With situational ethics, who needs a savior?

How do we help a generation who has no sin see their need for a savior? A major part of our calling as youth workers is the vital task of evangelism. Unfortunately the tyranny of the urgent puts our true calling on the back burner. We have programs to run, bible studies to lead, and parents to keep happy. As great as these are to do, very few of us got into student ministry because we love programs and managing parents. Many of us got into student ministry because we have a heart for this broken and lost generation. We are cross cultural missionaries called to the field to connect with early and mid-adolescents so that, by any means necessary, they will come to know Jesus.

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some “ 1 Corinthians 9:22

Classic Evangelism: This verse sums up the classical understanding of evangelism. Simply we want people who don’t know Jesus yet to know him as their Lord and Savior. We want to use whatever means, whatever stories, whatever programs, whatever resources are needed to do it.

Classic Gospel: For the past 100 years, the story that has been developed is a simple,

compelling, and effective story. You may have heard of it. God loves us, but our sin separates us from him. Jesus, because of His love, took the punishment for our sin on himself. If we accept what Jesus did for us on the cross, then we will be saved and have eternal life. The classic gospel has proven to be very effective in our context where Christianity has been our national religion and story. But as our context becomes increasingly more post-christian this classic gospel has developed a classic problem.

Classic Problem: Simply put, there is no longer an understanding of sin. Our students live in a world where there are really no ethics, no right and wrong.  If there is any residue of an understanding of sin, it is when it happens to them. They can clearly identify all the times and places others have wronged them, but can not see when and where they have wronged others.

Situational Ethics is now king. Whatever might be right and wrong in theory, gets re-worked depending on the circumstances they find themselves. Cheating may be wrong, but what defines cheating, depends on the situation. Stealing may be wrong, but downloading pirated music or lifting something small is fine, because no one notices or cares. Saving sex for marriage is a good idea, until they are really in love.

It seems like situational ethics has so invaded the psyche of our students that they are convinced they are good people and do not sin. I bet that they could take lie detector tests and pass because their world is so fragmented and post-modern. There are no firm rules which means that there is no such thing as missing the mark, because there is no longer a mark to hit.

With this world view, sin is a foreign concept. It is like trying to help a first grader understand algebra. They don’t even understand basic addition and subtraction. It is mind bending for them to begin to add letters to the mix. But sin is a a foundational concept in a Christian worldview. It is impossible to understand the gospel without also understanding sin, in effects and consequences.

But this post-christian context where situational ethics rules the day should not dishearten us youth workers. We are true missionaries and culture is not the enemy, it is the tool. We have to be students of culture and our context and find a place where the gospel story can meet up with some of the cultural stories we find ourselves. And like all cultures all over the world, there is always a thin place where these stories will meet, and I think there is a gigantic thin place in the cultural context of our students. While they may have no need of a savior to save them from their sins, every one of my students understands that they are broken and in need of repair.

Our students live in a world where brokenness is the norm. Because there are no rules, there is never ending uncertainty. Their parents are getting divorced, there is no loyalty in friendships, their hearts are crushed in romantic relationships, there is bullying that happens in private, and there are no consequences for any of it. They get that the world isn’t as it should be. They may not be able to articulate it, and they may not get that there is right or wrong, but they do get that this brokenness is awful and hopeless. It is lord of the flies, but the adults never show up.

And it is into this cultural story that we bring the good news of Jesus Christ.

This world our students live in is a dark and broken world. They get that they are broken and that everyone around them is broken. Their brokenness has impacted others, and others have impacted them. It is into this dark and broken world that the light has come. Jesus shows up and brings our brokenness into the light. We are like cancer patients. On the outside we look just fine, but inside we have a deadly disease. Jesus comes and diagnoses the problem. The problem is we are broken.

In our inner being our students understand that this brokenness is not the way life should be. While it is their reality, there is a hidden memory of a life of wholeness. The gospel tells this story in dramatic fashion. God created the world and us and it was very good. Brokenness entered the world through our rebellion and ever since humans have been crushing each other. At the same time God was coming up with a plan to heal this broken world. That plan culminated in Jesus Christ.

Jesus not only shines light and exposes our brokenness, He also provides a way for healing. Most church kids have heard that Jesus died for their sins. But this statement has power when we help them understand that Jesus takes all our sin and brokenness on him when he died on the cross. His conquering of death is a conquering of brokenness. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Once we can equate sin with brokenness we can see that this gospel is truly good news. God takes our sin and brokenness on him so that we become his righteousness, we are made whole. And now the gospel is no longer a gospel of sin management, but it is a gospel of sanctification, of healing and transformation. Our students need to have hope that there is more than this life of brokenness, I need to have hope that there is ore than this life of brokenness. The good news of Jesus Christ is that Jesus came into the darkness to take our brokenness and exchange them for wholeness, healing, and life!

Does a changing culture require a different slant on the gospel? Part 2: The Present

Don't forget to read part 1: the past. Justification for our rebellion used to work. There was a time in our not so distant past where the gospel of justification as the good news for our rebellion was a compelling and effective strategy in connecting people to Jesus. For the better part of 50 years this was the staple of evangelical christianity.

