We know that the students in our ministries are trying to answer the “Who am I?” question. We asked four youth workers : “What is the youth pastor’s role in helping students answer that question?“
Brooklyn Lindsey: I think that the role of the youth pastor is to partner with the primary influences in a students life to help “replacement” happen. We walk with the Holy Spirit. We champion families and help parents go after the hearts of their children. We equip small group leaders and champion their abilities to help in identity formation. And we also look after the group (a student’s friend circle), creating intergenerational experiences that help them imagine their own faith in the future.
Titus Benton: Brooklyn, the two things you just said that resonate with me most are partnering with parents and creating intergenerational experiences. A third thing that I like to do, just practically speaking, is ask students questions all the time–”Who do you want to be in 10 years?” “What are you all about?” “Who’s a hero of yours?” I love watching kids answer those questions and daydream about their future. Most of them cut to identity stuff first, not professional stuff. Then I know how I can affirm them moving forward.
Jason Santos: With both Brooklyn and Titus, I think that the answer to “who am I?” is found in the larger intergenerational community. I think the challenge we face as youth workers is that every kid is trying to figure out who they are as individuals. This is a process that happens in various stages of life and in many ways never ends–Even as a 40 year old, I’m still asking that question. With so many perspectives vying for their allegiances, it’s no wonder teenagers struggle with who they are as people. I think the first role of the youth worker is to reorient youth away from an individualistic orientation towards a more communal one that is holistically bound to Christ.
The challenge is, however, that the wider evangelical culture boils too much down to being special or unique to God. We tell youth that Jesus died on the cross for them (with an emphasis on the individual). The hope? Perhaps that they might feel loved or cherished by God enough to follow Christ. While there are redeeming sentiments in those assertions, in the end, it reduces Christ’s work of salvation to something more akin to individualistic therapy or self-help. The more appropriate question is, perhaps, who are we?
Titus Benton: Jason, I love that point. “Who am I?” can only be answered within the broader question of “Who are we?” It brings new light to Romans 1:6, “You are among those who are called to belong to Jesus.”
April Diaz: Titus, of course, I’m a staunch believer in the power of intergenerational relationships. The story of the Good Samaritan answers the question “who is my neighbor?” with “someone not like me”. Who’s not like me? Most everyone. Yet we cling to our homogenous, blind-leading-the-blind programs and mentalities, then expect to know who we are. It just doesn’t make sense.
Additionally, I would say that we answer the question “Who am I?” when we ask “Who is the Triune God?” We can only know ourselves when we know who God is and who he says we are. The epistles are filled with “I am…” statements resulting from our relationship with Jesus. The psalms declare who God is and who he’s called us to be.