Thinking Out Loud

August 15, 2014

The Divorce Effect — Part III

Jeff SnowThis is the third and final of three parts, click to read part one which dealt with the effects of divorce. Part two was a focus on the theology of the topic, and today we look at practical suggestions for the church to minister to teens of divorce.

divorce effect3Jeff Snow has spent the last two decades working in youth and young adult ministry in Canada, both in the context of a local church and a parachurch organization. The three articles are taken from his masters thesis on the impact of divorce on middle-school, high-school and college youth.


by Jeff Snow

In the first of our articles on the effects of divorce on teens, we explored the findings of many studies that pointed to the fact that divorce is not a benign event in the lives of teenagers. It should not be seen as a “cold” that knocks a young person for a loop for a time but which they eventually get over. Rather, it should be seen as a chronic illness, with many effects that will be flare up at various stages in life. These effects do not have to define the young person or doom them to a difficult life, but they must be understood and managed, like any chronic condition.

In our second article, we focused on some less tangible effects that are characterized by a sense of loss. Teens of divorce deal with a sense of loss of community, loss of identity, loss of a positive view of God as Father, loss of a family structure within which to safely develop morals and values. These multiplied losses lead to an anxiety which negatively impacts a young person’s life. We ended by suggesting that God has provided the church as a reflection of divine community that can come alongside teens and help them deal with loss and anxiety.

The effects of divorce are far-reaching, and with almost half of the students in an average student ministry dealing with those effects, it is important for youth pastors and leaders to be aware of the particular needs of these students and develop characteristics within their youth ministry that will minister to these needs.

Community

Every youth pastor works to build strong bonds of unity within their youth group, unity that goes beyond simple friendship. A strong youth ministry will have a sense of being united in the Spirit (Eph. 4:3), of being a safe community where students are drawn together by God’s love and presence as well as by their natural kinship. While this atmosphere is important for every teen, it is that much more important for teens of divorce.

youthminstryDouglas Adams, in his book Children, Divorce, and the Church, for teens of divorce, “what they lack in life is a caring community around them. They need help in dealing with past and present pain in their lives. Most need restoration of their self-esteem. The local church is one place where young people from divorced families should be able to find a supportive, loving community.”

What I am advocating as part of ministry to teens of divorce in this area is not so much a distinct program of ministry to them. In fact, very little of what we will discuss points to a specific program that would single out teens of divorce from the group. Rather what is needed is a heightened focus on the importance of nurturing a supportive community within one’s youth ministry, with the equally heightened awareness of the importance of that supportive community in the life of a teen of parental divorce.

The good news is that there already exists in many churches at least the beginnings of this community in the youth groups and youth Sunday school classes that are in place. The goal of the youth pastor is to work to intentionally foster community within these already existing structures so that teens of divorce can know they are not alone and begin to find a community that will help replace what has been lost in the dissolution of their family community.

Andrew Root, in his book The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as The Loss of Being, proposes five practices that should be part of any church community that ministers to teens of divorce. The first is accompaniment. This simply means that peers and adult leaders in the church are willing to walk alongside teens through their journey through divorce, regardless of how long it takes, or how painful and messy it can become.

The second practice is the provision of sanctuary. A youth ministry needs to be a place where a teen suffocating in the throes of familial upheaval can simply come and breathe. It needs to be a place where they know they belong, and where they know they are safe.

The third practice of community is convening. The youth ministry will provide contexts for people, youth and adult leaders, to get together, form community and build relationship. Practically speaking, this means the youth pastor must avoid the temptation to over-program and leave youth as mere spectators. Give the teens and adult leaders the opportunity to hang out together and see what kind of community the Holy Spirit develops.

middle school youth ministryFourth is connecting. It is important for teens of divorce who have lost so much adult influence in their lives to make meaningful connections with the adult leaders of the youth ministry. This is where the youth pastor must train and surround herself with adults who love Jesus and love teens, and who are willing to make connections with teens when the community gathers.

Root contends that a big part of the youth pastor’s job is to “convene spaces for intergenerational conversations to occur.” This is why, though I firmly believe that youth need a weekly gathering to call their own, I am not a believer in a parallel youth church that meets on Sunday mornings, or that in any other way takes the youth away from opportunities to convene and connect with Christians from other generations. Teens of divorce, in particular, need the influence of and connection with older, more mature believers.

A final practice in building a community that will minister to teens of divorce if that of blessing. A teen of divorce needs to know that they are wanted and accepted by the church and youth group. They need to feel that they belong, and that the community is glad that they are there.

Ministry people

Besides clergy, there are four types of people in a youth ministry that can be of benefit to teens of divorce. The first is their peers. Teens, especially teens of divorce themselves, need to be encouraged to reach out to each other to provide support.

A second group can be termed an “adult friend”. This is someone who is willing to welcome a teen of divorce into their life and spend time with them, both in the context of the church and youth group, and beyond. The home life of a teen of divorce can be difficult. It may not feel like home anymore. Families within the church can develop a relationship with a teen where their home can become a refuge where the teen can be invited to help them to get away from it all for a while.

The third group is the adult role model. This includes spiritual modelling, giving the teen of divorce someone to guide them through their development of godly morals and values. Though teaching in a youth ministry is essential and important, teens will often learn more from observing how Christianity works in the real life of a real person.

