This post is part of a series I’m writing as I read the book, Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers by Chap Clark. You can view the entire series here.
What Chap writes about the lengthening of adolescence has really struck a chord with me.
So what exactly is adolescence? According to Chap, it is a drive for uniqueness or separateness, a quest for personal autonomy or self-assertion, and a desire for community, belonging, and interdependence.
“Adolescence, then, is a psychosocial, independent search for a unique identity or separateness, with the end goals being a certain knowledge of who one is in relation to others, a willingness to take responsibility for who one is becoming, and a realized commitment to live with others in community” (p. 28).
As I discussed in my last post about the book, this process of adolescence in our society is lengthening. What used to be a 2-4 year journey that concluded with entrance into adulthood around age 16 (as was the case around 1900) has turned into a process that begins with children as young as ten and does not finish until college or even the “young adult” years.
In other words, our students are “kids” longer and becoming adults later.
This development has huge implications for youth pastors. Youth ministry used to serve as part of the bridge from childhood to adulthood. We used to take in adolescents and graduate them basically as full-fledged adults.
Now, the youth ministry years (for round numbers sake, lets call them ages 12-18) are only a “piece of the pie” of adolescence. Young people are starting this pivotal adolescent journey before they enter youth group, and they aren’t finishing it until sometime many years later.
Youth ministries aren’t really producing Christian adults anymore because the “norm” is for adolescence to last much longer than it used to.
This brings up dozens of questions:
- How do youth pastors respond to this cultural and societal shift?
- Do today’s youth ministry resources effectively prepare us for these new challenges?
- Do our youth ministries meet the needs of this lengthening adolescence?
- Do we understand what it even means to minister to students in “mid-adolescence”?
- Should the Church’s view of “young people” now expand beyond just children and teens/youth? Does this make college ministry a “must have” for effective churches? Should youth pastors begin to view college ministry as part of their responsibility to young people, or is that for another “department”?
Consider a time years ago when adolescence was shorter, children’s ministry did not go beyond Sunday school and teens’ entrance into adulthood was celebrated by all even without a special “youth service.” Then there came children’s ministry, which is now a staple in most churches. Then there was youth ministry, which is becoming more and more of a necessity for churches. Now there is a growing number of college ministries in churches.
Are these budding church programs meeting the needs of an expanding adolescence? Or are these programs actually contributing to the lengthening of adolescence? If they are, is that a bad thing?
Hopefully there are answers waiting for me in the next couple of chapters.
In his book, Chap does share three specific reasons why the study of “mid-adolescence” is so important, and I believe these begin to answer some of my above questions. I’ll write about those tomorrow.