But as the children of the boomers grew up, many noticed that this gospel of defining sin as rebellion and missing the mark simply lead to a legalistic gospel of sin management. If we are rebels and Jesus now saves us from the consequences of our sin, then sanctification was getting on board with "Christian Culture," locking down those crazy behaviors and being nice. (I know this is a very simplistic assessment, but I will take my angsty straw-man and jump in line with my fellow Gen Xers who began to tell a subtly different, yet much more culturally relevant version of the gospel for this new generation.)

Many Gen Xers who saw the white washed lives and big box churches offering a simple gospel which appeared to simply offer fire insurance, were longing for a more transformational story that wasn't so binary in its approach. In or our, secular or sacred. There had to be a broader and more compelling story.

And sure enough, pioneers such as Brian McLaren, Tim Keller, and Rob Bell (just to name a few of the superstars) began to paint a picture of the gospel that was truly good news for the Gen Xers and beyond.

Part 2) The Present Where the gospel used to be the good news of justification for our rebellion, there has now become a new crises that is in need of good news. For many Gen Xers, their story has been one of destruction. But it isn't the sort of destruction that is caused by rebellion, it is the kind of destruction that is the fruit of rebellion.

As a side note: This is not to say that all boomers were rebels or all Xers were wrecked. But it has become the common narrative of the generation.

For many Gen Xers, there is a genuine feeling of brokenness. There was once something that was good, and then through sin, death and destruction came to be. And since brokenness is the crisis, the good news is that through Jesus Christ we are healed and redeemed.

The death and destruction that has marred our lives and relationships does not have to be the end. Jesus comes and offers us transformation and healing to make the wrongs right.

I love the Gospel of healing and redemption! This narrative is so prevalent that it is like the air we breathe. We are all about the redemptive story. We love that God has made the world good, and sin entered the world through Adam and with sin came death and brokenness. Then God began his redemptive work through the Jewish people and ultimately through Jesus Christ. And in him our wounds our healed.

Instead of God simply annihilating the entire world because of their rebellion, many Xers see that God is redeeming creation and inviting he redeemed people to be part of the process. This is partly why social justice is such a significant part of our story. Christians are not passive people simply trying to get people from hell to heaven. We are a redeemed people participating in the ever expanding Kingdom of God.

This is my context, my peeps. I get that things used be good, and now they suck! And Jesus takes my brokenness and heals it, redeems it. This is the good news!

Yes the 4 Laws still work, but work differently: As you may have read from my other posts, here and here I am all about alter calls, all about presenting the gospel. But what has changed is the definition of sin when presenting the gospel. Now sin is our brokenness not our rebellion, and the gospel is healing and redemption instead of justification. No matter how we tweak the definitions, there is still a world in desperate need of Jesus and we are invited by faith to respond.

Sin used to be seen as missing the mark, rebellion, behaviors that deserve punishment. But in our current context this definition has transitioned to mean broken. We are sinful / broken and that brokenness severs our relationship with God.

It is Jesus who offers healing and redemption through Jesus Christ. It is a gospel, it is a gospel that requires a response. What has changed is our understanding of what the crisis it. For most "younger adults" we get that the crisis has transitioned from rebellion to brokenness.

I hope that this makes some sense and gives you a little more grace for the generation that has come before and understand the gospel in a different way that you do. And in the same way, can you even get your head around that our students have a different world view and a different crisis they are facing.

Can you get your head around that our students don't think they are broken? This version of the gospel is a home run for people in their 20's -40's. But I am noticing a challenging new trend. This new trend is that among our students there is now no more self reflection, no more brokenness.

As you interact with your students you are probably as horrified as I am that they have absolutely no understanding of sin. They live in an amoral culture and if there is no defined morality, how can they be rebells, how can they miss the mark. This trend has been happening for quite some time. But what has taken me back is that this current group of students don't even see themselves as broken.

Go to youtube and watch Lady GaGa's video, Born This Way. Now I get that she is weird and that many students would not admit to being inline with her. But as you talk with them and truly listen, you will see that this song is actually their world view.

Our students are beautiful and unique. Whatever we might classify as sin or brokenness they actually classify as badges of honor that simply make them more beautiful and unique. When they give their testimonies, have you noticed that the almost always talk about having no regrets and that all their experiences have simply shaped them into the person they are today.

While we might get that our students are rebellious and broken, I am trying to argue that our students don't see that. It is like arguing that a 19 year old college freshman boy is sleeping with everyone on his dorm because he is truly lonely, insecure, and trying to fill some God shaped hole with the wrong thing. While those may be deep inner longings, his felt need is that he is actually just horny. We know there is a sin problem, but unless we can tap into their felt crisis, there is little to no chance of the gospel truly being good news to this current generation. (wasn't that a colorful example)

I know you are probably disagreeing with me. But imagine trying to have the conversation with your parents or grandparents about the redemptive story we are called into. If they have any old skool, evangelical roots, they think we have gone soft because we are all about the journey and not getting people saved! This current generation has transitioned the gospel focus, why can't it transition again?