Modelling for teens of divorce is also very important in the area of marriage and relationships. In my ministry, I have two young couples who have dated, become engaged, and are now married with small children, all while serving as leaders in the youth ministry. Their example is invaluable in terms of modelling God’s plan for relationships, dating and marriage. Teens of divorce need to know that what they have seen in their families is not the only way to live. Providing them with role models who demonstrate healthy relationships is very important.

discipleshipA final category of adult-teen ministry would be a mentor. This is a more intentional and intensive coming alongside of a teen by one adult who is willing to walk with them through the divorce years. Douglas Adams describes a mentor as someone who “took the time and, in some cases, made the sacrifice to help these children of divorce see a better tomorrow.” Teens of divorce need to see hope that things can be different.

These relationships are very important in ministry to teens of divorce, yet in today’s world, it must be acknowledged that this type of relational ministry is becoming increasingly difficult. Some churches and youth ministries simply don’t do this kind of ministry anymore because of the potential risks. Others have put good policies in place to make it work. I believe churches must do all they can to do formulate structures that will allow for safe ministry between adults and teens, especially teens of divorce, who need an adult influence in their lives. Teens will be looking for that support and influence regardless of what we do, and if we don’t provide safe people to be part of their lives, they will find that support and influence in the very people that our policies are trying to protect them from.

These relationships between adult leaders and teens of divorce must not be forced or assigned. They must happen naturally. This is where the youth pastor can use discernment and the context of “convening” events to observe the connections between particular youth and adult leaders, and gently nudge them together.

Teaching

Teaching is an essential part of any youth ministry. For teens of divorce, it would be important to focus some teaching on issues of identity. Divorce strikes at the heart of a teen’s identity, exacerbating low self-worth and complicating the already difficult search for who they are. In community and through teaching, youth ministries can help teens re-discover their real selves, help them see the image of God in themselves, and come to know that they are worthy of love, both from their fellow humans and from God. A series such as “Who I am in Christ?” can help teens of divorce begin to define themselves less and less by the divorce, and more by their relationship with Christ.

Another important area of teaching is in basic morals and values, helping teens distinguish between right and wrong. We have said that teens of divorce are left to forge their own values independent of their parents. This provides a great opportunity for ministry. I have found that teens of divorce are much more spiritually inquisitive than many teens who have grown up in the church in intact families. We have the opportunity to answer their questions and teach them God’s direction for their lives.

ymin mentoringA third area of teaching is in dating and preparation for marriage. This is a standard topic in the youth pastor’s tool kit, but it is all the more important for teens of divorce, who are more sexually active as teens and get divorced more as adults than teens from intact families. The “sleeper effect” of divorce shows itself when teens and young adults begin to develop their own romantic relationships. Youth ministries can provide teaching as early as mid-adolescence that will help teens of divorce prepare for healthy relationships.

A final area of teaching is focusing on the nature of God, helping to correct the misconceptions of God teens of divorce develop because of their experiences. We need to teach them that God is a confidant they can talk to about their pain; that He is a source of stability and a comforter; that He is a true Father who is sovereign and has all things under control, even when it seems like all is falling apart. The teen of divorce needs to hear that they are safely in the palm of God’s hand, that He loves them and protects them.

Spirituality

How can youth ministries speak specifically to the spiritual lives of teens of divorce? We said last time that many teens of divorce, while losing interest in organized religion, still have deep spiritual interest. They define themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” This has two positive implications for youth ministry. First, the less formal, less “churchy” nature of most youth ministry can be attractive to teens of divorce in particular. Secondly, we recognize that teens of divorce have not given up on their spiritual journey. They are full of questions. They want to connect with God. They may not like the church, but they are willing to pursue knowledge of God and Jesus. Youth pastors need to not be turned off by their disinterest in the organized church, but rather encourage and nurture the deep spiritual hunger that they have.

We pointed out one study last time that found that divorce often drives committed teens away from the church in anger and disillusionment, while drawing fringe youth closer to God and the church as a means of coping. The youth pastor needs to be aware of these possible reactions. Youth leaders must be OK with the questions and anger and even rejection these committed students may display towards God and their parents, and gently walk beside them on their journey away from a faith that relied on their parents, and towards a faith that will hopefully be stronger and their own. Youth pastors also need to pay attention to the students on the fringes of the youth group whose experience of divorce will heighten their desire to find a coping mechanism in faith in God, and come alongside them in their walk towards God.

In both cases, youth leaders need to realize that the window of opportunity for ministry may be small as deepening family conflict and parental moves may take the teen out of the group.

Support groups

We haven’t discussed support groups much yet. They can be an important part of ministry to teens of divorce as they find healing through shared experience. But one must be careful that such a group does not label or isolate the teen from the rest of the group. The church must also caution against any mindset that a 12 week course will solve all the teens’ problems and that the presence of the group does not discourage others from getting involved. A support group must be seen as part of an overall ministry to teens of divorce, not as an end in itself.

One support group curriculum for teens that seems effective is “Spectrum”, produced by an organization called Rainbows. The curriculum has a faith-based component for use in churches, and one for use in schools if a youth ministry finds itself with an open door to reach into the school system.

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In my research, I have noticed one common theme that arises again and again as an important element in ministry to teens of divorce: The importance of listening to them. This may seem rather simplistic, but it is something that is essential and astonishingly neglected and overlooked.

