Development Saturday: Youth Development Girls 7.0 – Conclusion

*Note* This series comes from an integrative theology paper that I wrote on the intersection of the doctrine of sin and identity development in young adolescent girls.   I started this series so long ago, but I realized that there was more to this series that I wanted to share, so here is part 5.  You can read part one heretwo herethree herefour herefive here and six here.

Galatians What are We Saved Into

Atonement is essentially reconciliation with God, but Christ’s work on the cross also saves us into the community of God.  Galatians 3:28 gives a great description of our reality as a reconciled people, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” .  Stanley Grenz and Denise Muir Kjesbo point out that this verse may have been a subversion of a popular prayer at the time, “Thank you that I am not a Gentile, a slave or a woman.”  Paul, who is consistently concerned with the unity between Jewish and gentile believers, sees a connection between the divide between Jews and Gentiles and the divide between male and female.  Just as gentiles are not required to become Jews to become a member of the church, neither are women required to become male, nor be attached to a particular male, before becoming a full member of the church.  In Christ, the dissonance between male and female, the curse of the garden is brought back into harmony and unity. Accordingly, relationships between men and women must change.[1]

An example of this change in the dynamics between the genders is the narrative of Mary and Martha when Jesus visits the house.  While Martha prepares the meal, Mary sits in the position that a disciple of a rabbi would take  at Jesus’ feet.  This is a cultural signal, that Mary was an equal with the other disciples under the teaching of Jesus.[2]

Conclusion – Best Practices for Youth Ministry

What then should be our practices in youth ministry?  Given the research on self-esteem and young adolescent girls, and the dynamics of sin and atonement for women and girls, what are effective ways to both help girls develop a healthy sense of self, as well as to present the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ.  Here are my suggestions:

Teaching on Self-Esteem in Christian Education:

Christian parents do not want their children to grow up to be self-centered and prideful.  However, we do a disservice to children and parents when we equate healthy self-esteem with hubris.  We must teach parents as well as our youth that a Godly self-esteem comes from knowing our worth as children of God, created in his image, but also that we have faults, sins, and failures; none the less, in Christ we are a new creation.  Therefore, lessons on Godly healthy self-esteem ought to be a part of the curriculum in children’s, youth and adult education.  Furthermore, Christian education leaders ought to receive training on the confidence gap and the hidden curriculum.

Christian Unity

The teachings of Galatians 3:28, must become an ongoing rally cry of our ministries.  Multi-cultural churches and racial reconciliation are popular movements in the Evangelical church today.  Our teaching must include the cultural and racial dynamics of our unity, but must also highlight the economic and gender dimensions as well.  A common error that is made in working towards Christian unity is to think of it as a goal for its own sake.  However by looking closely at the passage, we can see that there is more to what Paul is writing, Galatians 3:29 says: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  As a heirs of the promise of Abraham, our role is to be a blessing to the entire world (Gen 12 and 22).

Rosemary Reuther argues that ministry must be seen as mutual empowerment.[1]  “Clericalism…disempowers the people and turns them into ‘laity’ dependent on the clergy…people have no direct access to the divine.”  As heirs of Abraham we must encourage our youth to take a role in the blessing of all the nations and expect them to grow.  It is true that as adults in the church we may have more wisdom or experience, and therefore ought to be the ones to teach or lead, but we must as Reuther says, “teach to overcome the gap between those who know and those who do not…gradually [creating] fellow teachers who can teach others.[2]

Bring Boys and Men into the Conversation

It was the man and the woman who were corrupted by the fall.  The man was corrupted by becoming the master, the woman by becoming the servant.  Man made himself Lord, woman allowed first the serpent and then the man to be Lord.  If our work to bring the good news to girls and correct the injustice to women focuses only on girls, we will never see the change that we hope for.  Orenstein rightly points out that the hidden curriculum teaches boys to be self-centered (rather than having a healthy self-esteem) as well as teaching them not to respect women or their female classmates.[3]

In order to see change for girls and women, we must teach both boys and girls what it means to treat one another with respect.  Unfortunately even the definitions of respect and disrespect need to be taught.  Akon and David Guetta’s song caught my ear last year.  “I’m trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful.”  So far, sounds good, parents, teachers, pastors, all desire respectful descriptions of women and girls.  This song reached number five in the United States, and received considerable air time in the Twin Cities.  My delight in a song trying to describe a beautiful woman respectfully though was short lived as I heard more of the lyrics:

She’s nothing like a girl you’ve ever seen before / Nothing you can compare to your neighborhood whore/ Damn Girl / You’se a sexy bitch / damn girl

Middle School boys and girls need to be taught explicitly that even though Akon is claiming to not be disrespectful, setting up a comparison to prostitutes (even if the woman in question comes out ahead of the prostitute), saying “damn girl,” and calling someone a “sexy bitch” are not respectful ways to talk to people.

Our young men and young women still are not sure if being a girl or a woman is a good thing.  As leaders and teachers that believe each girl and each boy is made in the image of God, we have an awesome responsibility to teach, to empower and to call out the nonsense.