Entering the wild
Written by Jodie McNeill
Ever since the rise of 'youth' as a discernible sub-culture, those in this demographic seem to be at the cutting-edge of changes to attitude, appearance and actions.
As teenagers are forced to join this club, they either reluctantly accept their new membership, or they embrace it with the zeal of an Apple user.
Either way, they leave the comfort and safety of their inherited childhood environment, and they begin to work out what it means to be citizens of adolescence.
And as the youth desert the comfort of childhood, the parents and adults who remain are left with a painful concern to connect or maintain connection with this migrating group of young people.
Which approach is the best?
Generally speaking, there are three ways that a concerned adult or group of adults can react to the exodus of our children to the scary world of adolescence.
1. Firstly, they can adopt a head-in-the-sand approach that hopes that this is a phase that will just go away, and that the best thing to do is just to act calm, and just keep persevering without making any sudden movements.
Parents and church leaders would therefore pretend adolescence and youth culture don't really exist, and make no conspicuous attempts to segregate or specialise in their dealings with them.
2. A second way to react is to adopt a militant or protectionist approach and set up protective barriers around the upcoming adolescents, so that they can try and keep the young people pure from the effects of the dangerous world that forces them to grow up too quickly.
They might prohibit the viewing of any media that might include adult or fantasy themes, and they seek to help the teens appear to be quarantined from any influence of contemporary fashion or fads.
3. Or, thirdly, they can try to embrace the threat, and dance with the devil of popular culture in order to try and meet the teenagers 'where they are at' and, in some way, try to be all things to all teenagers so that they might save some.
All three strategies have their own strengths and weaknesses, and to some extent, there is a time and a place for each of them.
How does this help us in ministry?
So, as we in church leadership deal with teenagers, we might sometimes just integrate them into our general ministries.
In fact, keeping adolescents in church with adults and children, and even perhaps incorporating teenage guys into men's ministries can sometimes be a helpful strategy.
At other times, we will protect our teenagers from popular culture, and seek to educate them about the dangers of being like the world.
We will encourage them not to conform to the patterns of the world, in the words that they speak, the clothes that they wear, and the media that they watch.
And at other times, we will try to engage with their culture, and encourage them to remain true to the brave new world of adolescence that they now inhabit.
We adults will love our teens and their friends enough to try and understand their culture and act in a way that respects the world in which they live.
Love is the key
As tempting as it might be, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution to adolescence.
Except, of course, the need for us adults to love our teenagers in a way that wisely cares for them and their unsaved friends.
Sometimes this cross-cultural ministry will feel uncomfortable for those of us who occupy our distant worlds, but we must be prepared to be wise and loving as we choose flexible responses to the aliens in our care.
For, as we seek to have the church of Christ grow into maturity, we should seek to prayerfully help the young people in our church mature in such a way that makes their journey to Christian adulthood as safe as possible, God willing.