Our students are not broken, or rebellious, they are Unique!
As I wrote about in Part 1 and in Part 2, our culture continues to change, and as it does we must be proactive in finding the thin places where the gospel and culture connect.
For our parents and grandparents, the crisis used to be rebellion, the good news was justification. For us, the crisis is brokenness and the good news is healing and redemption. But for our students, what is their crisis? Especially since they don’t see themselves as being rebellious or broken.
Since there is no common morality, there can’t really be rebellion. And since there is not a very good picture of how the world should be, they have no sense they are broken. And you can see this worked out when you actually talk with them and hear their stories.
The things we would classify as sin, rebellion, or brokenness are not things they are ashamed of. In fact they are badges of honor that give them street cred among their peers and make them feel more unique, more beautiful. They have no regrets! Everything they have done and experienced have made them the unique and beautiful person they are today.
Part 2) The Future
If there is no brokenness or rebellion then where is the crisis? Where is the thin place in this current culture what is the crisis that the gospel is good news for? Because the truth is, our students are in crisis!!
While they may not be able to articulate their own rebellion or brokenness, we can see the impact of sin on their lives and it is devastating. But we must not take the easy way out and simply put our worldview and experiences on them and make them conform to our language. We know they are sinful and messed up, but they don’t know that. So instead of hammering away with words and a world view that is totally foreign to them, why not actually find that place where their felt needs rise to the surface and have a touch point with Jesus.
And I believe that the crisis that our students are facing is one of abandonment and isolation. And this is a thin place where there truly is good news found in Jesus Christ through
Our students are abandoned and isolated
This is basically the premiss of Chap Clark’s book Hurt. Students have been totally abandoned by the adult world and left to fend for themselves. Now students have figured out how to pacify adults into thinking they are ok by simply telling them what they want to hear.
Have you ever noticed how students are incredibly quick in coming up with answers to your questions. They have mastered the art of psychoanalysis. They know what you want them to know and they have figured out if they give it to you then you will let them get back to their real life. Because they have been conditioned that we adults don’t really care about them, and therefore their true life, true reality is this underworld that his hidden from adults and lived among their peers.
But in this world beneath, there is not grace and kindness, warmth or hospitality. It is a dog eat dog world, survival of the fittest, lord of the flies. And in order to survive in this world is it is about finding your cluster of close friends, locking arms, and doing life. But if, God-forbid, you ruffle the feathers of this cluster, then you are out! This sort of bullying, ostracizing, and alienation from peers and oblivious adults is devastating to the souls of our students.
Because of this reality, their worlds have become increasingly smaller and their place in it is fragile at best. This crisis is one that is so real it is actually palatable. Our students have no home, no family, no place of refuge, no identity, no purpose larger than their cluster of friends. They are isolated and alienated from true community, from true love, and from true purpose.
(Of course this is a dramatic picture and doesn’t account for every student’s story, but I think it is the cultural story that most students can identify with)
The good news is that they are invited to belong:
If the crisis can be clarified as one of isolation and alienation, then Jesus Christ offers incredible news to this group of students. As the scriptures teach, once were were no people, but now we are the people of God! Students are actually invited into the family of God, for whoever receives Him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
If you think about it, most of what works in our student ministry is creating a sense of community. The students who are most committed are the ones who are most connected. This is the case because we are creating a heavenly version of community every Wednesday night.
When students show up they are noticed, welcomed, and valued. It is the place where the get to put the drama of home life and school friends away, even for a couple of hours, and simply rest in a place that is home!
I am sure that you do plenty of really great things and you are the most amazing speaker, and your worship team has a new CD, and your numbers are through the roof. But I bet if you did a survey of what your students value most about your youth group it is the sense of community. It is because youth group is actually part of the good news to our students, it is the answer to their feelings of isolation and alienation.
There must be an initiation rite
But by simply letting the experience the love of the youth group community as an honored guest does not get them where they need to go. It is like being an honored guest at your friends home. No matter how close you are, how welcomed you are, you are still not family. At some point you have to go home and don’t get to go with them to Hawaii on their family vacation.
But the good news to our students is not that they are simply honored guests, but that they are invited to become actual family! To belong to the body of Christ! This invitation requires action. On our end it requires a clear invitation to this new reality. And on their end it requires a clear decision.
As more and more of my peers are giving up alter calls and punctuated salvation in favor of the journey towards christ, our students are getting confused and lost. They will not figure it out by osmosis. They are barely figuring out their abstract thinking, so leaving it all to nuance is no bueno! We must get over our own issues so that we can properly serve the needs of our students.
Our students need clear sign posts, clear opportunities, and a clear invitation. They are not to be honored guests in the house of God, but to stand up, and by faith be adopted into the family of God and take their place as daughters and sons of the King. For they used to be no people, but now they are the people of God!
And as the people of God, they have an opportunity to partner in the family business of expanding the Kingdom of God. Standing up for injustice, participating in the ministry of reconciliation, and bringing light to the darkness.
Where do we go from here?
These are just my thoughts as I have watched the student culture continue to shift from under me and the older stories of the the gospel make less and less sense. Whether this is the right paradigm or not doesn’t matter. The reality is that student culture is undergoing another seismic shift, and we have an opportunity to be proactive in our quest to contextualize the gospel in a relevant and practical way.
Contextualization has been the bread and butter of missions for 2000 years. As youth culture changes, how must the gospel change so we can help our students connect to Christ. I think the crisis is alienation and therefore the good news is belonging.
What do you think the current crisis is among our students?
What do you think the good news is for them?
This is the exact topic of conversation we will be wrestling with this coming fall. I would love for you to participate with us. If you are from the Bay Area it is only $65 for the day plus food. If you have to travel farther than a day, cover your costs to get here, pay for lunch, and we’ll spot your fee. We need as many people around this table as possible, which means we need you!
Come and be challenged, encouraged, and equipped. See you this fall!
Want to join a conversation that is wrestling with this changing reality? Mark your calendar and save October 5, 2012. Click HERE for more information.