How I’m Teaching Students to Ground Their Identity in Christ

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“Who am I?”

“Does my life matter?”

“Am I accepted?”

“Am I loved?”

“Am I significant?”

When you interact with students regularly, it becomes clear that these questions haunt them. We see students making poor decisions and acting out, all in an attempt to determine their own identity. The adolescent identity crisis doesn’t just plague students in our local communities, but in our youth groups as well.

My team and I saw this reality clearly at summer camp last year. One of our traditions at camp is to separate students by gender during an evening debrief, allowing them to share more openly about how God has been at work. These are powerful nights of seeing how God embraces us in our pain, helps us in our struggles, or even seems far away at times. These moments of sharing give youth workers a glimpse into the world of students.In seeking to faithfully shepherd them, we want to listen to their struggles, then allow God to speak through His Word to what they’re facing.

After the debrief night, my wife and I were discussing what themes had emerged from the guys’ and girls’ discussions. We had just listened to stories of students battling with addictions to pornography, struggles with suicidal thoughts, and confessions of simply never feeling enough. As we listened to these students for whom we care so deeply, we heard echoes of the questions at the heart of their search for identity.

My wife and I both clearly saw the theme of identity as a major struggle in our student’s stories. If students began to understand the identity transformation that the gospel offers, they would see Jesus not only as their hope for eternity but their hope for identity and purpose in their daily lives. The identity series was born.

When approaching the topic of identity with students, it was important for me to go back to the foundation of identity in the creation narrative. We began by illustrating to our students how people look for identity in all the wrong places; then we asked them to consider the fact that their identity came from being made in God’s image. (We looked at the idea of the imago Dei in Genesis 1:26-31 and 2:4-9).

The reality of being made in God’s image and then being rescued and ransomed by Jesus stood as the foundation for our exploration of identity. From there, we divided the series into three major focuses – acceptance, security, and significance – observing how Jesus gives our students each of these things.

Identity: Accepted

First we focused on acceptance. We began each week with a video clip, which we wrote and filmed with several of our students, raising the following questions about acceptance and identity:

  • Do I matter?
  • Do I fit?
  • Does anyone love me?

The video ended with the statement “because of Jesus, I am accepted.”

Throughout this portion of the series, we covered the following passages and themes with each week focusing on a single theme:

  • I Am God’s Child- John 1:12
  • I Am United with the Lord- 1 Corinthians 6:17
  • I Am Chosen and Adopted- Ephesians 2:3-8
  • I Am Complete in Jesus- John 4:1-45
  • I Have Direct Access to God Through Jesus- Hebrews 14:14-16

Identity: Secure

Next we focused on security. We began each week with a video clip that raised the following questions about acceptance and identity:

  • Am I too much of a failure?
  • Can I ever overcome the struggles that I face?
  • Will I spend eternity in heaven?

The video ended with the statement “because of Jesus, I am secure.”

Throughout this portion of the series, we covered the following passages and themes with each week focusing on a single theme:

  • I Am Free from Condemnation- Romans 8:1-2 and John 8:1-12
  • God Is at Work in My Life for His Glory and My Good- Romans 8:28

Identity: Significant

Our final focus was on significance. We began each week with a video clip that raised the following questions about acceptance and identity:

  • Does my life matter?
  • Can I really make a difference?
  • Can I ever be used by God?

The video ended with the statement “because of Jesus, I’m significant.”

Throughout this portion of the series, we covered the following passages and themes with each week focusing on a single theme:

  • I Am Connected to Jesus as My Source of Life- John 15:5
  • I Have Been Called to Bear Fruit- John 15:16
  • I Am Seated with Jesus in Heaven- Ephesians 2:6
  • I Am God’s Workmanship- Ephesians 2:10
  • I Can Approach God with Freedom and Confidence- Ephesians 3:12

After each message, we took time for students to process in small groups how they could live out these truths in their lives. Some wrestled with how to live as a beloved child of God in a world that says that others determine your value. Others realized that God uses even the broken pieces of our lives to make us His masterpiece. As we studied God’s Word, discussed, and prayed together, students began to see that who they are in Jesus defines not merely their future, but also how they interact in the real world today.

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