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Who Am I? The YWJ Roundtable on Identity

By Jen Bradbury | Director of youth Ministry, Faith Lutheran Church, Glen Ellyn, Ill.; lives in Palatine, Ill.; blogs at YMJen.com. | November 13 2012

"Who am I?" is one of the most basic and difficult questions humans must answer. Dozens of factors influence how we answer this question, and our answers impact every aspect of our lives, including faith, vocation and family.

Young people begin wrestling in earnest with identity questions during adolescence. That's why youth workers need to understand the process of identity formation. To help us navigate the confusing and ever-changing issue of identity, we spoke with three youth ministry veterans.

An ordained United Methodist Pastor, Kenda Creasy Dean is a professor of Youth, Church and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, where she works closely with the Institute for Youth Ministry. Kenda's a sought-after speaker and author of several books, including the highly acclaimed, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church.

Steve Gerali is a speaker, author, professor, clinical counselor, consultant and mentor. Despite being an expert in the field of adolescence, mentoring and youth ministry, what he most wants to be remembered for is his character—his identity in Christ. Steve explores the character traits that comprise identity in Christ in his novel The Crest.

As vice president of training at Young Life, Ken Knipp devotes his time to helping youth workers form healthy identities so they can help young people do the same. Ken also serves on the advisory council of Fuller Youth Institute.

YouthWorker Journal: One of the primary tasks of adolescence is identity formation. What is identity and how is it formed?

Steve Gerali: Identity is the culmination of how a person sees him or herself based on the input of people around him or her, as well as God's perspective toward the person. A teen's identity is formed by his or her perception of what people think of him or her. The kid who's constantly told he's stupid forms an identity around that. That's why it's important to tell kids how God sees them.

Ken Knipp: Identity is who I am in relationship to people. My sense of identity depends on how much power I have to influence my life and make choices. It's also about my sense of belonging to a family. We hear a lot about the influence of peers in the formation of identity, but parents are also important.

Kenda Creasy Dean: Identity is our sense of who we are—biologically, socially, culturally, psychologically and spiritually. Teenagers form identity the way everyone does: They reflect the messages about themselves they're getting from culture, their physical environment, families, communities and their own bodies. James Fowler describes the process from a teenager's perspective as follows: "I see you see me. I see the me I think you see." For the church to be absent from that process is a lethal sin of omission.

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