Aside from being the main encouragement I would shout to my reflection each morning through high school, "Stop Breaking Out" is one thing I would like to say to teens part of a youth ministry today.
We talk often about helping teens 'break out of their comfort zone', but we should be helping them build more comfort zones.
When I decided to follow Jesus at 16 my friends gave me two books, a Bible, and “Breaking out of your Comfort Zones”. This is one of the most used clichés in the Youth Worker repertoire. I know, I used it for a decade.
The thing is, this whole idea of teenagers ever being in a ‘comfort zone’ is a fallacy to begin with.
Here’s the context I have declared this statement in the past, and many use it today;
- Get out of your comfort zone and invite some new friends/strangers to Youth Group
- Move out from your comfort zone and serve in your community
- Break out of your comfort zone and stand up for Jesus in your school
The greatest need of a North American teenager is a place to belong. This is what they are hoping for in a church, in a group of friends at school or a sports team, even in their home. Yet, we see it as our mission to break them out of any kind of comfortable place they may find, in order to truly follow Jesus. Just when they find a place to belong, we want to break them out.
This is not about semantics, it's a different strategy altogether.
Because, most teenagers don’t know what it’s like to be comfortable in their own skin, let alone the group they are with. In High School, when I would have a zit (or seven) show up Monday morning I felt like a loser, like I was totally alone in my struggle for clear skin. Even though I could clearly see the most other 11th graders, and even cool TV stars, were dealing with the same issue, I still felt alone and uncomfortable admitting my problem to anyone.
Belonging is such a massive part of the discipleship journey, it can never be passed over, ignored, or left behind. We must always be working to build a community that is vulnerable and honest with each other, so each teen can admit they aren’t comfortable with themselves in order to find comfort in the community around them. Only then, will they be willing to step out of that zone to experiment with something new.
What if we stopped trying to break teenagers out of comfort zones but enabled them to create comfort zones all over the place?
What if their church was a comfort zone?
What if their dinner table was a comfort zone?
What if their leadership team, or volleyball club, or table in the cafeteria were all comfort zones - not only for them, but for the other people involved as well?
What if, instead of trying to break them out, and send them into the unknown scary places where they are most awkward and without a support system, we empower them to build up comfortable places everywhere they go?
Let us teach teenagers what places of true belonging, vulnerability, and comfort with one another look like. Then, instead of asking them to break out of those zones, let's encourage them to build that same kind of comfort zone elsewhere.