In Pursuit of Transformation

Years ago, Dr. John Perkins posed a question to a young urban youth worker that became for him a defining quest for his life: How do we (Christian leaders serving youth in poor communities) build incentive (motivation) in our youth? 
Over time clues began to emerge: 
(1) Before the “Code of the Street” (the unwritten rules for survival in communities plagued by dysfunction, poverty and violence) exerted its life-altering influence on urban youth, God created mankind in His Image (Genesis 1:26-27)”.
(2) The image of God, although marred by sin, still exists in the life of every person. The Code may divert attention, but it cannot remove the uniqueness of God’s creation.
(3) Urban youth, when given a safe space to learn and grow, can explore and discover their uniqueness, the imago Dei, or put personally, the divine imprint.

Foundational Principles

Mission is the identity and purpose of the church.
Within mission, urban youth are to be a focus of neighbor-love and discipleship.
Discovering one’s divine imprint (the image of God) is key to youth motivation and societal contribution.
Leadership is the activity in which discipleship, identity discovery and life purpose come alive in the adolescent experience.

The Defining Equation:

  • If youth have been created in the image of God, and
  • If God has so defined human development that the driving need during the adolescent phase of life is identity discovery (Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose?)

Then what is the purpose of youth ministry?

What is the church’s primary responsibility to youth during the adolescent phase of life?
To create an environment where youth can discover who they are in Christ.
In 2015 Neighborhood Ministries published Building Cathedrals: Urban Youth Discipleship That Works. We call this approach to youth development Transformational Discipleship.

The mission of the Center for Transformational Discipleship is to weave Transformational Discipleship into the fabric of ministries serving youth in hard places worldwide.

The Heart of Transformational Discipleship

One day a construction foreman decided to take a walk through the building site. He would stop periodically and ask his men what they were doing.

     One replied, “I’m breaking rocks.”

     Another said, “I’m earning a living to take care of my family.”

     Then he asked a third worker. With a glint in his eyes, he turned and said, “I’m building a cathedral.”

I often challenge youth workers with this question, “When you look at the youth you serve, what do you see?” Their responses often highlight the “rocks” that seem to plague urban youth.

So I share with them this story and repeat the question, “When you look at the youth you serve, what do you see? Do you see rocks? Do you see employment? Or do you see cathedrals in the making?

Then I follow up with this question: “Which do you suppose God wants you to see?”