Many people ask me how I work with teenagers everyday, especially those in trouble. Usually when asked, it stops me down for a moment. There is something really natural for me about youth work so with that, I struggle to explain what seems like second nature to me.
Over my years of youth ministry and non-profit work, the drive to do these jobs came from a genuine love of students. However if you asked me ten years ago what it was I cared about, it would have been quite different.
As a young man starting youth work, students had a draw to me. I was young, close to their stage of life, and accessible because of those things. Back then I was single and could really live the schedule of a common teenager. They loved it and I loved being loved.
But, this was a rather immature view of teenagers. Really, it was based upon how it made me feel rather than how they were affected. A time came (around the time I turned thirty and when I got married) where I sensed things shifting. My own youth had passed and the questions started to arise (within myself) as to why I was doing this. It did’nt seem like teenagers were coming to me as much and I felt like it was more work than something I was passionate about.
During that time a couple of books and college classes came into my life helping me understand the life of a teenager and the fundamental issues of adolescence. All of the sudden I realized my work with teenagers had been based upon affinity, not caring for the stage of life they were navigating.
You see, adolescents have a developmental task. For anyone going through these years, they are charged with (developmentally) figuring out who they are. And, based upon the conditions they are figuring these things out, it could look really confusing from an outsider.
In our work with Teen Lifeline we talk to students claiming to be bi-sexual, homosexual, atheist, Buddhist, anarchist, gang affiliated, or none of the above. Yet, when we come back the next week they could be something completely different.
So what does this mean? So many adults in the life of a student get scared by the many “skins” a teenager wears. We fret over every small decision or change and write them off as lost causes when all they are doing is figuring out who they are in the context they are growing. Why would anyone want to work with such an inconsistent population?
What does this have to do with anything? Our theme on the blog has revolved around a simple question Jesus asked of his disciples:
“Who do you say I am?”
When asked, the disciples gave many standard answers, but Peter nailed it.
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus praised him for his answer, because he knew if Peter saw Jesus as the savior of mankind, not as something else, the true nature of Christ would be known to the world.
My work with teenagers has become so much more fruitful because I understand who they are and what they are up to.
My walk with Christ will be so much better if I simply knew him as the savior of the world, and not something else.
As my friends said so eloquently this week, the way you think about God really matters. In some ways it is the only thing that matters. Our theology (way of thinking about God) is the source of our faith and the decisions we make based upon what we believe.
It is not enough to try to change your behavior. Start at the source. What do you really think about God? What drives that theology? Who taught you that? Who is reinforcing that theology? What would it look like if things were different?
The way you think about God matters.
Tell us, what do you think about this? How has your theology changed or stayed the same throughout your walk with Christ? We would love to hear from you in the comments.