The Faith Shaping of Your Teen, Part 2

Task #4 – Claiming

Definition of Faith Shaping and Tasks #1, #2, and #3 are found here.

Claiming defined is dedicating oneself to follow through on one’s choices, or more commonly called conversion. One of my greatest joys to be a part of! This is why I don’t work at a Boys & Girls Club or another community youth organization.  I believe in the salvation experience and its power to transform lives.

A good picture description of all of the Faith Shaping tasks is an hourglass.  The hourglass is wide at the top but everything is funneling downward to the neck of the hourglass. Faith Shaping starts wide with Experiencing then everything else funnels down toward this one small neck or the point of decision of Claiming. This is how God has worked to lead all of us to make the decision of Claiming.  Everything from relationships to nature to circumstances is used to lead us to that point of decision. That is a picture of how God has worked in each of us.

Holy tension is a big part of Choosing. Like the sands piled up waiting to get through the neck of the hourglass. Holy tension is what the Holy Spirit uses to move someone to a decision. It is often a memorable tension. It is the tension that stories/testimonies are made of. 

Claiming is also not the final step of Faith Shaping. There is the other side of the hourglass. The salvation experience is not the end of one’s growth. Philippians 2:12 instructs us, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  

May your teen experience all of this (with the help of y our church family!) and continue to grow through the next steps.

Task #5 – Deepening

Deepening is the bottom part of that hourglass. Experiencing, Categorizing and Choosing have happened to get the teen to that point of decision or the neck of the hourglass. After that, everything widens out again as we live our lives from that point of decision.  Some would call this stage maturing in the faith. Some would call this stage working out your salvation.

After the tension and the memory-filled moments of Claiming, reality sets in. New questions arise causing a deepening in the faith. No longer is this decision just “come to Jesus and he’ll make everything better.” Yes, life is better but there are also even more questions.  Through even more Experiencing, Categorizing, and Choosing naïve thinking is replaced and updates are made to the commitment. Also childhood faith, or the faith inherited from one’s parents, is deepened to become a personal faith.

Note:  My goals for youth ministry at my church are to plan in the Faith Shaping Tasks of Experiencing and Deepening while providing opportunities for Claiming. Every teen needs Experiencing and Deepening which requires further Experiencing. Categorizing and Choosing are tasks that teens do, we can’t help them.

Task #6 – Separating

This is a very real Faith Shaping task, but it is the one that hurts the most. It hurts me every time. A simple definition of Separating is faith is set aside for a time. 

While Separating is a legitimate Faith Shaping task, this task does not necessarily involve sin. I know of many teens who have passed through this task with deep searching questions but they didn’t sin.

Yet Separating too often does involve sin. Heartbreaking sin. Damaging sin. This is so sad for us. And too often we (me too) beat ourselves up with such thoughts as I should have prayed more or I should have mentored better. Like every loved teen’s salvation was centered on us.

The irony of this all is that this task of Separating is often the most recognized point of spiritual awareness for those whose faith is being shaped. It is through these doubting times and sinful times when those away from God have never been more aware of God. This would be the “Hound of Heaven” so eloquently described in the poem by English poet Francis Thompson. (Or the version I love by Daniel Amos, great 1970s/80s rock group). God is always pursuing us, even when we are trying to Separate. His voice is never silenced. How many testimonies have you heard of those times when someone was aware of God’s presence deep in the midst of their destruction? These memories, while sad with regret, are strong faith shaping memories.

For the boys John and I raised we purposely gave them this permission on their rite of passage trip when they graduated from high school.  (Or for some of them when they finished classes in high school.  Graduation came after that June ceremony.) I’ve done something like this also with our church’s rite of passage ceremony for the graduating seniors. I just want the teen to recognize this task may happen so shame does not interfere. Was shame ever a barrier for you to return to your faith?

Through your creative ways and prayer, you can also give your teen memorable rites of passage that pre-advises him/her to embrace coming doubts. And hopefully through the many memories of Experiencing and Deepening faith (the more the better!), your teen will continue to Experience, Categorize and Choose on their own. You will have passed on your faith well.

Note:  Steven D. Jones does mention that there are “late bloomers” who will skip this stage of Faith Shaping. Late bloomers are teens who wait until late adolescence to work through the Faith Shaping Tasks.  This could be due to a slowness in responsibility for his/her faith or coming to grasp faith at a later age without the privilege of growing up in the faith. Due to the maturity of development in other areas in this person’s life, late bloomers may not have to work through the task of Separating. I am one of those late bloomers who did not have to work through this task.

Task # 7 – Responding

After all of the progressive work of Faith Shaping, one is ready to commit to a life calling of serving Jesus in every area of life that is laid out for him/her. Faith has finally totally become his/her own and he/she feels a need to respond with his/her life.

Finally! The bold and solid Christian I’ve always believed the teen could be. However, at what age does this typically develop? Typically it is young adulthood or even now into their late 20s as today’s culture is helping young adults postpone adulthood. (This is why I don’t let go of my teens ever.) 

At this point, I want to tie in another great work in the faith development field. That is of James Fowler and his faith development stages. Of his six stages, Stage 3 is labeled Synthetic-Conventional.  A limited definition is “faith is conventional as it is mirrored from people around you. Faith is not their own thus it is synthetic.” The age span Fowler has for Synthetic-Conventional is 12 to adult. Meaning some adults never grow into their own faith. Their faith is always being modeled after someone else’s. Their faith always stays synthetic and conventional. You know those kind of adult Christians, don’t you?!  

Too many adults just never grow up in their faith.  However I do believe that with our active involvement in the faith shaping of teens, teens will move on to the Responding task and have a faith that is Individuative-Reflective, Conjunctive and maybe even Universal, the remaining stages of the Fowler Faith Development Stages.

Your teen responding to his/her faith is a brave decision because he/she is choosing to walk into vulnerability and trust Jesus for the outcome. Many adults don’t want that vulnerability. When this happens (as I believe it will!) pause and thank Jesus for the lifetime of faith shaping that happened in your beloved—a lot of it because you put your child/teen in the many situations.  

As a blessing and closing to this Faith Shaping information, I’ll quote rapper Ice Cube, “Life ain’t a track meet, it’s a marathon.”  I agree strongly with the truth but I’d rather also quote Duffy Robbins, a more-veteran youth worker than me.

“All of the metaphors that Paul uses—all of them—are metaphors of length; for example, ‘built up.’ In our culture we understand that if something’s built fast, it’s probably not built well. Then he talks about being ‘rooted.’ You can’t grow a root fast. It takes time.”  (Group, January/February 2008).

God has given us time. Use your time. Be intentional. Please entrust your church family with time. Because God is pursuing your beloved. God is going to continue to pursue because God is love.

(Photo credit: Pexels.com, Pixabay.com)