This is a thought on discipleship and journey with young people and young adults. For starters, I don’t really believe in young adult or even college ministry being separate from youth ministry in a church context, or even youth ministry being altogether separate from regular community activities. I’m thinking that the future looks far more like embedded than it does integrated. But that’s for later.

For now, I want to think about and talk about Shift & Return in youth ministry in the context of narrative theology and praxis.

There’s more on the theology and praxis side coming, but I need to choose those words really carefully and so I’m sitting on them for a while, but I can write about story and meaning. Throughout the scriptures, we return over and over to the same moments and fragments of history and narrative within the text. Parallelism, quoted prophets, the psalms are full of “remember, remember when”.

When the leadership and direction of the group of young adults I had been working with changed, one of them came to me wrestling with these new stories and new perspectives. I encouraged her, that she was the historian, the storyteller of the group. She had a unique ability to tell the “remember when” stories that surrounded that specific community with their values, their crisis and identity moments, their Shift moments, when something changed, shifted, became apparent or evidenced in their narrative. I think that learning to retell the Shift moments, helps us and our young people Return to the learning processes, the historical lessons, the framework that helps shape their tribal identity.

Similarly, those Shift & Return functions help to create a systemic, life-giving narrative that others can join. It can allow others to step into the story by retelling, relearning, reimagining and reassessing what we experienced, learned, changed and actioned as a result. So it helps a culture stay alive, helps a lesson stay truthful.

But I’m also thinking about Shift & Return in an individual’s life. Sometimes it seems no matter how hard a student or I try to shift from a place or a moment in history, we’re inevitably forced into Return mode. Unless we artfully shift our perspective or understanding of those moments, habits, stories and experiences – we risk becoming stuck in Return mode, constantly brought back to something that feels like the beginning. That’s not discipleship – because too often we ourselves end up perpetuating expectation of a pattern of thinking or behaviour in those around us that prohibits a different outcome.

I want to be a youthworker that harnesses the power of Shift & Return in our communal narrative for our individual discipleship experiences. I want to engage the 3rd dimension – the Up dimension. That as we return to moments, stories, habits our perspective on them changes… that we might move up and away from those narratives. All thorns have the potential to cause a scar. The scar in itself is not depth, but the opportunity for depth. Never returning isn’t depth, it’s just avoiding. Sometimes depth, understanding and growing as a disciple and a discipler is figuring out how to enable Shifting of perspectives, Returning to places of pain and moving Upwards, creating depth in character.

For starters, how do you engage Up? We have to disengage from Stuck mode. Expectation of the same result or behaviour needs to not become a normative feature of our youth ministries.