The most disturbing statistic I found in my research pertaining to ministry to teens of divorce was found in Elizabeth Marquardt’s book, Between Two Worlds. She writes, “of those young adults who were regularly attending a church or synagogue at the time of their parents’ divorce, two-thirds say that no one – neither from the clergy nor from the congregation – reached out to them during that critical time in their lives, while only one-quarter remember either a member of the clergy or a person from the congregation doing so.”

Let that sink in. This is not a survey of people outside the church, nor is it referring to teens of divorce where the divorce happened to them as a child. For teens who are regularly in the church and who are in the midst of experiencing a divorce, 66% of them said no one paid any attention to them. This is a sobering statistic for youth pastors and the church as a whole. The church needs to be aware of the teens involved in a divorce and needs to find ways to reach out to them. And the simplest way to begin to do that is to listen to them, because having someone who will listen is at the core what these teens are missing. No one asked them if they wanted to live through a divorce. Most of the decisions made in the divorce are made without consulting them, yet they severely impact their lives.

Those involved in youth ministry have the opportunity to create a safe place for teens to talk about their experiences, and assure them that they will be listened to. When that is done, they are valued and deemed important. They are shown their worth in God’s eyes.

The key to awareness of the needs of teens of divorce, and as a result the key to ministry to them, is quite simply to listen to them, not just for a short time, but over the long haul, for divorce is a long and difficult journey for a teen. As youth ministers listen and gain knowledge of the pain and needs of teens of divorce, they will be more equipped to meet those needs in their ministries, and to share with the broader church community what can be done, and what needs to be done, in order to help these adolescents grow into the person God created them to be.

 


If you’ve found this series helpful, and would like to send Jeff a message off the blog, use the contact form on this page and we will pass it on for you.

August 11, 2014

The Divorce Effect — Part II

Jeff Snow As good as today’s article is, I want to strongly encourage you to click to read part one if you have not already done so. This is the second of three parts; part one dealt with the effects of divorce. Today we will focus on the theology of the topic, and part three will look at practical suggestions for the church to minister to teens of divorce.

divorce effect2Jeff Snow has spent the last two decades working in youth and young adult ministry in southern Ontario, Canada, both in a local church and parachurch context. For his Masters thesis, he wrote on the impact of divorce on middle-school, high-school and college youth.


by Jeff Snow

In our last article, we looked at the effects of divorce on teens as spelled out by researchers who have studied the subject. An overarching theme is the sense of loss that teenagers feel in various ways as the result of parental divorce. There are a few ways that those wanting to help teens affected by divorce can help them deal with these losses. We can work to replace the social capital they have lost, giving them the physical resources and support they need to heal and thrive. We can give them psychological support by way of helping them think properly about the divorce and their place in the situation.

Both of these are good and necessary. But divorce brings about more than an economic, intellectual, or psychological loss. Divorce brings with it a sense of loss that strikes much deeper into the soul of a teenager and impacts his life in different ways for years to come. These spiritual and existential losses are important to understand, for they lie at the root of the painful effects of divorce experienced by teens. As those involved in Christian ministry to youth, we are uniquely positioned to speak to these issues and minister to this less tangible sense of loss.

Divorce brings to a teen a loss of their sense of community. The most basic form of community is the family. Divorce pulls children out of that most basic form of community and by doing so, it strikes at the very nature of how God created us to live.

Marriage ripped apartGod Himself, by His very nature, lives in community, a community of mutual love among the three persons of the Trinity. Humans, created in the image of God, are created to live in community. Living in relationship is essential to our humanity.

Genesis 1:27 and 2:23 tell us that both man and woman and their one flesh union reflect the image of God. The early church father John Chrysostom expanded this idea to include children. In his view, “The child is a bridge connecting mother to father, so the three become one flesh.”

Divorce destroys this “one flesh” community of parents and children. Divorce does damage to the image of God as reflected in marriage. Though a teenager may yet find community within which to live, and still within his own being reflect the image of God, he is nonetheless impacted greatly by this loss of community, the loss of love, and the loss of the active model of the image of God in his life represented by his parents.

This loss of community strikes at the very core of the teen’s sense of self, his sense of being. Andrew Root, in his deep yet excellent book The Children of Divorce: The Loss of family as the Loss of Being, writes, “When that community (of mother and father) is destroyed, it is a threat to the child’s being. Divorce, therefore, should be seen as not just the split of a social unit, but the break of the community in which the child’s identity rests.” Root maintains that the effects of divorce cannot be limited to social and psychological factors. The root of the loss inherent in divorce is the loss of being and the subsequent anxiety resulting from that loss.

Sad TeenRoot asks the question, “Can a person be at all, now that those who are responsible in their union for creating that person are no longer together?” He goes on to say that “there is no community more primary than that of mother and father, than those responsible for my being. When their community is not, my being is shaken.”

Divorce brings into question in the mind of the teen his very identity. If existence is found in relationship, then the removal of the key relational community in the life of a teen will impact their identity. The refuge and protection that family is meant to provide is pulled out from under the teen, and the safe harbour in which they can discover who they are no longer exists. They are left to figure out their identity on their own, caught between the two worlds which their parents are creating for themselves rather than for their children.

Ministry to teens of divorce will focus not only on social and psychological needs, but will zero in on issues surrounding identity, who they are in Christ, and their relationship with God as a Father.

