For urban youth workers who want to attract youth away from the seductive life of the streets or the violence and sexual exploitation promoted in much of commercial entertainment, their organizations must stand at the center of effectiveness of the gospel. Contexts for learning and doing must be communally connected, highly credible and predictable, clearly and consistently structured, and strongly supportive of diverse talents. Young people must find in these organizations opportunities to bond with each other in a united purpose and a commitment to authenticity. They must feel secure, knowing they will not be singled out randomly for censure before the group. Through the sense of belonging that comes from inclusion in such an organization, young people achieve layers of conviction in their ability to be worthy of the calling placed on them.
Unreliability and inconsistency build a way of life in inner cities; effective youth organizations make explicit efforts to follow through with commitments, to provide stable relations with adults, and to be consistent, predictable resources for youth. Youth workers know, “When people pop in and out of kids’ lives, it leads to a feeling of insecurity; we are trying to give predictability.” Kids will likely assume that God is not dependable if this is all they see in their daily relationships. If you want to be a change agent with these kids, you’ve got to interact with them more than one hour a week, and you’ve got to address the whole person.
Stability and consistency are essential to establishing a climate of trust and to making credible claims of caring and support. Young people are in desperate need of the things that adults can provide, but they learn from the streets and family to trust no one but themselves. It’s then that we blame them for the way the act in response to our abandonment of them. The most essential contribution that youth organizations can make to the lives of young people is that of a caring adult, who recognizes a young person as an individual and who serves as a mentor, coach, gentle but firm critic, and advocate.
If you work with youth, this is our calling…