Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rusty Fenders

Here's a quandary for any youth workers out there in the church - youth pastor, Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders... - what are we doing?  Easy question.  I spent a good part of my day yesterday questioning why my position exists.  Let me try to explain why

Here's what I/we do (well a lot of us anyway): try to create this amazingly well tailored portion of time in a young persons life where we carve out 2-4 hours per week (depending on what you do with them)  where we ask them to focus on Jesus, maybe learn something in the bible, sing some songs they don't know or like, be nice to one another, play some silly games that they would never consider doing unless we told them this is what young people that believe in Jesus should do rather than partying on Friday night (all the while assuming they even believe in Jesus).  Then we (parents you're on the hook for this one too) make them go to church on Sunday and take part in a service that has no relationship to anything else in their life, it doesn't translate into their life throughout the other 164-168hrs of their week.  Then we tell them, well if you're going to believe in Jesus you should serve in the church, usually doing something that has no significance to them or anyone else, or they should volunteer on holidays at a soup kitchen, or they should do the things Jesus did.  We create this little separate world designed to "disciple" them so they will go on following Jesus when they turn 18 and start to face real choices on their own.  (maybe this isn't how your "church" works but this seems pretty standard)

Here what I've seen happen in two short years of youth ministry...

1) kids "graduate" from youth ministry into 'young adult' church life.  So now we say, 'ok, you're an adult, time to come and join the rest of the congregation, they do things entirely different than you, most of what they do was important and translated to life in the 1950's (maybe the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, or 00's depending on when you're church started).  If you're fortunate you'll have a 'college and careers' group that meets during the week, that might help you connect Jesus life with the rest of your life.  If not, welcome to Jesus circa 1958...

2) kids "graduate" youth ministry, move away from home, or start to embrace their adult status and stop going to Jesus things altogether, mostly because what they've learned, what they've experienced is irrelevant to their life in 2003... oh wait it's 2012, right.

3) They continue being involved in church, or some sort of spiritual community, growing more and more frustrated by what they see happening around them but feel powerless to do anything to change it because they don't feel "spiritually mature" or well equipped for ministry or need more accountability partners, mentors, structure, freedom, time, energy, money... that's what we taught them after all...

4) They go off to bible school, have an amazing encounter with Jesus that changes their world view or they go of to bible school and become more jaded and frustrated because the things they learned seem to be all theoretical and rarely get put into practice.

So then, what do we do youth specialist?  How do we change this idea that if we can make youth ministry cool enough, catchy enough, relevant enough, kids will magically slide into the church and stay there to grow old and gray like the folks in the back row who think the music is too loud because "we never had drums in church when I was a kid".  Do we add more drums...  and lights... and ipod giveaways... that sounds kingdom-of-heaven-ish?

let me share 3 things I think might help

Unless these kids encounter Jesus in a real way, unless they experience the actual presence of God, whatever I/we do is very much pointless in the end.  That is a very Ecclesiastes-esque, I know.  If I use Francis Chan or Sean McDowell (both of whom I use and like by the way) or Charles Spurgen (haven't actually tried him yet, maybe that's the answer) to help teach, it matters little if they don't encounter Jesus in there somewhere.  People had Jesus standing right in front of them telling parables, raising people from the dead, walking on water and they still didn't get it most of the time.  So unless these kids get it, all the life advice, all the theology, all the principles of christian living are like spray paint on a rusty fender; it'll look OK for a little while but the rust is going to eat through sooner or later.  Do things that focus on Jesus.  Honestly, they're going to get bored of the other stuff anyway.  We can't compete with what the world has to offer to keep them interested, but Jesus trumps everything.  Even Christian Guitar Hero...

The bible tells us over and over that we live by the Spirit, but people can't live by the Spirit if they've never encountered the Spirit.  Good theology, good morals, good anything is not a good replacement or even a good band-aid for for the bigger problem that in whatever we're doing people are missing Jesus more often than not.  Don't hand kids rules and formula's for being a Christian, even if it's "good" advice.  Without the Spirit they can't live it out.  Let the Spirit do his job in transforming them, it's not in your pay grade to do it without Him.  Teach them what it means to live by the spirit.  If you don't know what that means, stop teaching for a while and ask Jesus to show you what that means.  It's the only way we live, it's the only way we understand, it's the only way we know.

Let them go.  I know it sounds crazy, won't our churches die, won't they be lost on their own, won't they get in trouble...  Yes and no.  a) stop being a chicken, if you believe the bible is true and our kids have met Jesus, they are safe, he's not going to leave them or forsake them, perfect love cast our fear, so stop being affraid.  b) they are not going to carry on the traditions that your great great grandfather started, nor should they have to.  It will kill them spiritually if they try.  Young people (all people actually) have to make their expression and experience of faith their own.  If they don't it's useless.  Don't be insulted that they don't like your music or your color scheme, be happy if they love your Jesus, that's sort of the point.  It's actually ok for churches to close, if kids have met Jesus their going to start something that spreads his good news, new wine skins (they won't call it that, we told them wine is evil and who uses a wine skin anymore?)  c) a whole generation of people that look, talk, think, hurt, live, work, need and express themselves differently is waiting for them to come and tell them about this Jesus who they've experienced, know to be true and love.  You/ we (I'm already probably too old and out of touch) are not going to relate as well culturally, but truth is truth and it doesn't matter so much how they convey the truth as long as they know the truth.  So don't go buy red skinny jeans and get your neck tattooed because it'll earn you credibility with the kids (old guys look dumb in skinny jeans and neck tattoos... unless you're a big guy with neck tattoo who is about to rip my arms of for insulting you, those guys look cool with neck tattoos).  Just show them to the truth and let them take it by the spirit.

I think it's why Paul sent Timothy, "Timmy, people are not going to know what to make of you rolling into town on a skateboard, with a lip ring and bright clothes, they won't like it when you say your stoked about Jesus, or that you think Jesus likes hip hop worship songs, but don't let them get on you.  Just tell them about Jesus.  Tell them about life in the Spirit, tell them about how faith is the key, not religion." (re-remixed version of something someone named Paul might have said to someone named Timothy)

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