Taking a Holistic Approach
Photo by Brett.
My dad is a sports nut, and so as my father’s son I grew up a sports nut as well. My brother and I played every sport we could, and when the games were over, we’d pore over our vast collection of trading cards. The cards varied widely across sports, but the one common denominator was numbers. Stats. The mathematics of competition. Proper statistical analysis is like gold to a team, for it can show both what is working great, and what needs work. In that spirit, I submit to you these stats:
- fifteen times more likely to engage in problem alcohol use
- nearly forty times more likely to use illegal drugs
- eleven times more likely to be sexually active
- ten times more likely to be violent
The Search Institute is an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide leadership, knowledge, and resources to promote healthy children, youth, and communities. [The Search Institute, “About Us” (http://www.search-institute.org/about).] These stats are just a small piece of the fruit yielded from a research project from 1989-2003, with ongoing follow-up research continuing today. [For a detailed description and chronology of the study, please visit http://www.search-institute.org/research/assets/background] The goal was to discover what elements of the human experience have long-term, positive effects on young people, and the result was the 40 Developmental Assets.
The Developmental Assets are organized into big-picture categories of External and Internal; External includes things like Positive Family Communication, Service to Others, and School Boundaries, while Internal assets are things like Honesty, Resistance Skills, and Peaceful Conflict Resolution. (To read more about the assets and asset-based ministry on the FYI site, see these articles: “Your Kids: Half Full or Half Empty?”, “Unearthing the Whole Truth about Holistic Ministry,” and “Turning Towards Holistic Ministry,” or listen to this interview with Curt Gibson.)
Simply put, if a young person has 31-40 of these elements in his or her life, they are 2 to 5 times more likely to exhibit leadership, succeed in school, and maintain good health. On the flip side, the fewer the assets, the higher the likelihood for negative experiences and behaviors. The stats mentioned above compare between students who have 0-10 assets in their lives and those with 31-40.
The difference is staggering. [What the Forty Developmental Assets also confirm is the precariousness that characterizes contemporary adolescence. “Even the very best kids are often in danger. Adolescence is rife with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, lying, violence, unstable and broken families, and so on. This is the mainstream of adolescence today.” Patricia Hersch, A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence (New York: Random House, 1998).]
So, how can this research be used to improve youth ministry? [After all, there certainly is a need: only 8% of the 150,000 students surveyed have 31-40 assets, and 9th-12th graders don’t average more than 17. Please see http://www.search-institute.org/research/assets/asset-levels.] There are a number of good ways, and I’m sure you could think of some right off the bat. At our church, we try to incorporate “asset-building” into the very fabric of our student ministries—training, programming, you name it.
One especially prominent way we include the assets is in our Sunday morning teaching curriculum. This is not at all to say we exegete the assets instead of Scripture, but rather we believe the assets serve as helpful guides as we set didactic goals for ourselves, and practical application goals for the students.
For example, let’s say you are planning a topical teaching series on justice. After settling on some Scriptures and general values, you cross-check with the 40 Developmental Assets and find the Internal Asset of Equality and Social Justice. A goal, then, for the series might be encouraging students to value justice highly in their own lives, and to make participation in justice work a priority with their time.
Another example: maybe you start the curriculum planning process by looking at the assets with a few others, attempting to find Scriptural antecedents and counterpoints. One of your volunteer staff members comes across the External Asset of Positive Peer Influence, and as one thing leads to another, you all decide to stress the importance of modeling responsible behavior; there are dozens of Scriptural texts that lend themselves here.
The below .pdf outlines a sample year-long teaching calendar that includes Series Topic, Corresponding Asset, Scriptural Text, Date, and a basic Rationale. Please feel free to pull from this list of ideas and contextualize it for your own ministry.
Are all of the assets readily transferable to teaching series? No, of course not. School Engagement is an asset, but Lord have mercy on your students if you do a five-parter on paying attention to their Algebra teacher as to Christ. However, the assets of School Engagement and Homework might be incorporated well into a series on worship or stewardship. Likewise, with the assets that are somewhat beyond students’ control—e.g. Caring Neighbors, Community Values Youth—they may not make it into a teaching series, but they sure can be useful in a parent training meeting or your next talk to the senior citizen’s group.
I could go on, but that would belabor the point: according to Fuller’s Chap Clark, the goal of youth ministry is “to assimilate students into the local and global body of Christ by making disciples who are authentically walking with Jesus within the context of Christian community.” 1 If we follow that goal, the Forty Developmental Assets can be a huge help toward that end, and one useful way to incorporate them is in teaching curriculum. May you and your ministry be blessed and further enhanced by this invaluable study.