Five Questions with Crystal Kirgiss

Youth Specialties
May 12th, 2010

Five Questions with Crystal Kirgiss

Crystal Kirgiss is a YS author and frequent speaker at training events, including this falls National Youth Workers Convention. Recently I had the opportunity to pick Crystal's brain about all sorts of youth ministry related things. 

YS: You are a life-long youth worker pursuing one of the most interesting PhD's I've ever heard of. What is your course of study and how does it relate to youth ministry?

CK: Um, yeah…a PhD in Medieval British Language and Literature doesn't seem like a good fit with youth ministry, does it? Trust me–I've experienced plenty of panic and stress and angst in this regard. I'm a lifelong youth person, with a BA in piano performance, who writes books and articles, while living 6 miles from Purdue University. I thought a grad degree sounded like fun, and somehow I managed to get into the English Department. I never intended to stay this long, and medieval lit wasn't on my radar screen. But here I am. To keep my life as cohesive as possible, my dissertation research is on adolescence and youth in the middle ages as seen through contemporary theories of adolescent development. I am probably the only literary medievalist in the world who cares about the moral and social development of teenagers. And I can't complain about being allowed to spend my time reading great literature (including medieval homilies, which are refreshingly expository in nature while also being a bit biased against youth) while also studying the latest theories of adolescence. I can tell you one thing for sure–they could have used a few good youth pastors 700 years ago.

YS: The media has taken note that adolescent girls are becoming increasingly more violent. Why do you think that's happening?

CK: I spend time working with adjudicated girls in the county, and I do see some violence–mostly a lot of truancy, a lot of pregnancy, and a lot of chemical use. But there are girls coming through the system who are in trouble for fighting. I don't know why. Because they're seeing it modeled in the media? Because the former message of “act like a lady” is vague and outdated? Because it taps into some kind of primal need? Man, if I knew the answer to this question….

YS: Who are some authors, speakers, or leaders that are challenging the way you think about ministering to teenagers?

CK: I'm trying to get through Robert Epstein's stuff (based on your blog post, “Is Adolescence a Myth?“) but I can't buy into it completely. Of course, some things about adolescence are socially constructed, but other things are obviously biological and neurological, and no amount of academic jargon is going to change that. Honestly, the most helpful things for me to read are solid, clear, truthful theology books. I know, I know–that doesn't sound “youth”ful at all. But students are inundated with fuzzy, wishy-washy examples of truth all the time. I want to offer them something different, something substantial, something solid (and yes, something that is also somehow mysterious and huge and unspeakable). Ultimately, if someone is spending significant time with teens, there's not a lot of extra time to read about HOW to spend significant time with teens. The knowing is in the doing.

YS: In the United States, the pendulum is swinging from abstinence-only sex education to what is being described as “comprehensive” sex ed in schools. How do you think the church should respond to that? 

CK: Don't even get me started…the church should respond by teaching our students the truth about sexuality. If parents and churches (in that order!) would teach our students what they need and ought to know, and if they would then follow that up with intentional parenting and discipleship, we wouldn't need to complain about the curriculum, no matter how awful it is (and some of it is pretty awful.) Stats can be skewed to support either side of this “comprehensive” vs. “abstinence-only” argument, so I don't put much stock in stats. The foundation for comprehensive sex education–the research of Alfred Kinsey–is pretty shaky ground, and if a foundation is shaky, the structure usually is, too. I'd recommend Dr. Miriam Grossman's new book, “You're Teaching My Child What?” (as well as her book “Unprotected” which is especially important for those working with college students.) What comprehensive sex education can't and won't do is talk about the spiritual and emotional aspects of our sexuality. It essentially divorces the body from the rest of the person, which is tragic for today's students.

YS: What is going great in youth ministry in your neck of the woods? What are you seeing that is exciting or other youth workers are being encouraged by?

CK: In my town, there are several vibrant church youth groups and a very large Young Life ministry who all play nicely together–share resources, facilities, ideas, encouragement, etc. I absolutely love that. The most exciting thing I see is a swing away from “volunteer leaders” to “ministers.” I see college and adult leaders taking ownership of their ministry, even though they aren't on staff, aren't on the payroll, and aren't on the official letterhead. They believe that their role is vital, that they are more than glorified baby-sitters, that they've been called to be ministers. It's quite breathtaking, actually.

Youth Specialties

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