A healthy view of God as Father is another area of loss among many teens of divorce. The idea of God being a father to the fatherless (Ps. 68:5) is not a comforting thought if God is going to be like their father. The idea of God as “Abba” and of the teen seeing herself as Abba’s child (Romans 8:14-16) is somewhat of a foreign concept. Yet coming to grips with these concepts and this understanding of God is important in order for the teen to be able to rediscover their identity and realize who they are as children of God. Our job as ministers to youth is to come alongside teens on this journey of rediscovering who they are in Christ and as beloved children of God. For as we noted last time, divorce leaves teens embarking on these journeys of self-discovery primarily alone.

One of the key roles of the parents within the family is the transmission of values and beliefs to the next generation. This was clearly spelled out in Hebrew law:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

In an intact family, a community exists where the image of God, where the admonition to love God, where the instruction to follow His commandments, can be taught and modeled through the everyday routine of life. In divorce, that community is fractured. That place of refuge where children can have inculcated upon them the values and beliefs that will point them to a relational experience with God has disappeared. Their view of the image of God, their impression of God as Father, becomes deeply marred.

Instead of embarking on this journey under the watchful tutelage of their parents, children of divorce must create their value systems on their own, while living within the dichotomy of the often conflicting value systems being created by divorcing parents, putting teens in a position they were never meant to fulfill.

In divorce, the line of ancestral obligation is broken, and the teen is left to be what Elizabeth Marquardt calls a “moral forger” who has “to grow up quickly … trying to make sense of adult concepts and choices with the tools of a child.” The teen is left to figure out his belief system and to figure out exactly who God is, what He desires of him, and why that matters, entirely on his own.

search for identityIt is the cumulative effect of these losses which often fly under the radar that creates the anxiety in teens of divorce that breeds many of the issues and behaviours we discussed in our last article. All young people wrestle with the existential questions of “Who am I?” “Where do I belong?” “Is there a God and can He be trusted as a Father?” But in the lives of teens of divorce, this search for identity and security is heightened as they pursue these questions alone, without the community of support that God created for them to have.

These losses breed anxiety in the lives of teens. Anxiety is different from fear. Perhaps that’s why we buy into the “kids are resilient” idea and assume teens will survive divorce relatively unscathed. Most teens of divorce are relatively free from fear. They are, for the most part, physically and economically safe. But that doesn’t mean they are free from an anxiety rooted in a loss of a sense of being and security that permeates their lives and exhibits itself in a myriad of issues.

It is this sense of anxiety that God the Father desires to alleviate as the teen of divorce grows in relationship with and understanding of Abba Father, and with the community He provides for the teen, namely the church. As the reflection of divine community, the church can come alongside the teen of divorce, providing him with a community in which to belong, with people who can remind him who he is in Christ and how the image of God is still evident in him. The church can provide a sanctuary where he can safely formulate a value system that corresponds to what God has created him to be. The church can provide a place where the anxiety caused by dealing with the many losses inherent in divorce can be borne by others in the community, and can be alleviated by bringing the teen in to a clear and healthy relationship with God the Father.

In our third and final installment, we will look at practical ways the church can be a divine community for teens affected by divorce.

to be continued…

August 7, 2014

The Divorce Effect

Jeff SnowJeff Snow has spent the last two decades working in youth and young adult ministry in southern Ontario, Canada, and he has become a friend of our family for much of that time. For his Masters thesis, he wrote on the impact of divorce on middle-school, high-school and college youth. Ever since I heard about this, I have been asking if he could summarize some of his findings for us here.

This is longer than we usually roll here, but it’s important to read every paragraph. This is actually the first of three parts, on the effects of divorce. The second will focus on the theology of the topic, and the third on practical suggestions for the church to minister to teens of divorce. We’ll interlink the parts as they appear here.

divorce effectBe sure to forward the link for today’s post to anyone involved in children’s or student ministry at your church or in your community. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section.


by Jeff Snow

A defining moment in my 16 years of youth ministry came a few years into my stint running a drop-in for unchurched teens. I was driving a number of youth home after drop-in one evening when two of them began a discussion in the back seat. They were listing off a number of their friends, maybe 15 in all, most of whom teachers at the high school would identify as “at-risk” youth. At one point, one of them exclaimed to the other, “Hey! We’re the only two who still live with both our parents!”

From that point onward I began to take more careful notice of the connection between youth who find themselves in trouble in various forms and the fact that a great majority of them do not live with both their biological parents. Those observations eventually led me to a Seminary paper on the effects of divorce on teens and an examination of what we as the Body of Christ can do to minister to these young people.

As in any other area of study, the research sometimes presents contradictory results. While almost all researchers agree that divorce is a traumatic event that has negative effects on children, particularly in the first year after the divorce, there are some researchers that maintain while some youth face ongoing lifelong effects, most youth will emerge relatively well-adjusted after going through a 2-3 year adjustment period.

Divorce LawyerThe problem I see with this assessment is two-fold. For an adult, three years is just a blip on the radar. But for a teenager, three years is half their adolescent life. A teen experiencing a divorce in junior high school will spend half of their formative teen years trying to adjust to having their world turned upside down. It is hard to believe that this will not have a long-lasting impact, at the very least in terms of missing out on the formative development they would have experienced in an intact family.

Secondly, many of these studies focus on a single factor, such as school grades or adult earning potential, as a means of measuring overall health. They also depend widely on statistical analysis and questionnaires. But surveys that rely on interviews with teens of divorce, that rely on actually listening to their stories, paint a much different, somewhat bleaker picture.

Divorce is not a benign event. Many people like to view its impact like that of a cold, which may knock you down for a short time but which you eventually get over. But the effects of divorce on teens is more like a chronic illness. It may lie dormant for a while, but it flares up at the most unexpected times. It never totally goes away. It can only be managed in order to live life to the full.

The effects of divorce on teens can often be very visible in their behaviors, yet often it is unseen. Elizabeth Marquardt wrote an eye-opening book entitled Between Two World: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. In another article she writes, “I’ve interviewed dozens of young adults from divorced families … If you gave them a questionnaire and asked, for instance, if they had ever been arrested, dropped out of school or been diagnosed with a mental illness, practically every one of them could respond ‘no’. But that does not mean they were unaffected by their parents’ divorce.”

Divorce is a time of loss for a child...like a death

Divorce is a time of loss for a child…like a death

So, how does divorce impact teens? Most researchers describe divorce as a time of loss for young people. This goes beyond the loss of a parent. They have lost the security of their home. They have lost connection with grandparents and other extended family members. The divorce is often only the first in a long string of losses, as numerous new boyfriends and girlfriends come in and out of their parents’, and their, lives.

Teens lose something as basic as their own room. They end up having to divide their lives in two, splitting their possessions between their parents’ two houses. In the case of step families, teens will end up having to share personal space with step siblings. I still remember a grade eight girl telling me of the difficulty she was experiencing as her mom’s new boyfriend’s family moved in, and she was forced to share her room with someone who was supposed to be a sibling, but who was to her a complete stranger.

Teens experience the effects of what is called “diminished parenting.” As parents deal with their own trauma and grief resulting from the divorce, they have less time and emotional energy to help their children through their grief. As time passes, parents become engrossed in moving on with their lives, and the needs of teens are unconsciously put aside as the parent looks for a new partner. This neglect is almost always unintentional, but the results are the same. The teen does not receive what she needs from the parent, and in fact, at times care-giving goes in the opposite direction as the teen, particularly the teen girl, takes on the role of a support to the parent whose life is falling apart.

Caught in the Middle - DivorceAs the two parents’ worlds begin to move apart, the teen is stuck in the middle, trying to navigate the chasm on their own. They are often faced with divided loyalties, as pressure is put on them by parents to take sides or to report back after custodial visits. They are faced with inconsistent parenting, as each household develops different rules for living. This even impacts teens as they work to develop their own morals and values. In an intact family, the two parents work together to present a united front of morals and values that they present to their children as the way their family is to live. But in families of divorce, the parent’s value systems will invariably start to differ with each passing year, and the adolescent is left to forge their own morals and value systems on their own, at an age where they are not yet able to successfully accomplish this task.

Diminished parenting shows itself in the lack of protection afforded, particularly to teen girls by the non-custodial father. Without a father figure, with less accountability and with decreased monitoring of activities, studies show that girls from families of divorce engage in sexual activity earlier, more often, and often with men older than they are.

Though teens of divorce will achieve grades in school that are close to those from intact families, the issue is in getting them to school and getting them to stay there. Teens of divorce are late for school more often, will skip class more, and get suspended or expelled more than teens from intact families. Teen of divorce are 30% less likely to complete college, as non-custodial parents generally feel that their financial responsibility is over once the child reaches 18, and will rarely provide the funds for college.

Family ConflictSome statistics from the website Rainbows, which is a curriculum for divorce support groups, state that 50-80% of patients treated in Canadian mental health clinics are from separated families, and that teenagers of divorce are three times more likely to be in psychological counseling than those in intact families.

For those of us in the church, it is interesting to see how divorce affects a teen’s spiritual life. Generally, interest in the church and religion will diminish, but interest in spiritual things, even in prayer, will not. One author posits the theory that the increase in divorce may be behind the contention of many under the age of 35 that they are “spiritual but not religious.”

Teens who are heavily involved in church activities will experience a retreat from spiritual things. They will wonder why their prayers were not answered, and why parents who said they loved God and believed in Him would then give up on a marriage which was supposed to be sacred. Teens who are nominally involved in church, however, will go the other way and will turn more towards the church as a coping mechanism.

Broken HomeTeens from families of divorce are more likely to be kicked out of the house, more likely to report not feeling emotionally or physically safe at home, more likely to be abused. Anywhere from one third to one half of girls from families of divorce report being sexually abused as children or teens, most often by stepfathers or stepbrothers. Two leading researchers conclude that living with a stepparent remains the most powerful predictor of severe child abuse.

Though there are many effects of divorce, the one most people will refer to first is economic, and while this must not overshadow the devastating effects that are more hidden, economic factors still cannot be ignored. Families of divorce will experience a decline in income of as much as 50% as compared to their pre-divorce lives.

Though as we said, some researchers see divorce as a temporary setback for young people, Judith Wallerstein, from her 25 years of study, has put forth the idea of “the sleeper effect” of divorce. She maintains that many teens of divorce will emerge from adolescence relatively unscathed, only to have the trauma of the divorce hit them when they reach young adulthood when they begin to seek out their own romantic attachments and consider marriage. Without role models, many teens of divorce find it harder to maintain long-term relationships, and are 2-3 times more likely to get divorced themselves.

Elizabeth Marquardt uses the phrase “happy talk” to describe how most of society talks about divorce and its effects on children and teens. We convince ourselves that teens are resilient and that we don’t really have to worry about them. Marquardt suggests that we do that in order to defend our own adult decisions. In view of the pain that I have seen both in youth ministry practice and in my research, this has to stop. There was a time when adults sacrificed for the sake of the children, not the other way around.

We as adults in the church need to have the courage to dismiss the temptation toward “happy talk.” We in fact need to stop talking and start really listening to the pain and hurt that teens of divorce would be willing to share with us if we only gave them the chance, and to find ways to support them as they attempt to navigate their way through life “between two worlds.”

to be continued…

July 28, 2014

“and now it’s time to dismiss the seniors for their service…”

In today’s worship-team driven, seeker sensitive, multi-site, mega-churches, participation is increasingly a young man’s game. Relevance is achieved through having relevant communicators, so those of us who’ve been around a bit longer are often forced to listen to sermons being taught by speakers who seem to be barely out of high school; speakers whose primary qualification seems to be that they are standing at the front of the room.*

Three years ago, I wrote about supporting the youth in your church in their various endeavors. Days later, I wrote what you’re now reading; about supporting the middle aged in your church; the people who have suddenly become excluded from any ministry that is high profile simply because one week they forgot to touch up the single gray hair that has emerged just above the temple on their right side.

For Logan, 30 was the cutoff year. A crystal system like this was proposed for church worship leaders, but it interfered with guitar chording

In many of today’s modern churches, those in their mid-forties are senior citizens, at least in terms of public ministry. Which is a real shame on so many levels; but mostly because, given the chance, many of these people have something to say. I really applaud some of the next generation people who are stepping up and demonstrating real spiritual maturity when thrust into a teaching or worship-leading role. But for each one of those, there are just as many who, while they can wear the clothes, assemble the accompanying slides, and open with the right stories; they simply don’t have the necessary content to justify the 30-35 minutes they are usually given.

So what can your church do to keep middle aged people active? In the item I wrote two days ago about empowering your youth in ministry, it was a simple matter of looking at a problem and throwing some money at it. In other words; the greatest need of teenagers for mission projects — either global or domestic — is for financial underwriting. That’s not the solution needed to affirm your middle-aged leaders.

You need to be intentionally multi-generational.

Robert Webber had it half right when he wrote of “blended worship.” But beyond the what of a given church service, the blendedness (a word I just made up) must also involve who is at the front of the room as well as who is at the back of the room giving direction. In fact, I would argue that you can’t achieve Webber’s blended ideal unless you have people representing different constituencies in the church providing input to the worship team.

Today’s church is so totally youth cultured, that it’s not hard to imagine the following:

“As we sing the next verse, we’ll invite everyone over 55 to come to the front; we have a special story for you; and then we’ll have a word of prayer and dismiss you to your own service in the church basement, where we have milk and cookies just for you.”

High fiber cookies, presumably.

No, that would be wrong. The capital-C Church of Jesus Christ is an equalizer. Rich and poor. Male and female. Labor class and management class. AND: Old and young. The target demographic should be defined as “anyone with a pulse.” The message of the gospel is a call to each and everyone.

Because the pastors and leaders who operate under a youth culture paradigm are going to find themselves — in just a year or two — suddenly out of a job. In fact the crystal on the inside palm of their hands is getting ready to turn red right now.




*For any of my local readers; this was written quite some time ago. The young man who spoke at our church on Sunday was amazing; I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the sermon.  Sometimes the timing of an article is awkward!!

July 22, 2014

Guest Post: Carlo Raponi — Sudden Urgency

Carlo Raponi is Evangelism Outreach Director with Kawartha Youth Unlimited, a Youth for Christ chapter in Peterborough, a city about 75 minutes northeast of Toronto, Canada. This is his second time at Thinking Out Loud.


There is not a day that I can remember where I’ve woken up alone in the world. Literally. I have no memory of any day of my life where I spent a whole day without ever encountering a single person. I think that if this ever happened it would carry with it a strange unfamiliar feeling that only gets seen in post-apocalyptic horror films. Instead, I, like all of us, am surrounded by people every day.

Most of the people we see are people we don’t know, many are people that we do; and some we only get to see on occasion. However they are all people that come into our spheres of influence. They are people with whom we have a chance to share the message of Jesus. Some of these encounters afford us time to develop His narrative slowly; other encounters require a faster and more succinct explanation of His hope. Either way, they all pass before us with a ‘best before’ date invisibly stamped upon them.

Last weekend one of the youth that attends The Bridge Youth Center told me that she’s moved to Toronto. She was only in town to deal with some court issues and then she would be returning back to the city. She is a girl that I have known for a few years now. When she first began coming in to the youth center she was a walking terror. Loud, boisterous and with a stubbornness that seemed incorrigible…she reminded me a little of myself. Perhaps that’s why we connected so well. But now she would be leaving, possibly for good. And so I apologized to her.

She asked me why I needed to apologize and I told her that in the years we have known each other I have approached the subject of our need for Jesus and who He is, but I never sat her down and REALLY challenged her. The ‘time’ never seemed right or the ’occasion’ didn’t present itself. There always seemed to be a reason that trumped the moment. Now she was leaving and I felt that I had done her wrong by not introducing her to the greatest thing she could ever possess – a relationship with the one who could change everything she knew about everything she knows.

I told her about a friend who’s younger brother had asked him the awkward question. He asked if he thought that the young brother would go to hell for not believing in Jesus. When the awkward reply came out as a ‘yes’ the younger brother’s response was, “…then if you love me, why haven’t you sat me down to tell me about Jesus?”

I told her that I owed her an apology because I wasn’t intentional enough to prove that I care by sharing this truth with her. The conversation that ensued was beautiful and honest, on both our behalves. It ended with her making a promise to find a church that she likes and to attend it 3 times. After that she could do as she pleases. With a smile she made me a pinky-promised that turned into a weird handshake of sorts (then I took this picture of it for proof).

the handshake

Now I must entrust her faith into the hands of God and the actions of others who I hope will do a better and more proactive job than I did. But I won’t forget this lesson. People pass in front of us every day. We’re surrounded by people all the time. There is a reason for this.

 ~ Carlo Raponi

 


 

Previously at Thinking out Loud: Three Conversations and a Wedding (March 2012)

July 16, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Abraham Isaac Jacob postage stamps

Summertime and the linkin’ is easy…Our biggest collection ever with 40 bullets!

How Cats Ended Up With Nine Lives

While not curating the internet, Paul Wilkinson blogs at Thinking Out Loud and C201.

Rapture Survivor Card

June 17, 2014

When Outrage Becomes Fashionable

Last week Leadership Journal — the same organization that publishes my Wednesday Link List — stirred up a hornets’ nest when they published an article by a former youth pastor now serving time in prison for sexually abusing a girl in the youth group.

For people who have had to deal with any kind of sexual abuse, this article struck a lot nerves, but not in the way you might think. Rather, there was a groundswell of feeling that the language in the piece elevated the author beyond what he deserves, that it appeared to be prescriptive at a time the author should not be giving advice, and that it somewhat soft-pedaled what took place using words like affair or relationship when the legal system would clearly define it as rape.

To publish or not to publishThat Leadership Journal is a division of Christianity Today, Inc. only added to the controversy.

I became aware of this taking place on Twitter — where readers seized the hashtag #takedownthatpost — and followed it early on in real time since I now have more than a passing interest in what happens at LJ and CT. Later Tweets revealed that several Leadership Journal staffers were away at the time, but eventually a three-paragraph disclaimer was added to the beginning of the story, and then, about a day later, the six-page post was removed entirely with an apology.

I think, at that point, removing the article was the only sensible thing to do.

Rather, what concerns me is something I felt while all this was going on, namely that being outraged by this particular article became a Twitter trend. People, some of whom I am quite sure have never paid LJ any attention prior to this, simply joined the bandwagon because that was the correct thing to do.Again, I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of the subject the article discussed. I merely want to make an observation here that for a few days last week, moral outrage became fashionable.

protest signSocial media has the potential to raise issues that are important, but when objection to a particular piece becomes trendy, I have to wonder if the outrage stems from deeply held convictions or if the the publication that is the subject of the outrage is simply being bullied into trashing the piece. As a regular reader of the weekly column by the Public Editor of Canada’s largest newspaper, I know that “You should never have published that article,” is an oft-heard refrain.

The article had it its issues. But as I pointed out in another blog post last week, the rule caveat lector always applies: “Let the reader beware;” or more literally, “be wary.” The author wrote what he felt about the whole issue, and yes, perhaps he is in denial about some aspects of what he did. Then again, maybe he simply wanted to write something that presented himself well.

The other question is one of the appropriateness of the forum the author was given. No doubt some felt that anything in the CT family simply gave the article too much profile; but the outrage that followed would only add to the website traffic.

[][][][][][][]

So…we have guest posts here sometimes. Would I have printed the article?

I think I would have been attracted by the idea that a convicted felon — incarcerated for something he did while on staff of a local church — would want to use my blog to tell his story. The inside nature of the story, or the exclusive release of the story would probably temper my desire to do some careful editing; and communication for the purpose of making changes might have been difficult.

Faced with objection and outrage, I might at first dig in my heels; and then I probably would start thinking about damage control after several days; basically exactly what CT did.

The situation would only complicate if I were working with a skeleton staff during summer holidays.

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The writer wanted to do something that would be redemptive for other student pastors who are vulnerable to temptation.

Instead we ended up with something that was prescriptive for editors faced with the temptation to run a story which perhaps should have stayed in the closet.

 

 

March 14, 2014

Lent Guilt

Filed under: cartoons — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:28 am

So which dies faster, New Year’s resolutions or Lent promises? If you’ve failed to give up something you can take some consolation in the fact that nowhere in scripture is this particular ritual sacrifice taught.

Which brings us to today’s infographic. The people at Twentyonehundred Productions — a division of InterVaristy — come up with these on a regular basis on their Facebook page. We thought we’d borrow this one in exchange for telling you to that, if there’s an IV chapter in your city or town, be sure to support them. If not, buy an IVP book or two!

Lent Guilt

If you liked that one, check out the latest Worship Poses: Olympic Figure Skating Edition.

