Theresa has become a friend over the last couple of months. Up until 2012 she served youth ministry in this way:
“Over a decade after saying yes to being a youth volunteer, I’ve served as youth director of a couple churches, and had the opportunity to launch a youth center. In 2009 I was honored to partner with and help Michael W. Smith realize his dream to expand his original vision of Rocketown, serving teens through culturally relevant programming, mentoring, and entertainment, with the opening of Rocketown Florida. Recognized by Michael as the heart of Rocketown, I performed every job from custodian to show promoter to pastor (all the while with the official title of Operations Director).”
This unique ministry served a litany of “survival mindset” or urban youth. It felt natural to ask her our questions and get her feed back!
How would you define urban youth or family?
I define an urban youth or family as one who often sees more of what life really is – an urban setting, by definition, is often less shielded from hurt, brokenness, poverty, and other harsh realities of life. However, I also define urban youth and families as seeking to be recognized and identified by who they are and not where they live, their ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.
In today’s shifting culture we are seeking to redefine urban. What would you say if we said the new urban youth is one living in a survival mindset?
There is a need to extend God’s love to youth through re-identification in Christ. Too many youth are ok with being identified by their circumstances. Through the love of Jesus, urban youth can begin to understand that current reality doesn’t have to define their dreams for tomorrow.
New Urban youth are catapulted out of survival mode when they are encouraged to dream and find identity in Christ and his immeasurable love for them. One student revealed to me her dreams of being the first in her family to graduate high school. Her transition from being identified by circumstances to being identified through Christ began in a conversation that started with a simple question. She then did become the first in her family to graduate high school. The conversation went like this:
Me: What do you dream about?
Student: Being the first person in my family to graduate high school.
Me: What can you do to make that dream come true?
Student: Study. Focus.
Me: How are you doing with the studying part?
Student: I need a little help.
Me: Well, let’s get some help then.
That simple exchange started her on a new path, a path that no one in her family had yet walked. And through her hard work and a little help from us, she was successful.
Do you have students living in survival mode in your youth group? (Or have you met families living in this mindset?)
Yes. A group of boys hanging out at our youth center were constantly starting fights on and around our property. They tried to explain to me why they were involved in so many fights. They fought for each other, they explained, because they had no one else who cared for them or protected them.
They were in survival mode. Fighting was there way of committing to each other and supporting each other in ways their family, friends, and community did not.
I asked them, Where will you be in 5 years?
They replied, Probably locked up.
I changed the question to, Where do you want to be? They started revealing their hopes and dreams to be a professional BMX’er, engineer, and film producer. In order to help each other’s dreams come true they had to find a new way to survive in the neighborhood, without fighting and being thrown in jail together.
The entire group made a commitment to stopping fighting. This commitment meant they were able to dream together, and support one another in a new way. They transitioned from surviving to striving for something bigger than they had previously thought was possible.
How would/do you approach them?
I approach every teen in three ways
1. New Identity = You are not your circumstances. Every person has dreams, purpose, worth, and is loved by Christ Jesus. Our circumstances do not define us.
2. Love As God Loves = I don’t love and serve from my being, resources, or ideas. I stay focus on God’s love, his desire, his care, and purpose for each individual.
3. No Friends, All Family = Every student becomes family. Family members respect one another, support one another, bear one another’s burdens, and dream together. No one is a project. Everyone is family.
These are great insights! Thank you Theresa! Look for posts like this from youth workers all over the country every Monday!!
More about Theresa today:
In 2012 I moved to the beautiful state of Colorado. Through this winding path of God’s grace, I have found a new passion: To shape and serve teens by serving youth leaders, youth organizations, and parents of teens.
Here’s how I’m doing that.
1. Mentoring and coaching
2. Speaking and training3. Providing relevant written resources for today’s youth leader.
Find her at:
theresamazza.com or Twitter: @theresa_mazza