It’s pretty easy to explore in every direction out here in Colorado. It seems like everywhere I look, there are new adventures to be had, new places to be seen, and new friendships that can potentially be forged into life-long relationships. It’s just a great place to be if you have an adventurous spirit. No time to waste sitting around wondering about what might be, the Mountains are calling, right in my backyard.
As I think about the necessity of exploration, I think about the need for teenagers to spend the decade of adolescence exploring.
They need to begin exploring who they want to be as adults.
They need to begin exploring what they’re gifted to do.
They start exploring their own relationships with future mates.
They explore their faith.
They explore the world.
And it’s a WIDE WIDE WORLD full of excited adventurous stories to be told.
Exploration of Self
We’ve heard for decades what it means to help build a healthy self-esteem. Our culture of education and youth mentoring works diligently to make sure every feels like they have accomplished something and are good at everything. Most notably is the culture of Every Kid Gets A Trophy.
When I coached my son’s soccer team, the parents asked me if I would have trophies for the kids at the end of the season. I was a little taken back, because I didn’t have any understanding of the Every Kid Gets a Trophy culture. I told them, “If we win the championship, I’ll go get the kids a trophy.” Which was met with a few scowling looks. I didn’t realize what I’d said, until I looked over at the other team at the end of the season and saw all the kids walking off the field with trophies in hand.
It’s important that we help kids explore this sense of self, but when we reduce winning and losing to Every Kid Gets a Trophy we minimize the value of the accomplishment. It’s almost like we take the lowest common denominator and apply that to everyone, when kids understand they didn’t really win anything. They know who the champions are and who they aren’t. They get what it means to win and loose. And it’s important we help our kids understand how to develop into well healed adults who know how to fail.
The Exploration of self is important as we find the gifts our kids are good at. I believe every teenager has a unique gifting and they just need the opportunities to find those giftings and spend time honing what they can be passionate about. If we just blanket every student with, “YOURE AWESOME” when they’re really not that awesome, we develop a cloud of who that student might become. Failure is an important part of exploration, and helps to encourage exploration in other areas.
Exploration of Relationships
I wrote a book on the plague of Teen Sexuality in this modern tech age. An Expose on Teen Sex and Dating, was a two year research project in the hallways of the high schools around America. I found that even though we’ve tried to convince ourselves that Teenagers are gaining ground on issues like STD’s and Teen Pregnancies, we still have a long way to go in helping our students understand how to treat members of the opposite sex.
The book was written to help students and youth leaders explore healthy relationships. Questions like “How far is too far?” or “How should we date?” or “What does physical relationship do to the psyche of a teenager?” are all part of the research. And I still find people who say we should shelter our kids from exploring what it means to “date” others.
Of course there should be guidelines, and a healthy dose of coaching from parents and youth leaders, but if we keep our kids from understanding how to engage with each other, the media becomes the sole teacher of sexuality and relationships. I would welcome you to just take a look at the top Billboard charts today, or the top Box Office movies, or even the Television shows your kids are exposed to and ask yourself, “If my son or daughter were to act like this, would I be pleased?”
We need to help our kids explore, but we also need to guide, direct, teach, and train. Unbridled exploration leads to some pretty scary stuff. But if we take the time and energy to walk with them, instead of setting up systems of rules and regulations; we can help our students explore relationships in healthy ways.
Exploration of Faith
This is probably the most scary adventure, especially to my Christian Friends. In the current state of the union of the Christian world, we’ve removed all exploration and tried to give solid concrete answers for why a student should engage in faith. We give them sureties without the room to allow God to breathe His words in their lives. And the closest thing to faith adventure is when we create an emotional movement bordering on the manipulative.
When youth leaders try to move students to decisions to follow Jesus through programming instead of simply helping them see how beautifully adventurous it is to follow Jesus, we make faith a trite exercise. We reduce faith to attendance, the latest mission trip, the popular curriculum, and the latest celebrity pastor teaching whatever the winds of culture find popular.
I believe God is enough.
It doesn’t mean we don’t have fun.
It doesn’t mean we don’t share and explain faith.
But it does mean we allow for a healthy exploration where students can begging to develop faith into their own framework.
Students who leave the house and go to the University with only black and white answers are way more likely to find resistance, other answers, and the inability to have a personal experience with the living God. When we reduce God to a set of algebraic values i.e. A+B=C, they mysterious ways that God works in the world today are minimized. Students don’t have a healthy view of God the Creator of the Universe, when they see Him as a demanding old man upstairs waiting to argue the latest apologetic trends.
I know this is SCARY!!
We can’t quantify someone’s relationship with God if they don’t abide by certain rules and regulations set out by an organization.
But we can’t enter into healthy relationships without the rules that guide us into vibrant communities of faith.
Students need the freedom to explore, to question, to doubt, and to go on their own journey to find God.
After all, don’t we all have a story where God met us in an unusual place to begin our faith journey?
Maybe it was at a youth meeting, but then when it became a part of our real world was when? (Fill in the blank with your own story)
God didn’t make us to be a bunch of robots responding to the lowest common denominator. He actually created a vibrant kaleidoscope full of colors that make up a whole picture of how creation is supposed to be. The beauty of creation isn’t found in the black and white, but rather; in the vast colors that a wonderful God designed.
So make sure as you set the boundaries of your family or your group, that you leave margin for students to explore. After all, this is the TIME for students to become all that God created them to be.