Last month, our high school ministry filled a couple charter buses and headed off to New York City for a week of serving and learning. It was a great experience, we partnered with CSM and Reach Global Crisis Response.
While we were there, I spent a day serving alongside a summer school program in Harlem and overheard a conversation unlike any I’ve ever heard. I was walking alongside two young Dominican boys. We were on our way to a local playground. I began eavesdropping when I heard this line, “What are we?” Here’s how the conversation went between two Dominican American kindergartners.
“What are we?”
“You’re Dominican American.”
“Because you weren’t born here. You were born in the Dominican Republic.”
“What are you?”
“I’m American Dominican because I was born in American.”
I was struck by this conversation. Listening to these two little boys struggle to put words to their identity reminded me of what it’s like to watch and listen to the students we serve and lead.
- “Who am I?”
- “Where do I belong?”
- “Am I valuable?”
These are the primary questions our students are trying to work out. I’m convinced that identity building is the most important task of adolescence and therefore the most important task of student ministry. Who you believe you are is paramount. It influences every decision, every relationship, and every boundary.
I believe we need to spend less time teaching our students how to live and more time telling them who they are. Based on what our team is seeing and hearing, our students don’t believe they are valuable. They don’t believe they are worth much. The values and pressures of our culture are having terrible impact on their minds and hearts.
Culture is saying: “Whoever you are is perfect!” While simultaneously saying, “You are only valuable if you look like a supermodel, compete at the highest level or score in the top 10%.” In other words, it’s all based on performance. It’s a confusing at best and emotionally crippling at worst.
Unfortunately, I think that many Christian parents and student ministries are guilty of the saying essentially the same thing: “Whoever you are is perfect!” While simultaneously saying, “You are only valuable if you follow all the rules, attend every event and generally make us feel like we are succeeding as a ministry.” It’s still based on performance.
I believe we should help our students build an identity that is rooted in what God has said and demonstrated rather than on who they are and what they are good at.
In other words, “Whoever you are is imperfect. You are valuable because you are created, unique, loved, pursued and forgiven.” In other words, your identity isn’t based on your…it’s based on Him.
My point is that we need to be careful that we don’t teach our students to build their identities on what they look like and what they are good at. When we do this we are simply painting a shiny veneer on what our culture is already saying. This isn’t what our students need.
Our students need to understand that their identity begins and ends with Jesus. This understanding is fundamentally different because it isn’t based on beauty or performance. It’s based on the unchanging truths of the Gospel.
Let’s get serious about teaching our students about their identity because what they believe about themselves influences every decision, relationship and boundary in their lives.