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Tom Combes

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The overarching premise of this paper is that the way ministry to adolescents is shaped should be intentionally connected to the fundamental task of adolescence: identity formation and discovery, and that this connection should be a theological task guided by the richness found in being created in the image of God. Adolescents, by definition, are trying to resolve the internal, developmental question, “Who am I?” and this drive is as much theological as it is a psychosocial.

Those who work in various aspects of ministry to adolescents, whether in a local congregation or in a parachurch ministry have a unique opportunity to profoundly influence the adolescent’s emerging, core self in the shape of the image for which they were made. This task of shaping the self, however, is complex and easy to underestimate.

The contemporary assumptions about the “self” are deeply embedded in the consciousness of our culture and are rarely examined. This paper seeks to uncover the history of our understanding of the self as well as the influence of psychosocial identity theory to place them in proper perspective, while making the case that being created in the image of God is truly the “first word” in identity and that this first word has enormous implications for shaping ministry praxis theologically.

Adolescents long to know who they are, that it is safe and good to be “uniquely me” and that their decisions matter in the world. Ministry should take these longings seriously and shape ministry accordingly. This paper is not meant, however, to serve as a model or strategy for youth ministry as much as a paradigm that encourages theological reflection on current ministry structures or new ministry ideas such that they are theologically faithful to the identity shaping dimensions of the image of God.

Content Reader: Chapman R. Clark, PhD.

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry (DMin)

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Clark, Chap

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Adolescence; Identity (Psychology) in adolescence; Church work with teenagers; Theological anthropology; Image of God


Missions and World Christianity


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April 2018

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