Hurt 2.0 was a challenging book for me as a young soon-to-be youth pastor, mostly because I find myself assuming that I have an edge on youth ministry over the “older guys” because I’m younger and can relate to students more because I’ve been there. Clark destroyed that thought, and I’m thankful for it.
“These kids are no different from when I was a kid.” This is the first and greatest misconception that hinders our understanding of what Clark refers to as “midadolescents”: (generally teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18). Adolescence is vastly different from what you or I experienced, and Clark’s central thesis revolves around one concept: abandonment. Midadolescents experience abandonment everyday from parents, teachers, coaches… everyone except their “cluster” of friends, with whom they form an unspoken bond of trust and a “world beneath.” Most striking to me was the observation that Clark makes about how often we as adults seeking to minister to students completely misunderstand them, primarily because we meet them on our terms. How often have I left an encounter with a student thinking we really made progress, I really understand them, when in reality I know them even less than before? Clark says this:
“The [students] I had known were in reality only conjured presentations. In effect, those relationships were based wholly on my social and worldview contexts rather than theirs or even a mutual context. I had failed to recognize that each young person exists in a social setting vastly different from my own. Therefore, as painful as this admission may be, I missed truly knowing most of them.”
Beneath all of these observations and interviews that Clark offers, there was one theme I continued to see in the adolescent experience: an intense desire for community. In each chapter of the midsection of the book, Clark discusses how teenagers have experienced abandonment in that area (family, sports, sex, etc) and demonstrates how they have made up for that sense of abandonment with their own set of community standards and rituals in the “world beneath.” Alcohol, sex, partying and intense gaming (to name a few) become expressions of a deep desire for a truly accepting community. Clark does well in pointing this out and calling those of us who work with students to offer acceptance and love to our students without expecting them to meet our standards beforehand.
I highly recommend this book for youth pastors to read, and then to ask ourselves the question that Clark presents to us: Are we willing to take the time to meet students where they are, mess and all, without any agenda or expectation? This is where youth ministry must begin with the new generation of teenagers.
In addition, his observations on how parents especially abandon their children provide a good groundwork to begin a discussion with the parents of your students. If you opt to read it, get Hurt 2.0 (not Hurt, the first edition). Clark makes some additions to the book in relation to how students interact in community over social networks, texting and gaming that would be valuable considering the proliferation of these technologies among our students.