality that the earth is God’s, and everything in it . The natural extension of this is that God can be found, living and active, all over the place. Since all of us our God’s creation, even those who aren’t intentionally following Jesus leek out bits of the gospel in art, film, music, print, conversation, and other public arenas. Constantly ask your students – while standing in a forest or on a mountaintop, or in the middle of slum, or in the parking lot of their school – “What can we learn about God from this place?” and “Where and how is God present in this place?”
• Learn together about various injustices in your community, your region, your country and the world. Together, discern your individual and collective “holy discontent”. Devise a way, together, to address that issue.
• Try a wide variety of missional activities and together discern where God is moving you or calling you.

Help teenagers see God’s calling on their lives to discover where God is doing something, and give their lives to it.

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