Tim Lansing, director of Urban Hope Training Center Los Angeles, talked with Janine Lansing and Andrea Farren about how to help students find their indentity in Christ. Tim and Janine lead the youth group at Norwalk Grace Brethren Church in Norwalk, California. Andrea Farren leads the youth ministry at Legacy Church in Kendallville, Indiana.

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Janine Lansing has worked alongside her husband in leading the youth group at Norwalk Grace Brethren Church in Norwalk California for the last 16 years. God stirred her heart for ministry when attending Brethren National Youth Conference (now Momentum Youth Conference) which gave her the opportunity to practically engage in sharing her faith.

Tim Lansing has helped work with the youth group at Norwalk Grace Brethren Church in Norwalk, California, and is currently the director of Urban Hope Los Anageles for CE National.

A program and youth director at Legacy Church in Kendallville, Indiana, Andrea graduated from Grace College through the TNI (The National Institute) program and has mentored students for 12 years.

Why is the topic of identity in Christ so important?

Andrea shares that students wrestle with two questions: 1) Who am I? and 2) Where do I belong?

As humans, we all have the desire for acceptance and belonging in our souls. Having this conversation with students from a biblical perspective is so important because they often look for acceptance and belonging anywhere they can find it, especially in friends, groups, or teams with similar interests. If these friends don’t share similar beliefs, it can be easy to compromise on Christian values in order to fit in with a particular group.

Janine explains that in addition to these foundational questions, students often have pressure on them to figure out “what they want to be when they grow up.” Helping a student understand that they have a purpose in their life right now (and not later, when they have their life figured out) can help alleviate some of the confusion that comes with being a teenager.

Tim adds that at this age, students begin to have more freedom in making their own decisions and that cultural expectations can be very strong influences if students aren’t firmly rooted in who God says they are.

How has identity in Christ impacted you?

Janine shares that as a teenager, she was very much a people-pleaser and that greatly affected the choices she made. Her identity became associated with what others liked about her. Realizing who she was in Christ and starting to shift her mindset to only pleasing God released some of that pressure of trying so hard to please others.

Andrea shares that middle school was very difficult for her partly due to her home life and partly due to not fitting in with others at school. She also struggled with anxiety and depression, however, she wasn’t aware of it at the time. Andrea recounts a conversation with a youth leader who asked the question, “Who are you?” and explained the difference between what made Andrea unique (her love for theatre) and what could make her complete (knowing she belonged to Jesus).

Tim adds that distinguishing between who we belong to and what we are a part of is crucial for students. As parents and leaders, it’s important to understand our own identities before being able to walk through it with younger people.

As a kid, Tim was very shy. He was able to be a part of Operation Barnabas (a summer ministry experience of CE National), and remembers a page in a workbook that talked about our identity in Christ. He views this as a turning point in his life where he realized his identity was so much more than pleasing others or living up to their expectations of him.

What factors play a part in how teenagers view themselves?

Andrea: School background, home life, peer pressure or bullying, social media and comparison

Janine: Fear

Tim shares that one of the biggest problems is how culturally, we often equate identity with external accomplishments.

What can help students as they wrestle with their identity?

Janine shares that fear can be counteracted with youth leaders who are safe places by listening well and accepting students where they are at. As much as parents would like it, kids usually don’t tell them everything and so having a youth leader who is a safe place and who is older and wiser is so important. She also says she reminds her kids that they have the power of the Spirit in them and that they are able to face each day because God is with them. She adds that knowing we are made in God’s image means accepting and being who God made us to be, with all our strengths and weaknesses.

Tim emphasizes that scripture memory is key and that reminding students of the truth often is essential. Having the “identity conversation” is not a once and done thing, but rather a continual process of walking with a student.

Andrea talks about the idea of preaching the gospel to yourself – that is getting in the habit of reminding yourself of truth and what Jesus has done for you. This is something she does for herself and that can be modeled for students.

Helpful Scripture Passages: Acts 1:8, Romans 8:11, 2 Peter 1:3, Ephesians 2:1-10,12-13 Isaiah 43, Colosians 2:7, 10, and 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 3:5, and Genesis 1:27

Is it wrong to have a negative view of yourself?

Janine says that while no one can fully understand who they truly are, focusing too much on ourselves – either an opinion of ourselves that is too high or too low, is sinful because it’s selfish. Doing the right thing means trusting God by remembering who he made us to be, even if we aren’t perfect at it all the time.

Andrea shares that there’s a difference between questioning what God is doing in our lives and questioning God’s goodness completely. Of course there is space for honest expression of our feelings and lamenting what we wish could be, however ultimately coming back to what is true about God.  Andrea also emphasizes the importance of sharing with ourselves and others who God says He is and who God says we are.

Tim adds that having an identity built in something we do – like sports or drama – has the potential to go away, but our identity in Christ will never go away. It always stays with us.

What other thoughts are helpful for parents or youth workers?

Andrea shares that parents and youth workers have the ability to help turn a student’s mindset from “Who Am I?” and “Where do I belong?” to “Who do I belong to?” and “I belong to Christ.” This leads to the realization that God has strategically placed your student exactly where they are for a purpose in order to glorify God perhaps by influencing others for Christ.

Janine shares that as a parent, instead of praising her kids for what they do – sports, etc., she’s realized the importance of speaking about and affirming their God–given character. Instead of saying “That was a great play,” she might say something like “I’m proud of your hard work. I’m so glad God created you with such an imagination.” She emphasizes again the value of speaking truth (2 Cor. 10:5) to our students.

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