In just three weeks I’ll celebrate my 27th birthday. Admittedly, I’m a little excited about it. Some might even say excessively so but every year since I was a kid I’ve tried to find a way to make this once-a-year occasion something special and why shouldn’t I? I mean it wasn’t the day I came to life, but it was the day that I started my journey in this world and that’s a big deal. The thing is, so few occasions are celebrated in our culture anymore which makes my excitement deemed immature and well, weird. Think about it, whose birthday do you hear about the most? Typically, the person is either 8 or 80 and somewhere in between we lose the importance of celebrating this day.
Sure, we celebrate the big things, Weddings, Babies, Anniversaries (especially the big ones), Christmas, The Super Bowl etc but any list of North American events celebrated fails in comparison to the long list of things celebrated in many other cultures around the world.
Take for example, the Bar and Bat Mitzvah of the Jewish culture. This of course being the celebration of transitioning from being a child to being a man or woman
It’s a clear defined moment of transformation, something seriously lacking in our culture. Before the industrial revolution, kids were kids and adults were adults. This whole teenager\adolescent phase really didn’t get any recognition until the 1920s and now that it exists, we aren’t sure when it ends. When in our culture do we celebrate an adolescent becoming an adult? When they get their driver’s license at age 16? 18 when the right to vote and typically when high school graduation occurs? Or perhaps when financial independence occurs which becomes even more complicated with the average age of marriage and independent living being pushed into the late 20s.
Whenever we as youth professionals decide it’s the right time isn’t as important as deciding there is a right time. A pivotal moment in the gospels in when Jesus celebrates and affirms Peter:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Youth Pastor and author, Rick Lawrence refers to this moment as ‘Who am I’ and ‘Who are you’ ministry. It’s a moment where Peter decided who he was and his Rabbi affirmed and celebrated with him.
In an adult-driven culture where the interests of adults reign supreme, we have to ask, who is affirming and celebrating our young people? The truth is, for more than half of all married adults, their real interests ended up being themselves as they walked out of their family life to pursue a career or more comfortable living arrangement. Active Fathers who are mentoring and raising responsible young men and letting their daughter’s know their priceless is becoming a rare exception.
And it’s creating a deep chasm in the souls of our youth. If you’re friends with any teenagers on Facebook, all it takes is a quick glance before you start to notice a trend. “Like my status (LMS) and I’ll tell you my favorite\least favorite things and my favorite\least favorite things about you.” Or “Rate me and repost to have your friends rate you”. Or the even more dangerous trend of young girls posting YouTube videos asking anonymous viewers if they’re ugly or pretty.
In the Old Testament, each son would receive a meaningful name and a blessing. Their name was foundational to who they were. Abraham, the Father of many nations, Jacob, the deceiver, Moses, the deliver. In addition to these names, blessings were given from father to son, usually given at the end of the Father’s life and were considered a high honor and even prophetic. Not having this blessing was the equivalent of being cursed. Is it any wonder then why our sons are so lost when they don’t have their Father?
It’s time we purposefully and intentionally give names to our students. Names like, ‘The sons of thunder’ (see Mark 3:17). Remember, some names were prophetic so even if students aren’t living up to them now, they will be the more we affirm it in them. It’s also time for us to celebrate. Students need to know they’re important and their accomplishment matter. It’s not our job to give teens a big head and I’m not suggesting we celebrate uselessly every little thing and yes, affirmation includes affirming areas of growth as well.
Youth workers would do well to learn from Jesus’ example who celebrated Simon/Peter’s decision to follow him, affirmed him with a new and very meaningful name, “The Rock”, testifying to his foundational faith, and spoke a very specific and prophetic blessing over him. Our teens are hungry for this, social media proves it and when they don’t get it at home or from another adult in their life, they go looking for it elsewhere.