Two weeks ago I wrote about the necessity youth workers face to create environments where students find a place to belong and someone that believes in them. Last week in a video interview with Mark Oestricher, he mentioned that teens are being driven by their desire to belong to connect as their foremost filter through which they create their connections.
If we agree that creating space to belong is important, are there habits and elements that erode or destroy these connections?
1. Humiliation - No one likes to be the focal point of jokes on a regular basis. When students make mistakes do we ridicule them in some way? Do we parade them in front of their peers and ask them to apologize? Do we use them as an illustration in our next youth talk to "inspire" their peers to choose differently?
Jesus met with a Samaritan woman at a well. (Read more here). As he interacted with her, he challenged her towards a hope-filled life but he didn't humiliate her in the process. We all make mistakes. We are all sinners. When we humiliate someone we alienate him or her from community and cause they to question their sense of belonging. What would our youth ministries look like if we instead responded with love and grace while avoiding the seductive nature of humiliation?
2. Condemnation - When we focus on behaviour more than identity, we tell a student that who they are is less important than what they do. Character is reflected by our actions, that's true, but activity void of deep connectivity to a set of values that govern our decision making process is empty and really does not have any formative connection to character.
What if instead of focusing on a list of do's & don'ts, we focused on living into a rhythm of life filled with hope, joy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience & self-control? What if instead of hearing how bad we are we focus on how great our God is and how amazing His design for life really is? I don't know about you, but I'm tired of feeling like I'm not good enough to do something because of what I've done and need to be inspired to live life despite my past, present or future mistakes. Perhaps teens are longing for a sense of mission beyond sin management similar to what we as leaders may be craving?
3. Lack of Invitation - When we expect students and families to get involved in the experiences we create instead of taking the time to invite them into the creative process and the experience itself, the program becomes more important than the people.
I've been learning a lot about this theme lately. What is success in invitation? Is it when the person responds to the invitation positively? Or is it simply the extension of the invitation? Jesus interacted with a young rich man and invited this man to become a disciple. The man chose not to respond positively to the invitation Jesus extended, so does that make this interaction a failure? I don't believe so. In this story we are shown that reality that not everyone will want to be a part of what we are doing and/or facilitating. If it is true that teens are desperately looking for a place to belong, if they are never invited to do so, how will it be possible for them to find it? Do our youth ministries need to reflect more of an invitational culture than one of expectancy?
Do you agree with these 3 ways we destroy connection? What would you add to this list and why is it important?