Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Adolescents vs. Teenagers

I use these terms interchangeably, mostly out of convenience. But I have a fairly large inner battle about it every time. I feel that "teenager" is closer to slang and "adolescent" is closer to an academic term. I tend to use "adolescent" when I am writing for an academic setting, and "teenager" when I am trying to reach a wider audience. I am not sure that it matters.

I am always concerned with conveying respect for this age group in general and that is done in more relational ways like always recognizing their value, giving them equal weight in their opinions and ideas, and in never underestimating or assuming the worst about either the group or an individual student. It can also be done in writing. I think that all of these terms, like many terms, can convey either respect or disrespect depending on the context. Teenager is the term, I think, with the most potential for disrespect because it is the term most frequently used in pop culture and usually brings to mind the stereotype, and not an individual or even the age group. It makes sense, then, to steer away from using it. However, because of its popularity it often reaches the widest audience. Adolescent is the word that does bring to mind the age group, the developmental stage and a good deal of the research that is available. It is the term that is used the most frequently in academics, and, I think, the word that conveys the most respect for the population.

I also find myself using terms like student, young adult, emerging adult, and youth... the lines get blurry. But, in the end, it sometimes boils down to variety for my readers and myself. Because I am so passionate about this age group, this stage of life, I have to use more than one term just to stay sane. I tend to use adolescent in academic writings, and teenager in writings that interact with pop culture or stereotypes, and young adult or emerging adult when I am talking about someone who is of age to have graduated from high school. But these are just rules of thumb. In end I have to say something just to write, so bear with me as I figure it out.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Baby Steps Toward Building a Small Group

To begin with, I HATE What About Bob. Seriously hate it. I spend the vast majority of the movie wishing he would actually suffer the consequences of all the ridiculous situations he gets in. It drives me insane, like Forest Gump meeting a comedy of errors. I also really hate Forest Gump, but that is another rant for another day. As much as I hate What About Bob, it does not negate the point that sometimes, (Is sometimes one word or two? any of my grammar friends out there know that one?) often times, things need to come in very, very small stages. Such is the case with our Fuse Group at church.

This particular group has been through so much transition in the last year. I feel for the students who need stability and have had very little. Let me give you a glimpse into their world. The major changes have been a new format for youth group, the loss of 2-3 adult leaders (that I know of) and the addition of a new location, and 2-3 new leaders. Attendance fluctuates not only with the calendar year and academic year, and in any given week we could have the same number of students, but an almost entirely different group of individuals. And those are only the major changes. Sheesh.

This is what we are up against as we are trying to build some kind of foundation for trust and relationship. Lately we have taken some encouraging steps in that direction. Fuse Groups are interesting in that they can be mixed gender or same gender, depending on the group itself. I suggested and moved forward with having a gender-specific group, and there were objections. This was a leadership error on my part. I should have brought it up and given the students a chance to decide if that is what they wanted before I moved forward with it. I am so glad that there was a facebook revolt of sorts. I find this so encouraging because there is a sense of ownership in voicing an objection. This shows that they in some way think the group is their own and they are invested enough to speak about how they don't want the group to be. Such objections might be complaint at more change, they might come from a genuine concern to be in an environment that feels comfortable or safe, and they might be just a chance to flex the will. No matter what the motive of each student, this was an opportunity to begin to build the trust that is needed in the small group. By opening the conversation, hearing what is behind the objections, and working out an action plan going forward, I think we took several steps toward building a small group. This discussion communicated that each member is valuable, that a small group is a safe place to voice concerns, that this is a place where we bring things out into the open, and that we are not to be undone by opposition. Those are some of the foundational pieces of building a small group.

I am happy we took those steps, but sometimes I am overwhelmed by the distance we have to go. The students still need to get to a place where they feel comfortable regularly sharing their spiritual lives with one another, and that is something that requires many more laps. A thriving small group is characterized by (among other things) its members volunteering vulnerable information, listening well, committing to be present with someone else when they are walking through a hardship, and celebrating one another and the group itself. We have a marathon until we get to that point. It is hard not to be overwhelmed, and, as much as I hate to admit it, that is when I have to remind myself that some things do indeed come in baby steps.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Youth Ministry: Parent Ministry?

Did I mention yet that I am a nerd? I spent a good portion of my Saturday sitting in Caribou doing research. I am currently reading A Faith of Their Own by Lisa Pearce and Melinda Lundquist Denton. I am reading it partially because I am more than a little interested in this type of research and its results, and partially because I want to try to synthesize some of this information into something useable for those in youth ministry.

A repeated theme in this research is the importance of parents. We get what we are. (This is a little unfair to say because I am not a parent, but the saying itself holds true) Parents are consistently the best predictors of the spiritual life of young people. In Soul Searching (116), Smith states it this way, “Family socialization generally seems to work when it comes to teenagers’ religious faith and practice. Furthermore, the quality of the relationships that parents build with their teenagers, and their own choices about marriage relationships, education, and occupations—insofar as they have choices in these areas—also create family contexts that again form the outcome of their teenagers’ religious and spiritual lives.” In A Faith of Their Own, this theme is reiterated about religious behavior and beliefs for students in all levels of religious engagement. In short, if parents attend church on a regular basis and integrate thier faith into their daily lives, children do. If parents don’t, neither do their children. And if parents are sporadic, nominal or culturally Christian, so are their children.

One thing is becoming more and more obvious to me: as youth workers we must minister to parents. I wonder how many of our ministries do this at all? How many do it well? What does it take to build this kind of ministry?

I think ministering to families is one of the largest challenges facing the youth worker today. Families are incredibly hard to minister to as a whole. One has to consider all ages, all maturity levels, and all education levels. Each family has a unique pattern of communication. Each family has a set of rules, assumptions, values, dysfunctions and functions. And each family is composed of individuals working as a whole. It is daunting to think of ministering to a family, and, specifically to parents. I love listening to parents about their children and vice versa, and while listening is incredibly valuable, it is not, in and of itself, the kind of ministry that is going to help build and equip families to grow in their faith in Christ.

The real question is, of course: what is?