One of the big songs that is quickly becoming the theme song for this summer is Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa's Young, Wild and Free. It is a classic, feel good anthem for kids, complete with a catchy hook. In fact the hook is so good, I can't even get it out of my head. If you have never heard the song or seen the music video, you might want to take a peek to the song that is defining a generation! (If you are easily offended by cussing, poor grammar and recreational drug use don't click the play button and skip to the next section.)
It is so easy to watch this video and begin the list of offenses towards our Holy and Righteous God. I am counting on the fact that you as a trained youth ministry professional will of course affirm the sin and waywardness of ditching school, degrading lyrics, objectification of women, unsafe driving and of course, smoking weed.
But there is something else that is going on that is even a larger sin issue and one that will have disastrous implications for our students spiritual lives. It is one that I am afraid we can offer little help with because it is the exact issue that many of us struggle with. It is the celebrated sin of short sighted individualism and selfishness.
As youth workers we get so hopped up on trying to solve the visible sin issues that manifest themselves in our students. These are the ones that worry parents and us because the consequences of these actions can cause real harm to them and to others. While we are so focused on trying to get our students to smoke less weed, cover their bodies, and keep them from having sex, we actually lose sight of the deeper and more corruptible sin.
Everyone knows that individualism is a problem for the church. Everything we do is about building "community" and we are finding that more and more young people could care less about "community." There is nothing in my students that actually want to live in community with others, especially with people who are not exactly like them. The thought of having to compromise any of their opinions for the sake of the whole is totally beyond their world view.
This sin of short sighted individualism is lived out most fully in therm YOLO. You Only Live Once! Since you only live once, then you need to make the most of every moment! The problem is that making the most of every moment means that students are now collecting a series of shortsighted, in the moment, choices that are causing long term devastation to their lives.
YOLO: No need to study! No need to follow the rules! No need to listen to the Man! Action now is always better than a plan.
Students want instant results, instant fame, instant happiness and joy. But because they are only living for themselves and for this moment, they are ruining their opportunities to actually have a life of significance, of importance, and of true happiness and joy. These things are the results of consistent hard work, that bears little instant gratification, but produces long term fruit.
Most of this is a no brainer! Here is where we are in big trouble: We can't help students confront and move past this short sighted individualistic, selfish worldview because it is also our world view.
In the youth ministry world, our sinfulness it is not as easily noticeable because we are not flaunting huge bags of weed and dancing around in bikinis. But the core sin is still there. It works itself out when we:
- Think we are smarter than our senior pastor.
- Think we deserve a larger platform to speak from.
- Don't think we need seminary or further education.
- Think we are the most significant spiritual voice in our students lives.
- Allow gossip at the expense of our supervisor go unchecked and even find joy in it, or even worse, participate in it.
- Have never even considered that our passion may not be everyone else's passion.
- Are bummed or frustrated when our students seem to love their college pastor or another youth pastor more than us.
- Think that student ministry is the most important ministry in your church.
- Think our political views are the same as Jesus'.
- Think the problem with our youth ministry is our budget, our pastor, our leaders, etc.
- Are not involved in any diverse community at our own church.
- See little value in worship and preaching styles that don't speak directly to us.
- Don't invest any part of our time into local or denominational networks.
- Think that we are ready to church plant because no one in the institutional church values our input or ideas.
These symptoms are the sin of selfishness and individualism rearing its ugly head in our hearts and in our ministry. It is core to who we are and it is core to our generation. So don't push back too hard. It is only when we embrace this reality are we able to make space for the Holy Spirit to convict us and heal us. It is only in the process of killing this beast can we live more fully into our true calling as followers of Jesus.
There is a well worn road pioneered by Jesus. It is the road of mutual submission and selfless love. Jesus, who was God and deserved all the rights and privileges as God, gave them up and took on the nature of a servant. He did not seek fame or fortune, but the glorification of his father in heaven.
It is noble and right to want to do great things for the Kingdom of God. But greatness is not defined by our fascination with celebrity or fame, or having an entourage. We want to be Rob Bell or Andy Stanely now! But nobody cares about the decades of work that these guys did in study, hard work, and faithfulness in the small things to be the people of influence they are today. Even my hero Henri Nowen is my hero because he is famous. But the truth is that he is my hero, not because he gave up years of his life working with the bottom rung of society, but because he got famous for writing about it.
YOLO is an awesome idea. We do only live once. But instead of squandering our youth on self absorbed fantasies or short sighted quick fixes, we need to realize that we are a common part of the body of Christ. What makes us valuable and important is not our own shinyness, but that we are connected to others who are connected to the head, Jesus Christ doing things for him and his glory. And that happens through selflessness, maturity, and community.
Until we wrestle with the demons of our own selfishness and individualism, we will never be able to truly help our students see and deal with their selfishness, short sighted, cut every corner, individualism.