Where do we go from here? In part 3, I will simply share some of the thoughts I have been wrestling with regarding what the good news might be for these increasingly post-christian students. For us in the Bay Area, there is no more common story or ethic to aspire to, so justification for their rebellion is out. There is also little memory of the good that used to exist before the crap storm came so healing from brokenness is out. What is the felt need, the crisis that Jesus Christ can be good news to?

This solution is going to take much more than my little brain. Us youth workers are on the front lines of a whole new worldview and together we may tap into something revolutionary as we strive to share the good news of Jesus Christ with our students.

What are your thoughts?

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.

a unique glimpse into the hearts of students

Last week we took a bunch of students to winter camp.  On Saturday night they an opportunity to identify an area of their life that they wanted to surrender to Jesus.  With that being the basic prompt, here are their un-edited responses:

  • Bringing peace and love to my family, to solve their issues with each other.
  • Life, friendship, moving on, problems, love.
  • I’m willing to surrender to god my refusal to forgive myself for all the sins I’ve done.  if god gave me grace I can forgive myself too.  I’m willing to surrender my personal looks as well.  I am beautiful.
  • Mistreating others.  Not listening.  Ignoring those in pain.
  • I surrender my life plans.  You are in control and have a plan for me that is beyond what I can imagine.
  • I want to surrender the loneliness I feel at home and that I can open up to family.
  • My flaws, insecurities, and future.
  • I have no mess.
  • My performance.  Tomorrow.  My daily life.
  • Everything.
  • I surrender my heart to you.
  • I want to be free from all impieties and have a filling relationship.
  • Anything.
  • I absolutely, positively must show grace to others. Ditch the junk, prioritize, do I really really care about these things.  Make time for Him.
  • Forgive my brother for leaving.
  • My sin.
  • I need help.  please...
  • Control.
  • My anger and hatred for me and everyone around me.
  • My lies.
  • Performance, popularity, personal looks.  my obsession/want of a relationship.
  • I need to completely trust in God to guide me and guard my heart and take my life where its meant to go, I surrender my pride.
  • Relationships with God.
  • Fighting with my mother.
  • Blaming myself for my sister’s death.
  • My own agenda. My heart.
  • Knowing that my mom will always be with me.  She lives on in heaven and in me.
  • God, you know everything, and you know me, and everything I need to surrender is everything in me.
  • Depression.
  • My wants over his. my time reading my bible.  Lord i want you, please come.
  • Willing to surrender: career dreams/ $, OCD, friend troubles, jealousy, compassion, judgement, guilt, everything
  • Masturbation, hungry to be loves by another.
  • I want to surrender my worry of the future.
  • The lies i made from my parents, being honest.
  • Relationship with mom.
  • Wanting someone to love me.
  • Fighting with my sister.
  • Not knowing the future; letting God provide in every aspect of my life.
  • Not a lot of stuff, not asking for everything.
  • Making everything about me.
  • Being perfect, needing to fit in.
  • God I surrender my stress from my brother .  He is going through so much and I need to know an need help knowing that I can’t take on his problems.
  • I surrender...my stubbornness to open my heart.
  • My pain.
  • Time, focus.
  • I’m struggling with actually giving myself to God!  I need God in my chaos.
  • Not putting God first.
  • Time, personal judgement, feat of others’ judgement.
  • I need help letting go of my childhood and my dad.  All I get from it is my pain. I just want peace in me.  i know my dad will never change and i need to cut him and the trouble he brings out of my life.
  • Possessions.
  • John and kelly, Live life for Jesus, Whether or not to have sex with my boyfriend, nicer to parents, hope grandma’s cancer goes away.
  • My time.
  • Possessions.
  • Doubt.
  • Doing good things for the wrong reasons, not to honor you.
  • Lord help me to continue walking on your path, help me to finally open my heart back up to the ones who need my love.
  • I’m willing to surrender my pain/depression and fear of the new adventure that my mom and I are starting.
  • Relationships.
  • My lust and the things I look at for them, not accepting your love or grace.
  • I surrender college and who I am going to marry.
  • God I give you my pride in the ifs you have given me, my sense of entitlement, my what ifs, God I give you my relationship with Daniel.  Capture my heart.
  • Talk, money, pride,fear.
  • God, help me.  help me become someone that i can please.  Help me focus on what I need to focus on.  Dear God save me.
  • Gossip.  Ugh Lord this is so hard.
  • The need to be the best at everything.
  • Not procrastinating.
  • The loneliness that no one sees, and the pain that no one knows.  I lay it at the cross for you to take.
  • Material possessions, take ‘em.
  • Giving up my own control.
  • To surrender some of my possessions.
  • Strength.
  • I don’t need to live up to the expectations that others put on me.
  • My insecurities of who I am.
  • My part in being social to other people.
  • Jesus, I need help.  Lord I’m sorry that i continue to live with this secret shame.  Help me.
  • My alter ego.
  • (boys name) God help me have more grace to show him.  I always take him for granted, but he is a blessing.
  • I need help with getting a good paying career.
  • The pain of not living up to expectations.
  • I surrender myself to you Lord.
  • