Archive for identity

.::Identity Pt. IV: Identity & Interdependence

Posted in adolescence, disciplines, Ministry, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , , on July 19, 2010 by Walter

Earlier this year Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford were the faces of an evangelistic ad campaign called, “I Am Second,” where they get their role in community partially right putting God first and themselves second.  Unfortunately, they only needed to look farther back in football history at the memoirs of Gale Sayers, where he penned the idea of “I am third” [God first, Others second and myself third].  No one can fault McCoy or Bradford for their mistake as they are still adolescents by today’s standards (adolescence currently extends into the mid 20’s now).

Recently, I came across this shirt in the section targeted for 8-10 year old boys and was bitterly disappointed at Nike’s marketing.  While it does cause one to laugh, what is disheartening is that this shirt epitomizes much of what has gone wrong with the systems what were originally created to protect and enrich our young people.  When inculcating an identity into today’s young people it is important that those of us who are adults reinforce that God comes first, Others come second and self comes third.  This is the foundation of a healthy identity that will launch an adolescent successfully into adulthood. It isn’t until an individual realizes that “I need others” and “Others need me” that they con finally enter into adulthood in a healthy and productive fashion.  Scholars call this “Interdependence.”

Interdependence is a vital exchange of dependence that: 1. Keeps one humble to the point that they recognize their need for others and 2. Keeps one serving others with their gifts as they realize they are needed by others.

Adults can help adolescents mature through helping them realize their need for others. Selfishness seems to be a inalienable right of adolescence.  However, this does not need to be the norm.  Adults can help teens see their need for others through healthy, intergenerational community experiences.  Hearing the stories of other generations CONNECTS students to these segments of the population.  Serving alongside others helps them realize others giftedness and value.  Simply BEING with others helps teens see that others actually have something that is of worth.  It is impossible to develop this need in teens if they are not spending TIME with people of other generations.

When a teen develops this NEED for others, then their IDENTITY begins to absorb the larger community into it.

2.  Adults also need to help teens understand that others are depend on them as well. Teens are an indispensable part of the broader community.  When we develop systems that sends them into the deep corners of the culture out of our sight, then we begin to believe that we don’t need them.  Teens bring vitality, hope, and future to our community that is a sobering reminder of who we are and what we are about as a community.  Teens remind us WHY we gather together.  Why we work? Why the environment is important?  For without the children of our world, what we do is simply in vain.  When adults forget their need for teens, they simply regress into adolescence again.  (Just look at the self-indulgent lifestyles of the baby boomers of the 1980s for a quick reminder)

Adults simply need to begin to INVEST THEIR LIVES into the lives of teens they know in order to remind themselves of their need for teens. Volunteering with the high school teams, getting to know the teens names in the neighborhood, being around teens (in non creeper ways), are ways that you can begin to invest in the lives of teens.  So just open your eyes to those teens that are in your world.  Say “Hi” and introduce yourself.  I know it is scary and intimidating, but give it a try.


.::Identity Pt. II: A Theology of Identity and Adolescence

Posted in disciplines, Ministry, spiritual disciplines, Teaching, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , , , , , on July 10, 2010 by Walter

Yesterday we talked about how one of the main tasks of adolescence it to answer the question of Identity.  Unfortunately, many students try to answer that with meaningless or shallow externals like relationships, clothing brands, extracurricular activities or certain behaviors.  Today we want to talk about a theology of identity as it directly relates to the adolescent.  In other words, what is a biblical interpretation of a proper orientation of identity that an adolescent (and their supporting adults) can work from?

No theology of Identity is complete without looking at the Creation accounts of Genesis.  Genesis 1 describes the creation of humanity in a very interesting and important manner:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created humanity in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Gen 1:26-27

What are some basic principles that adolescent can take from this passage?  First and foremost, we must remember and affirm that:

Adolescents are created in the imago dei, Image of God. If there is one thing that adolescents struggle with the most as they try to answer “Who am I?” is that they don’t feel as if they possess any value, that they aren’t unique or that they aren’t special.  The pressures that adolescents get to perform, achieve, stand out, etc. are immeasurable when one takes into account the increasing pressure to get into an elite university, to preform on an outstanding team, to earn a perfect GPA, to become the next musical prodigy, to star in the next Broadway show or to become the next American Idol.

What is interesting is that these pressures come from these organizations that were originally constructed to protect the child and to help them learn and love the disciplines of academics, sports, music and the arts.* However, our culture has twisted these innocuous activities into systems that simply consume the adolescent for what they can provide for the organization.  Sadly, the way the question of “Who am I?” gets answered for the teen is something like, “You are only as good as you can achieve.” or “There is no room for second place.”

Instead these organizations ought to be more about how we can help the students best investigate their God-given giftedness. We should be asking, “How can my son or daughter delight in the Lord as they play soccer, act in the next school play, or get whatever grade on the next geometry exam?”  Let us help them know that no matter how they perform, as long as they are investigating their giftedness as they participate in sports, the arts, academics, whatever, that they are infinitely valuable ONLY because they are made in the Image of God.  So as they act–they do so in the imago dei.  When they score a goal (or don’t) they do so in the imago dei.  When they get an A, B, or D on the geometry exam, they do so in the imago dei.

This is going to mean that their delight in the action is secondary to their performance.  This is a HUGE paradigm shift we adults ought to take.  We want our students to identify with finding their giftedness BEFORE and ABOVE their ability. This means that second or third or last place is MORE important than winning as long as my son or daughter is happy as they participate.  The moment we put winning above enjoyment is the moment we begin to consume that teen for our own agendas.  Our job as the elders in a culture is to PROTECT our student’s souls at all costs.

