Show Up and Listen: Ministering with Teens

Show Up and Listen: Ministering with Teens



Driving back from a splendid Western Christian Educators’ Conference (WCEC) gathering at Tahoe with keynoters Rodger Nishioka and Lisa Kimball along with seventy or so ecumenically gathered educators I was listening to Terry Gross’s Fresh Air on the radio.  Something Lisa Kimball said in one of her presentations about ministering with youth, making “show up, listen, and tell the truth” a rule of life resonated as I drove and listened.  With all the genuine virtues of digital connectivity, Sherry Turkle, founder of the M.I.T. initiative on technology and the self (and professor at M.I.T.) had me wondering how many times I and any of us fall short of showing up and listening.

And after three and a half days of WCEC, everything in the interview resonated as useful concern for anyone committed to Christian formation of adults (parents and others), youth and children.

Here’s one piece that really struck me (read this and think about Christian formation, relationships, and coming to terms with what it takes to sustain relationship and grow in compassion and love):

When Turkle asked teens and adults why they preferred text messaging over face-to-face conversation, they responded that when you’re face to face, “you can’t control what you are going to say, and you don’t know how long it’s going to take or where it could go.” But Turkle believes that these perceived weaknesses of conversation are actually conversation’s strengths. Face-to-face interaction teaches “skills of negotiation, of reading each other’s emotion, of having to face the complexity of confrontation, dealing with complex emotion,” Turkle says. She thinks people who feel they are too busy to have conversations in person are not making the important emotional connections they otherwise would.

Notice Lisa’s third practice, “tell the truth” in “having to face the complexity of confrontation, dealing with complex emotion.”

The whole interview is well worth listening to and might inspire some fresh thinking about programs in church to support specific conversational practices at home, perhaps beginning with a parents group to listen to the interview, reflecting on how it sounds like home and what changes in practice we might support one another making from hearing it Read excerpts of the text here.

Other highlights include children and youth’s experience of distracted parents (digital devices in hand in the playground and at the dinner table) and teaching the children to seek connection digitally (and be distracted and ignore the parents).

Turkle’s perspective is by no means luddite.  She’s not anti-technology, but does ask us to think about when to turn devices off for the sake of conversation, beginning with ourselves (before we ask it of our youth and children).

She’s arguing strongly for what we’d regard as formational practices, like family dinner with everyone turning off their devices and putting them in a basket and making real, regular commitment to uninterrupted conversation.

Donald Schell founded and developed the urban congregation of St. Gregory’s of Nyssa in San Francisco from an organizing dozen members to a parish with national recognition for its innovative approaches to liturgy and mission and its teaching contribution to the wider church. In 2007, Donald joined All Saints Company as President in order to consult, publish, and lead workshops on the discoveries made at St. Gregory’s. Donald has written My Father, My Daughter: Pilgrims on the Road to Santiago and has contributed chapters to Searching for Sacred Space, to What Would Jesus Sing? and to Music By Heart: Paperless Songs for Evening Worship. You can also read his many articles on Episcopal Café, engaging readers to reflect upon liturgy, formation and mission in the church. 

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