April/May 2014 - Vol. 73

.Critical Transition Stages for Moving Youth 
Forward in Faith and Discipleship
by Michael Shaughnessy

The above diagram illustrates some key realities for working with youth. It is entitled The Youth Bridge because passing from age 12 to age 26 is like crossing a river filled with piranha and alligators. Many parents raise their children in the faith only to see them eaten alive by post-modern youth culture. Having the right youth bridge is more likely to produce a happy outcome than swimming the river.

A good bridge has all the right parts.

  • Christian youth workers who pay attention to each individual, not just the program.
  • High-impact events that provide the opportunity for conversion to Jesus Christ.
  • Ongoing programs that help youth to grow into adult disciples. 
  • Good transitions from one program to the next. (Many young people are lost in transition, especially from high school to university.)
  • Peers to support each other in their faith.
  • Christian parents who encourage their children to become saints, missionaries, and martyrs.
A good bridge is essential during this period of life to complement the decreasing influence of the parents and rising independence of the youth. These two dynamics create a danger zone right at that transitional age! Teens are less directly controlled by their parents’ beliefs, but have not yet attained an adult faith. It is when they are most susceptible to the deception of the world.

Young children believe what they are told. They believe in Santa Claus, if the Santa Claus myth is passed on. They learn spelling and math, and, if they are brought up in a believing family, they believe what they are told about Christianity.

In early adolescence they begin to examine whether the beliefs they have been taught are true. As this occurs the direct influence of the parents decreases. This is normal and good. If your eleven year old asks you, “Can I stay up until 10:30 and watch an R-rated movie,” you would answer, “No, you are too young and that’s too late!” If your 26-year-old asks the same question, you would say: “Why are you asking me? You’re an adult, make up you own mind!”

Every child must cross the age bridge to become an adult. If that bridge is built right it helps our youth become strong in the faith.

Good youth work involves understanding the danger zone and building a bridge that spans the entire river.

Battling Giants in the Land

Israel wandered in the desert for forty years because they feared “the giants in the land.”  They believed “an evil report” about the sons of Anak and saw themselves as mere grasshoppers. 
The problem was not the existence of giants. It was the nonexistence of fight.

Michael Shaughnessy is an elder in The Servants of the Word and the Director of Kairos in North America. Kairos is an international federation of outreaches to high school, university and post university aged people. 
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