My favorite line from this movie is that, "In order to make water and grow food on a planet where nothing grows, I am going to have the science the $*%! out of this!" And that is the perspective I think we need to have as we consider how we are going to not only reach this next generation for Christ, but to make disciples in a context where there is zero cultural or familial help.
Instead of being discouraged, instead of being cynical, instead of putting our heads in the sand, it is time for us on the front lines to make an honest assessment of where we are, and then become the best "botanists" on this planet!
HOW WE GOT HERE:
The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. This is an encouraging statement that Jesus gives his disciples as they are to lean into harvest. But let's face it, for the last 2 generations, Christians have been clear cutting the forests down for the sake of easy harvests and have done almost nothing about coming back around to cultivate the land left behind. We all fight with each other for the last couple of apples at the top of the tree instead of partnering together to keep the ground soft and fertile.
With Christendom rapidly fading away there is little to no harvest left.
I love that Mark Watney is willing to take a good and hard look at all the facts. He had plenty of food. (For now) . But not enough food to last for the duration of his stay. The only way to survive in the long run was ration the food while cultivating new food.
This took creativity, patience, and character.
The church finds herself in the same predicament. We do have plenty of food for today. There are plenty of healthy churches and plenty of Christians who gather in tight little communities. But there is a gigantic chasm between the church and her sensibilities, language, and values, and those of her neighbors. We can no longer just do our own thing, or worse, simply value signal to our culture that we get them by throwing other Christians under the bus.
We must take a hard look at the real dirt, the real seeds, the real fertilizer that is available to us, and work with that in order to grow potatoes on Mars.
SOLVE THE PROBLEM IN FRONT OF US:
I love this movie / book so much because at any moment Mark Watney could throw up his hands and give up. He could recognize there is no hope, curl up into a ball and die. But instead of that, he know what he has to do and then solves the first problem.
By defining the first problem and working hard at that, means that all of his effort and attention are focused on that one thing. And that means that there is actually a chance for that problem to get solved. Then with that sense of accomplishment, it is time to move on to what is next.
Brainstorm. Actually write out all the problems and pitfalls that stand between Jesus and our students. Jesus and our culture. Then think about what problems are linked together, what problems are out of your control. And once you have identified them, it is time to solve them.
Some of the problems that we have solved, are solving and are still before us are:
Changing our church culture to be more welcoming to those outside the church.
Changing our language and imagery to be more inclusive of those not in majority culture.
To add our investment in our staffing to match the level of challenge that is before us.
To train volunteer staff to talk less and listen more. To be fascinated with our students and take any and all interactions as a gift from God.
To make clear and easy steps towards Christ available to all of our students.
To change language and clarify expectations when it comes to our church's culture.
To develop language that helps students see themselves in the gospel story and the road of discipleship.
MAKE CONTACT WITH HOME:
In "The Martian" Mark's only hope for long term survival was to make contact with home. Sure he could live and eat the food that was left behind. And sure, he could be creative and smart enough to grow and eat potatoes for his entire life. But to truly live life, to get off of Mars, he would need the help of his crew mates and of mission control.
The challenges before us doing student ministry in an increasingly post Christian context are challenging. But the only true way forward for us is to be connected to our crew mates and to mission control.
WE MUST BE IN COMMUNITY WITH OTHER YOUTH WORKERS. I get youth workers are strange and most are not as cool as you. I get that you are the smartest person in the room, and that your job is so important you don't have time to invest in the yahoo across town. That short sighted way of thinking will only get you so far. We need the encouragement, shared wisdom, and help from other youth workers. When you see them as partners in tilling this challenging soil rather than competitors for that last apple, all of Christendom will benefit.
And not to be too hokey, but we must connect with Mission Control. Jesus Christ is the source of life, He is the focus of our ministry, and He is the one we partner with to call our students home. We must continue to work out our own faith daily. We must be dependent on the the Holy Spirit. And we must be pursuing holiness and wholeness. For without the spiritual power and authority that comes from being intimately connected to God, this is all for show!
KEEP MOVING FORWARD, KEEP INNOVATING, AND NEVER GIVE UP!
Even with the plan for the potatoes, and even with the connection to home, Mark Watney still had to work day in and day out getting across the planet in order to be rescued. We are not looking to be rescued. However, we are called to do a job that is difficult and seemingly impossible.
With our best plans in place, and empowered by our best spiritual practices, we must do the hard and faithful work that goes unseen. We daily work at softening the ground around us, we sow the seeds of the gospel generously, and carefully water and nurture the small signs of life, and we never lose hope or give up!
We have been given the incredible honor to do ministry in this time and place. We are on Mars and the soil is barren. But have no fear, God just happened to have put you, the expert botanist, right in the middle of this dry and challenging ground. So go and science the $&#! out of this!
(On a side note, I wrote an entire book about this. You can buy your own copy by clicking on this link. Or if you simply need some encouragement and would like a free PDF copy, just email me.)