In Young Life, we believe in having deep and meaningful conversations with teenagers, conversations about life, God, faith, and more. Deeper conversations are not reserved for certain select times or certain special places. They can happen anywhere, anytime. But it is up to us, leaders and disciplers, to make sure that deeper conversations are happening. These videos preview basic skills and provide broad encouragement for all of the deeper conversations that are waiting just around the corner. The downloadable discussion guide linked below the videos includes questions that can guide both personal and group reflection.
Recent research by Amanda Drury (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary; Associate Professor Indiana Wesleyan University) reveals that in terms of adolescent faith formation, saying does in fact lead to believing. Talking about spiritual experiences does more than just describe reality. It also constructs identity as it spiritually forms the speaker.
Drury writes, "Articulating where we understand God to be present, along with how God interweaves his presence with our own spiritual narrative, affects and strengthens the knowledge we have, thereby aiding participation with the divine nature. [...] When an individual is able to articulate where and how he understands God to be present in his life, this articulation can serve as a kind of legitimating apparatus, and one's description of God's presence in the past may help bolster one's present faith [...] While human language does not make God's converting work a reality, human language may help an adolescent recognize where God is present and lay claim to it in her life, thereby enriching her faith. When she is able to recognize how God may have worked within her narrative and is able to articulate this occurrence, she is engaging in a theological practice that develops and deepens authentic Christian faith." (Saying is Believing: The Necessity of Testimony in Adolescent Spiritual Development, IVP, 2015)
Unfortunately, speaking articulately about faith is a rare skill, in both adolescents and adults. Unless students hear and have language for this type of speaking, they can't engage in this powerful and transformative process. Not only do they lack the language, but they often lack the understanding of what they believe and have experienced. "An inability to speak of one's faith makes the plausibility of maintaining this faith tenuous," writes Drury.
Most people can handle "how I saw God at work today" because they can look outside themselves and their personal experience. For sure God was out there, somewhere, with someone, doing something. Some people can articulate things they've heard or read about God. Few people can clearly articulate how God has worked and is working in their lives in specific, identifiable, describable ways.
There are deep layers of this issue we'll explore in the coming months. For now, spend some time with the testimony template attached below.
Start by identifying the following:
difficult experience(s) from your past
habit/attitude/behavior(s) that you struggle to control
lies you've believed about yourself and your true identity.
Then describe how and why this happened, how it impacted you, and how you responded. This sets up the reality for which you'll now communicate God's responding presence and action, using present-tense "-ing" verb forms.
Here are some examples of what real students wrote after many long conversations with leaders to help tease out things they knew were true but didn't yet know how to articulate:
"Because of the way I learn, I'm in classes with students who are younger than me which makes me feel inferior and like I don't belong.
Through that, God is showing me that I must love and accept everyone as they are and also appreciate their beautiful and unique differences." (female, sr.)
"When I was in middle school I struggled with an eating disorder partly because I wanted to feel in control of something in my life.
Now, Jesus encourages and helps me to give him control of my life each day, and to also care for, honor and respect the body that he created for me." (female, jr.)
"Sometime I think people don't take me seriously because of my size. They assume I'm younger than I really am because of my height.
God is using that to teach me not to judge people based on appearances but to spend time getting to know who they really are." (male, jr.)
"I truly do love and believe in God, but because of all the things I hear and see around me, there are days when I have so many questions that I wonder if he's really there.
But God is helping me with that by continually sending people into my life who care for me, point me to God, and remind me of his amazing love." (male, jr.)
In just a few sentences, it is possible to articulate specific ways that God has been, and continues to be, present and active in our lives, often in ways that we never realized until we started talking about it. Speaking these things aloud firms up soft realities, brings awareness to things often overlooked, and confirms that God is indeed working in the lives of his children, even in the most mundane circumstances.
What this is not:
1. Verbalized cardboard testimonies. This goes deeper to include the why and how of God's presence and work in our lives.
2. Standard testimonies or faith stories that begin with childhood, talk about life before Jesus, meeting Jesus, and life with Jesus now. This is more focused, centering on a specific event, struggle, or identity lie.
Listen to the 15 minute interview with Amanda Drury below for an excellent overview of articulating faith.
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