Photo by Paula.
Most of us in the youth ministry world have been familiar with Sticky Faith principles for some time now, and many of us have adjusted our ministry structures in response. We’re more aware of the need for intergenerational connectedness. We know how to better help students make the tricky transition out of high school, especially when they leave a good youth ministry.
However, Sticky Faith is about more than a church youth ministry program. It’s not just a research project that gives us information. It’s about you and me as people, not just youth workers, and the young people we know in the families and neighborhoods around us. What are WE doing to influence and nurture them?
I’ve been a part of a family group that has met every other week for the last 13 years. It’s a special collection of five families, all with children, who have become a family of families. Everyone feels related to each other. We’ve shared over a decade of life together, often like a pendulum swinging between celebration and endurance through times of pain.
This extended faith family recently celebrated my birthday in our backyard. The daughter of one family, we’ll call her Monica, brought her boyfriend to our family group for the first time. We all sat around the campfire after playing games, the two of them sitting to my left. As she stood to get refreshments, I said to him, “You know that the girl you’re hanging around is pretty special. We think the world of her.”
Monica stopped and looked back at me, and a big smile and wide eyes lit up her face. I didn’t notice at first, and continued, “You know when people date one of the kids in this group, they inherit a lot of aunts, uncles, and cousins who care a lot about them.”
I said it all quite accidentally. I’m normally not that thoughtful, but I meant it. I could tell that it meant a lot to Monica by her reaction. Someone had honored her in front of others.
The effect of this didn’t really sink in until the next day, when I received a text from Monica’s parents. They thanked me for the evening, but mostly for that moment. They said, “You demonstrated love and care for Monica in a way that we as parents could never duplicate.”
It took me a day to get it, but then I thought of Sticky Faith and the role each of us can play in the faith development of teens around us. Not if we play a role, but what role we actually play.
Do we intentionally speak into their lives?
Do we encourage and honor their growth, or do we point out shortcomings?
Do we protect them, or do we project on them our expectations?
Do teens feel embraced or shamed by us?
Do they know we notice them … or do they know we notice them?
Maybe it’s because I just turned fifty, but I’m noticing new ways to care and teach along the way. Regardless of the research you read or the ministry structure of your church youth program, there are young people around you … around you as part of your community. You can help them develop Sticky Faith in simple ways by:
- modeling what it means to follow Christ in ways they can see,
- encouraging the positive faith steps you see them take,
- supporting them no matter what, and
- more intentionally nurturing them when appropriate.
Our church is part of a Sticky Faith Cohort. This year we’re also beginning a new outreach initiative. As part of that, I’m making a list of the teens I know in the neighborhood and families around me, and thinking of more intentional ways I can help them develop faith in Jesus Christ that sticks.
What young people around you are you investing in? How might you become more intentional in being part of their extended faith family network of support?