February 25, 2014

Mark Hall: We Were Made to Thrive – Book Review

Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River  in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]

Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]


Like the book The Well by Mark Hall which we reviewed here in August, 2011, Thrive is both the title of a book and a compact disc. I’ve been privileged to hear the CD several times and read several sections of the book twice. While some authors may appear to write from a theoretical standpoint, Mark Hall is in the trenches, doing youth ministry first and foremost, and then what he views as a second role, as a musician with the band Casting Crowns.

Thrive - Mark HallThe book’s full title is Thrive: Digging Deep, Reaching Out and the subtitle and the cover telegraph the book’s outline and content. Using examples from his years in student ministry, as well as a few road stories from Casting Crowns, Mark delivers something fresh in each of the book’s 30 chapters. I’m struck by how he is both forthright and yet transparent and vulnerable at the same time.

The primary audience for Thrive will be people who are familiar with the band’s music, but really, this is a contemporary Christian living title that earns a place next to popular writers such as Kyle Idleman, Pete Wilson, or even Max Lucado. Almost every chapter brings new life to familiar scriptures.

I remember once hearing, “Part one of the gospel is ‘taste and see,’ part two of the gospel is ‘go and tell.'” That’s really the focus of this book. It is suitable for both new believers and those who are spiritual veterans. It is equal parts teaching, anecdotal and autobiographical.

I read parts of Thrive out loud this past week at our family devotions. I can only say that this was the right book for us and it arrived at just the right time.

Thrive is published by Zondervan in paperback at $15.99 US. Thanks to Laura at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Toronto for a review copy. With both Zondervan and Thomas Nelson titles, you guys have the best books!

May 22, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Rescued

Welcome to yet another installment of “Let’s see what everybody else is doing online.” Actually there are some really strong links here this week, you won’t be disappointed, but I think both guys in the above cartoon are going to be.

  • Our lead link this week isn’t lighter fare. The Dictionary of Christianese worked hard to provide you with the meaning of all things kairos, such as kairos time, kairos season, kairos opportunity and kairos moment.
  • Todd Rhoades invites you to play: Who Said It? Oprah or Osteen? Before peeking at the answers, why not phone a friend or use this as a small group icebreaker.
  • Jamie the Very Worst Fundraiser admits that some of the pictures — and descriptive language — you see in missionary letters may not be entirely representative of what is taking place on the mission field. Partner with someone to read this. 
  • The church once known as the Crystal Cathedral will be renamed Christ Cathedral, while the people who once worshiped at the Crystal Cathedral will gather under the name Shepherd’s Grove.
  • The Christian teen whose song Clouds recently reached 3 million YouTube views, Zach Sobiech, died Monday surrounded by family at his home in Lakeland, Minnesota. He was 18.  
  • As of last night, Oklahoma pastor Craig Groeschel reported that 71 families from Lifechurch had lost their homes.
  • At Parchment and Pen, perhaps the reason many adolescents and young adults have faith collapses is because they aren’t properly conditioned on dealing with doubts. Must reading for Christian parents. 
  • Also for parents: If you’re wondering what to do with your teens (or tweens) over the summer, you won’t be after reading this list.
  • Catholic readers should note that there are some rosaries on the market that aren’t exactly kosher.  William Tapley guides you to spotting the iffy prayer beads.
  • This just in: “No man whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off may enter the Lord’s assembly.” Actually, it’s in Deuteronomy. A must-read for guys.
  • A music therapist at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville gets kids to write songs, and then gets the songs recorded by the city’s best. A seven minute documentary; keep the tissues handy. (Love what the kid said who had a song covered by Amy Grant!)
  • Pastors’ Corner: What if your weekend sermon was more like a TED Talk? Could you deliver the same content in 18 minutes or less? 
  • So in a debate of house churches over traditional churches who wins?  This article includes discussion of The Meeting House in Canada which reflects the best of both.  (Be sure to continue to page two.)
  • Graphic of he week: A conversation at the atheist’s car garage.
  • Top selling Christian music in the UK this week is the band Rend Collective Experiment, according to a new music chart service there.
  • …And graphics for your Facebook or Tumblr each week at Happy Monday at The Master’s Table.
  • The subject of the Soul Surfer book and movie after losing an arm to a shark while surfing, Bethany Hamilton is getting married.
  • My video upload this week for Searchlight Books — sponsor of our Christian classics collection — was a scratchy 45-rpm single of Roger McDuff (the gospel music guy) doing Jesus is a Soul Man circa 1969. To get on this YouTube channel, the songs have to not be previously uploaded.
  • Baptist book publisher Broadman and Holman aka B&H wants to stop publishing fiction in 2014 unless the book in question can have a tie-in with Lifeway curriculum product or other brand merchandise.
  • Ron Fournier aka Tehophilus Monk has a short excerpt from the book Why Priests? by Gary Wills which calls into question the entire concept of priests in the ecclesiastic hierarchy.
  • We can’t do it by ourselves. Sometimes we need Outside Help. Classic pop/rock some of you might remember from Johnny Rivers.
  • Not enough links for ya this week? Dave Dunham’s got another 15 for you at Pastor Dave Online
  • During the week between link lists, I invite you to join my somewhat miniscule band of Twitter followers.
  • The lower graphic this week is from an article at the youth ministry blog Learning My Lines.

Teenager's Brain

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