6 Theology Lanes For Youth Workers In 2020

Amy Jacober
September 9th, 2020

Given the pandemic, video games have been played in my home… a lot. My children are younger, so Crash Bandicoot has become a staple. Like many racing games, there is technically a track, but if you don’t pay attention to oil slicks, car eating plants, or magic fire-bombs you will never make it to the finish line. Sometimes, you have to go off-road to survive. Along with secret shortcuts and shenanigans, succeeding might not look like staying in one’s provided lane.

What’s your gut reaction to the phrase, stay in your lane?

Is it a phrase that invites you into strong ownership of your gifts and graces?

Or is it a phrase that is wielded like a weapon to keep you from your prophetic role in the lives of students, their families, your church, and your community?

What if this phrase – used so often to silence people, to raise doubts, to maintain the status quo – were reframed?

Youth workers don’t have “A” lane. We have many. We need to know how to speak with teens, families, and stakeholder committees. We advocate in our churches and communities for adolescents in a thousand different ways. Consequently, this weaponized phrase begins off base.

As people who love Jesus and love teens we get to live, practice, and teach theology with our students. However you think of youth work, this is a big part of what you are doing.

In the last six months our world has changed both due to Covid-19, but also from other pandemic-like realities.

The #metoo movement has exploded followed closely by #churchtoo.

Open, blatant racism is everywhere.

The economy is struggling.

Education is debated from preschool to graduate school.

By no means are these the only important theological issues. They are, rather, for such a time as this. 

Below you will find several theological concepts and ways to engage with the world that require our consideration. These are several of the theological lanes we can travel as youth workers, especially as we navigate the remaining months of a challenging year.

Lane 1 | Lament

As adults, it is difficult to understand the onslaught of uncertainty. For teens, the uncertainty is magnified. We see friends get sick and family die. We see political leaders treating one another like trash. Our teenagers have also experienced cancelled graduations, recitals, sports, choirs, and camps.

There is deep sorrow without solace or direction. They’re offered platitudes and empty assurances of a return to normalcy. This time, though, offers a golden opportunity to teach the biblical practice of lament. Lament is not complaining. It is an active practice of naming what is hard or wrong or sin, the act of which moves us toward hope. 

Lane 2 | Humanity / Humanness

I hated this “obvious and silly” topic when I was in seminary. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. A little older and wiser, I now know we should be talking about this more. Our youth already encounter racism, sexism, and ableism. They have seen or experienced dehumanizing treatment for much of their lives.

Our faith demands that we stop dehumanizing those who do not look like us, sound like us, or act like us. It is a deep recognition of the Imago Dei and compels us to treat those made in the image of God with the respect deserving of God’s creation. 

Lane 3 | Sin

The breadth and depth of sin is rarely covered. We typically know how to call out individual sin. We need, however, to also call out corporate sin in the tradition of the prophets. (Check out the book of Jeremiah or Amos if you aren’t familiar with this!) Naming systemic issues that allow and encourage hate, violence, and oppression begins the process of dismantling their power.

Some churches push back against naming what they personally have not participated in (We can debate later what it means to participate.). What the prophets modeled, however, is not a self-centered focus, but a recognition of the sin in their community and land. They cry out to God asking forgiveness for the people of Israel acknowledging they did not stop that which was sin. 

Lane 4 | Hope

Hope seems rare these days. Headlines of violence, death, corruption, and injustice flow freely. As followers of Christ we acknowledge where the world is sinful and broken AND know this is not the end of the story. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that God’s will, will be done and we are invited to be a part of that. We look to the passion and are reminded death was necessary for resurrection to take place.

We repeatedly see Jesus teach that what was lost, is now found, redeemed, and restored. We must focus on a relentless hope that transcends time and space not to whitewash bad situations, but to encourage us when all seems bleak. Like Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones, we proclaim truth, we proclaim the gospel knowing a better now-and-not-yet are part of God’s design. 

Lane 5 | Compassion

There is a lot to be enraged about in our world. What are we Christians to do with this rage? John Swinton frames Christianity as an invitation to be “Raging with Compassion.”

Compassion seems like it would flow naturally in Christianity. Sadly, It is not simply feeling as others feel nor taking pity. It is actually believing the testimony of others when they say they’re suffering and being moved to action. Sometimes this is being a pastoral presence after a family member has died of Covid-19. Sometimes this is standing up to a bully who is harassing someone you don’t know.

Our youth have been shown how to choose their camp, blame those who differ from them, and be enraged about their God given rights. What if we as youth workers redirected that rage toward compassion?

Lane 6 | Holy Spirit

Let’s face it, youth workers are smart, strong, capable people. We advocate for youth when others don’t see the need. We spend time and money we don’t always have for a calling we feel in our bones. What we don’t always do well is recognize our deep need for encouragement and direction from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has the unique role of not keeping us in our lane, but showing us where all the possible lanes are for what is needed in our youth group, church, and community. 

These theological lanes are important. In this time of chaos, these lanes are necessary.

Engaging each of these lanes will force you to get real with yourself and your students.

They will invite you to live out your faith robustly.

And the next time someone encourages you to “stay in your lane,” you can ask them which one, because you’d love to talk to them about it.

Amy Jacober

Amy Jacober is a youth ministry veteran who has been serving marginalized communities including those with disabilities, for a few decades now. She gets to spend her time teaching, serving, and hanging out with her husband, three kids, and an oversized dog. She legitimately is always looking forward to camp and an entire month of being with teenagers.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.