There is an excellent character in ABC’s sitcom, The Middle, her name is Sue Heck.  The daughter is one of those students who is not good at anything.  She fails miserably at everything she tries, but she does it with such JOY. Her parents are great in this as well.  While they know that she is going to fail, they continue to support and protect her.  They never say to her face that she is not created to model, swim, play chess, etc. They allow her to find that out for herself.  In doing so, she does experience disappointment, but it is never the kind of disappointment that crushes her soul.  No, for Sue, it would be damaging to her soul to never have tried out for swim team, a modeling career or cheer leading. Since her parents gave her the space to investigate such desires of her heart, to be able to see that these activities do not fit into the Image God gave her gives her satisfaction.

When God created humanity in his own image, he created us to fail, to be different, and to be unique. In doing so, God also created us to search, yearn, journey, and explore HOW he created us differently from that person sitting next to me.  It is when we set up certain, subjective standards and expect everyone to live up to those imaginary qualities.


  • Do I value the win over my student’s JOY in simply participating in (insert activity here)?
  • Can my son or daughter simply participate in (insert activity here) without me projecting my agenda on their participation/success?  In other words, can my student simply participate and receive the SAME amount of support from me as whether or not they succeed or fail?
  • How much do I value that Trophy? Grade? Letterman’s jacket? Starting Role? First Chair?
  • Do I  give my student value or take away value based on their achievements?
  • Do I SEE and AFFIRM the imago dei in my student?


  • More Theology of Identity and the Adolescent
  • Becoming a Guardian of the Adolescent Soul
  • What is a Parent to do? Practical Suggestions of Affirming the Identity of the teens in my life.

*For more on this see, Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teens by Chap Clark.

.::Identity pt. I

Posted in church, Ministry, spiritual disciplines, Theology, youth ministry with tags , , , , on July 9, 2010 by Walter

One of the main questions the task of adolescence answers for a teen is the question of “Identity.”  In other words, until a teen can answer the question, “Who am I?” they haven’t successfully navigated themselves to adulthood.

It is a painful process at time to watch individuals attempt to answer this question in some meaningless and often shallow ways.  Some students try to answer that with a girl friend or boy friend.  You know that person who went from relationship to relationship in high school.  It always seemed as if they couldn’t go two weeks without a significant other hanging off their arm.  It was as if they were trying to have that relationship as the marker of who they were.  Chances are that relationship was their attempt at trying to answer, “Who am I?”

Other students try to answer that question with outside achievements such as sports, drama, band, speech, etc.  I have witnessed students being shipped from one activity to the next without ever having two seconds of down time in order to put two thoughts together (or even eat a decent meal WITH their family.)  Coincidentally, I overheard two high school girls today talking about all the different activities they are involved in from track, half marathons, band, summer reading, soccer and more.  Sadly, they were lamenting the fact that they don’t get to see each other enough (I wonder why?)  Again, these hectic schedules to gain  trophies, letterman jackets, leading roles, first chairs, etc. are likely attempts to define who they were.

Students also try other external means to try to clothe themselves with a persona, literally.  I tried this my junior year in high school.  I was cursed with straight, straight hair that had no body whatsoever.  I longed for hair you could do SOMETHING with–so I tried a perm.  (I know it is difficult for many of you to even imagine me with ANY hair, not to mention a curly Barry Mannilow-esuqe frock that I donned for my unfortunate senior picture.  Cest la vie.  I was trying to be something that I wasn’t.  We all try on some persona from time to time to try to figure out what fits and what doesn’t.


Definitely.  These varied attempts to answer the important question of Identity is one of the main keys of the adolescent journey.  While we are all created in the image of God, we don’t all know what that image IS exactly, especially as we enter adolescence.

Just look at Madison Avenue’s complete onslaught on the adolescent psyche and its nefarious attacks at their fragile self-confident and malleable souls.  Billions are spent each year to target that precious 14-18 year old demographic.  They know how much disposable income teens possess and they know exactly what their weaknesses are and the advertising firms use pinpoint accuracy to target those weaknesses so that teens lessen their grip on those dollars.  The next time you see an advertisement that you don’t get, ask yourself, “What age group are they targeting?”  Chance are your answer will be 14-18 year old females.  Because Madison Ave., Hollister Co. Abercrombie, (Insert the store in the Mall you don’t Get here), Aeropostale, etc. all want to answer the question of Identity for the adolescent.  I remember feeling like I was somebody when I had a little green alligator on the left side of my chest.

The bottom line of that identity quest for an adolescent is that there are countless factors that go in to deciding who and what will answer that question for the teens you know.  Friends will undoubtedly have some influence, but not the overpowering master control many adults think that peers possess (more on that later in this series).  Ad firms will have some power.

My conclusion: Parents and Mentors perhaps have the most power in helping a student navigate the identity quest of adolescence.  Unfortunately, we haven’t done a good enough job of 1.  Being models and Persons WORTH emulating.  and 2. Speaking more boldly into the lives of young people and AFFIRMING their specific giftedness.  I will unpack HOW we can do this later in this series as well . . . so stay tuned.


  • A Theology of Identity and the Teenager
  • More Theology of Identity and the Adolescent
  • Becoming a Guardian of the Adolescent Soul
  • What is a Parent to do? Practical Suggestions of Affirming the Identity of the teens in my life.