Catalyst (kat-l-ist) noun. A person or thing that precipitates an event or change:

Our second KEY FINDING from our indigenous leadership research project was that catalytic life events (especially the negative ones) have the power to move young leaders forward in their relationship with Jesus.

When we interviewed 81 young urban leaders we discovered that young people’s development in the Lord was actually enhanced by journeying through the consequences and pain of their sin or the sin of others. 

This taught us that as urban youth workers, we must cease trying to protect young people from negative catalytic life experiences, but rather invest our efforts to prepare young people to overcome these potentially life altering events. Our research showed that it wasn't the catalytic event or mistake that caused a young person long-term spiritual damage (even in traumatic events like sexual abuse or the death of a loved one).  Rather, what caused long-term damage to their spiritual life was an immature reaction to a catalytic event.  Ultimately, urban young leaders who were able to trust God with the difficult events in their lives looked back at those moments and saw them as critical to shaping their foundation of trust in God. 

Here are some practical suggestions to help you impart this research finding into your ministry:

  • Be careful to not give the impression that walking with Christ is easy. Instead, we must inform young people to: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” 1 Peter 4:8
  • From the beginning, help youth understand that bumps in the road are created to strengthen their faith, not to trip them up. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-3
  • Be open with your own life’s failures and successes. We have discovered that urban young people learn best from our failures rather than our victories. Share your stories of failure and see them grow encouraged that they too can grow stronger from their failures and overcome them just like you have.
  • Don’t just share stories from your past, either.  Our interviewees frequently mentioned that they valued hearing current stories of spiritual struggle from their mentors.

How have you equipped your young people to turn negative life experiences into positives? What thoughts would you like to add to this conversation?

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