Sunday at Bel Air Pres was Student Sunday, so I and the high school and middle school directors had the privilege of our ministries leading our congregation in worship and teaching. It was a great day and I am so blessed to be not only a part of this church, but to be a part of a great youth discipleship department. Two people that I am so impressed with and that are great friends are the middle school directors, RO and Mindy Smith. They run The Element and do a phenomenal job. When I have Jr. High kids one day, I want my kids in their program. That’s how highly I think of them and I have a lot of respect for them. They are not only concerned with games and fun, but the theological content in their ministry and the way they communicate the Word. This last week they wrote an article for our Bel Air Pres Magazine called, The Abandonment of the Teenage Soul. It is a great article and a must read for parents and for anyone working with youth, etc…
As you read through the article you might notice the influence of youth ministry “guru” Chap Clark in their writing and thinking.
And on a funny and ironic sidenote….the ultrasonic teenage deterrent that they talk about in the first paragraph, is what teenagers are now using as their cell phone ringer because adults can’t hear it. Talk about teenagers pulling a fast one over on adults…if you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the news that is all over TV today about this cell phone ringer, here.
In November 2005, The New York Times published an article about a device called the Mosquito that emits a high-frequency sound meant to drive youthful trouble makers away. The ultrasonic teenage deterrent has been acclaimed by police forces in the United Kingdom as the most effective tool in their fight against anti-social behavior. For roughly $1000, you too could join the further abandonment of the teenage soul by installing this high-frequency sound machine anywhere you don’t want those pesky adolescents to congregate. Hopefully you won’t have to actually engage in a conversation with them or initiate any type of interaction whatsoever; driving them deeper into what youth professional Dr. Chapman Clark calls ‘the world beneath’.
Institutions that were originally designed for teens have dramatically changed in the past 30 years. Now instead of being about caring for kids or what’s best for kids, they’re often more about what’s best for adults and keeping kids busy. Dr. Clark describes this as a “systematic abandonment of the young” by adults who are culturally charged with caring for kids. If kids don’t fit in the pre-ordained boxes that adults control, kids end up hurt, abused, and left behind. The result is that despite the articles and research projecting an optimistic view of youth culture, we believe that kids are more empty, lonely, and fragile than ever before.
One example, in our interactions with little league baseball over the past three years, the “abandonment” is evident. Little league baseball is no longer about enjoying new experiences, appreciating the joy of play, working together for the common goal, and friendly competition. It has become more about what the parents feel about the kids play, and whether the adults are satisfied with the final score. In one experience, the coach screamed at the kids sitting in the dugout because they weren’t paying attention to what was going on in the field, and instead playing imaginary games and drawing in the dirt…Did we mention they were 9 years old? We couldn’t help but think that this coach perpetuated this idea of abandonment.
Unfortunately, we in the church are not exempt. We too are guilty of this systematic abandonment. For example, in most churches kids are not included in the “all-church” worship service. Kids are generally relegated to having their own room, and to conduct their own church service. Sadly, many kids graduate from high school having never seen the inside of their own church’s sanctuary except for at Easter and Christmas. There are many other examples, but we don’t have the time or space.
So what does that mean for us? Abandoned kids are waiting, but they are guarded. They’re skeptical that anybody will care about them for who they are. But when caring adults are also attached to religious faith, they have an even greater impact. So kids need to be loved by caring adults who are authentic and not plastic. Adults who are willing to reflect the incarnational Christ and “step into” the world of teenagers.
In our context at BAPC, we cannot allow the hundreds of youth that attend our church to be left to the care of the 5 paid staff members of these departments. The old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” must resonate and ring true here as well. When kids see adults who care for them, and who aren’t out for themselves, then maybe kids will start thinking God really does care for them and their faith might mean something.
RO and Mindy both have their Masters of Arts in Theology in Youth, Family, and Culture.