You could call this a portion of a book review, or you could call this my attempt to bring something more scholarly to this space. Either way, it is likely best described as my acknowledgement that I am not the first, such as Sir Isaac Newton recognized when he said “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
See, though I know it was not original with me, I began my youth ministry career by repeating that what I do is not about a religion, but about a relationship. At times I imagined it seeped into my brain from some of my youth ministry mentors. But I have been reading In Search of Adolescence: A New Look at an Old Idea by Crystal Kirgiss. Now I see the idea goes back much further.
In this book, Crystal battles the idea that adolescence is a modern day construct. Showing how previous generations dealt with the people we know as teenagers, she proves her point well. At one point she quotes John Greene and Solomon Stoddard, a couple of preachers from the early 1700’s.
“God will have no respect at all to any service that you offer up to him, as long as you withhold your hearts from him…For this, as has been hinted, is the foundation of all religious practice…For while this is neglected, the doing of other things will be to no purpose.” Youth were encouraged not just to attend Sunday services but to live a life of obedience all week long because God is “not only their father’s God, but their God also.” If they learned to worship faithfully now, not because they had to but because they wanted to – because “God has given rational souls to you that you might understandingly praise the Lord” – then it was believed they would continue in the faith and fulfill their spiritual purpose: to glorify God.
(In Search of Adolescence: A New Look at an Old Idea, pgs 105-106)
I’m hoping that my teens not only recognize this idea, but are encouraged, as I am, by the idea that we are not the first generations enjoying a struggle of seeking out God in a relationship that matters.