Friday, March 28, 2008

    Youth Ministry and the Spiritual Practice of Discernment

    Chap Clark argues in his text "Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers " that the youth of today have, in many ways, been abandoned by adults who are too busy to to spend quality time with adolescents.

    As a result, teens have little understanding of what it means to become an adult and no road map for figuring out how to get to adulthood. These same sentiments were echoed by Mark Yaconelli in a keynote he offered at a recent youth ministry conference I attended. Mark suggested that rather than asking youth "What do you want to be(when you grow up)?" we should be asking them "Who are you becoming?" I'd like to think that this question goes beyond asking youth to simply ponder their future and instead really gets to the heart of the spiritual discipline of discernment -- an intentional practice of discovering who God is calling us to be and how we are called to be part of God's mission in the world. So often we ask youth what job they plan to have some day, where they are going to go to college, how much money they hope to make, but how often do we sit them down and ask "What do you think God wants of your life?"
    A few weeks ago, I asked my youth to start thinking about the question "Who are you becoming?" and this Sunday we'll be trying to work together to begin discerning what that question means for each of us. Here is the road map for how we plan to begin this ongoing process of discernment:

    Starting Out: Wagon Wheel - This opening activity involves sitting on the floor in two circles, with the inner circle facing out and the outer circle facing in, with everyone facing another person. We ask a question, the duo share their answers for a minute, then we say "rotate" and the outer circle people rotate so they are sitting in front of the next person, and we repeat the process. The questions are easier versions of the question we really want them to explore "Who Am I Becoming?" By starting with these simpler questions, we ease ourselves into the conversation and let everyone sort of state where they are "at" right now in their thinking about the future.

    Questions: What do you want to be when you grow up? Where would you like to travel some day? What sort of family would you like to live in 10-20 years from now? What new hobby or skill would you like to have in the future? Where would you hope to live someday?

    Digging In: Searching the Scriptures - Reminding youth that the next question (Who are you becoming?) is our real focus for the study, invite the group to take a quick look at two passages where Jesus is discerning his own identity and calling.

    In Luke 2: 41-52, Jesus' parents are searching for him and are surprised to find him in the Temple sitting amongst the teachers and when they ask what he's doing, he answers "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Ask: What might this passage tell us about how Jesus was coming to understand himself and his identity? What can you already know about yourself at such an early age? What thoughts or experiences that you've had might suggest you have begun already to discern a calling from God for your lives?

    In Matthew: 16: 13-20 Jesus poses this question to his disciples "Who do you say that I am?" In what ways have others helped you to understand who you are/your identity/your gifts/your calling? What might be the advantages of inviting others to help you answer this question for yourself?

    Going Deeper: Creating a Mandala - As a way to help the youth think about their own sense of who they are becoming, invite them to create a mandala, an ancient spiritual practice that aids meditation. Youth will be given a sheet of paper with a large circle divided into sections. Working in silence, in one section they will write words, symbols or images that reflect their spiritual life. In another section, they will express symbols and words that represent parts of their life that they consider separate from their spiritual being (Note: Though I would personally consider everything to be part of my spiritual life, clearly we do not always view things that way. Some youth may want to depict images or words that overlap these two sections of the mandala.) In one inner circle they reflect on their hoped for future and in the most inner circle they draw or write something that represents their understanding/relationship with God. This activity could be done strictly with pencil and paper or could involve a myriad of artistic elements such as paint, beads, feather, sand, magazine images, and so on.

    After 20 or 30 minutes, come back together and invite those who are willing to share reflections on the activity of creating the mandala, what thoughts or awarenesses came to them during the meditation, and how they might begin to answer the question "Who am I becoming?" Ask: What do you notice about how you grouped things in your design? What does your mandala say about you as a person? Where does God fit into your design? What might be missing? It will be important during this process to affirm whatever the youth choose to share and to maintain an atmosphere of respect and thoughtfulness.

    Closing: Perhaps invite youth to write a short note to themselves, sharing their thoughts for this moment in time about how they have begun to discern the call of God in their lives. Save these letters and return them to the youth in a few months as a reminder to them to continue this process of discernment.


    Dan Mayes said...


    I really like the Mandala idea.
    Another good aid for discernment is "Practicing Discernment With Youth" by David F. White.

    Randy said...

    I appreciate not only the "activities" suggested here but even more the thought from Chap Clark and the reminder of Mark's insights at DYMN. (Ya know, I was so busy checking on this and that and observing group response and needs that I did not always listen well to Mark's sessions. Your reminders fill in some gaps for me.)

    Yeah, "Who are you becoming?" is what we need to ask our son as he is looking at colleges and trying to figure out what he "should" major in and our daughter as she ponders the same as a college sophomore . . .


    Brian said...

    Hey Dan. I have that book, just haven't read it yet (the story of my life!)

    Randy, we had good response to this activity from our oldest youth. They really shared some deep stuff, particularly about the struggles they are having coming to understand who they are and ways in which the are resisting being defined into a corner by parents, peers, etc. Our younger youth, particularly the boys, were a bit perplexed by the whole question, as I suppose could be expected.

    suzanne said...

    We used this resource Sunday evening--Thanks!! It is a totally new concept for my youth, and I look forward to exploring it with them further. Several have no idea "what they want to do when they grow up"--I hope this opening to discernment will be life-giving for the group.

    PS-I forgot to tell y'all that I went to a youth worker event & your website was listed as a web resource on a handout. :)

    allisonkanani said...

    This was a wonderful resource for me as I am leading a group of youth on 'culture of call.' Thank you for being so thoughtful and reflective. Just what I needed! :)