One of our favorite hobbies as youth workers is bashing on the church. For those of us who have grown up in it, and now do ministry with in it, we have a lot to bash. I find myself wresting with the institutional church and its relevancy for me and our culture. I have decades of examples of hypocrisy and hurt. I see little difference in the lives of people in church, including myself, and those outside the church. I have a faith that is trying to break free from the systems and programs that have shaped me up until now. But these issues and growing places are my issues and my growing places. As someone who works with students, it is essential that I am aware of my faith and the places where Jesus is meeting me, transforming me, and challenging me. And thankfully I can identify and am enjoying these places. But even more importantly, I must be aware of the faith development of the students I work with and the issues they are wrestling with. As someone who shares the gospel with people in a completely different season of life and in a different culture, I must enlarge my view of the gospel. This means I must discern the parts of the gospel story that help students come to know the real Jesus who loves and cares for them where they are at. Part of this process is separating my own walk with Jesus as he loves and cares for me in the place that I am at.
The apostle Paul was brilliant at this. Paul encountered Jesus in a very real and wild way on the road to Damascus. This is by far the most unique conversion story ever! Paul writes in his epistles about his struggles in faith and in ministry. He writes about wrestling with sin and doing the things he doesn’t want to do. He writes about the thorn in his side that overwhelms him. He writes about people in his ministry that have personally wrecked him and broken his heart. Paul had a dynamic and growing faith that was real and intimate.
And while all this is going on in his walk with Jesus, Paul was able to separate out his own issues with Jesus and discern what the people in a particular context needed to hear so they could connect with Jesus and begin to experience their own walk.
In Acts 13, Paul finds himself in a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. In this Jewish community Paul easily retells the story of God’s faithfulness to his people; God rescuing the people of Israel from Egypt, giving them the law of Moses, conquering Canaan, and establishing a king, King David. And although David died, Jesus, his decedent, rose from the dead and conquered sin and death, and offers the forgiveness and justification the law of Moses was unable to do.
In Acts 17, Paul finds himself in a completely different context. Now he is in the middle of a Gentile city, surrounded by pagan idols. The story of the people of Israel have no touch points in this context. Paul’s personal testimony of persecuting the Jews, or the heartbreak of his ministry doesn’t matter to the people of Athens. And instead of Paul relying on his own history, his own experiences, or his own expression of faith, Paul taps into a larger gospel story, one that will be received in this unique context.
During his time in Athens, Paul notices the religiosity of the people and uses their idol worship as a thin place to share Jesus. He capitalizes on one of the temples and uses a known poet as a hook and then shares how this mysterious and unknown God has been made known by Jesus his son whom he rose from the dead. And although a revival didn’t break out in this city, Paul did manage to capture their attention and opened the door for further conversation.
In this season of my life, I am wrestling with growing deeper in my love of, and for Jesus. And this wrestling has been bringing up more issues then it is settling. And while I love the wrestling match, I need to get myself and my story out of the center of the ministry God has called me to. My walk with Jesus is my walk. I am called to be a cross-cultural missionary to this adolescent culture. And I need the Holy Spirit to illuminate my heart and mind as I attempt to find the thin places in their culture where their brokenness can meet Jesus’ healing. I can not make my thin places theirs. And thankfully the gospel of Jesus Christ is big enough to meet the brokenness and needs of every person in every culture in every time in every part of the world.
Jesus, show me where these thin places are in my students’ lives.