Thoughts on Shepherding The Hearts of Teenagers

From The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending in Youth Ministry (Dean and Foster)

Two Convictions

“The first:  Adolescents are looking for a soul-shaking, heart-waking, world-changing God to fall in love with; and if they do not find that God in the Christian church, they will most certainly settle for lesser gods elsewhere.  The second conviction:  So will we” (page 9).

What god will they choose to feed their hunger?

“Choosing a god is fundamental to the process of identity formation, and we soon discover that not just any god will do.  Power and status, money and education, drugs and alcohol, even friends and family are common gods toward which we direct our lives.  Yet what human beings crave is an uncommon god.  We hunger for a God who is bigger than the self. Choosing an inadequate god, a god too small to transcend our limitations and who therefore can neither save nor transform us, drives us to keep hunting.  The difference between youth and adults often is simply that adults have stopped acting out this search, maybe because we have settled for lesser gods instead” (page 16).

What god is feeding our hunger?

“Our own faith is often desperately undernourished, and we question the integrity of sharing scrawny faith with teenagers who know the difference between Chicken McNuggets and a full-course meal and who are starved for the latter.  We know how quickly teenagers rip through thin faith.  Teenagers can find thin gods anywhere, and if the God of Jesus Christ isn’t more awesome and substantial than the seething rush of the mosh pit, the ecstasy of LSD, the mystery of sexual intercourse, the security of cash, the affirmation of the A or the adulation of the cheering crowd in the gym-then why bother with Christianity at all? Thin gods are available by the dozen, and teenagers see right through them.  If we’re honest, so do we” (pages 16-17).

What should we be doing?  What should our ministry to teenagers look like?

“But what we really hope is that you will come away convinced that when we develop ministry based on practices that feed our own famished faith, we cannot help but pastor a ‘flock’ as well, regardless of the age of the sheep…By focusing on the spiritual disciplines, we want to emphasize every pastor’s need-no matter what the flock-to nourish his or her own soul in order to lead others to the table…This shift relocates youth ministry in significant relationships between youth and adults and moves away from ‘programs’ as the primary vehicles for youth ministry” (page 18).

Questions for those (whether parents, pastors, or parishioners) who disciple the next generation:

1. What flock(s) is God calling you to pastor at the moment? Which ‘souls’ are relying on you for nourishment? Even if you are not officially a pastor, if you begin to envision yourself as ‘pastor’ (shepherd) to them, how will that concept change your interaction with these people?

2. How goes it with your soul these days? Is it undernourished? Is it well fed and growing? Are you showing students how to munch on McNuggets or how to feast on Jesus? How can we pray for you in this area?

3. What, if anything, do you sense God saying to you as you consider these things?

Parents, youth workers, volunteer disciplers:  Please share your thoughts in the comments section, or send this post to someone who shepherds teenagers and ask them to join the discussion.

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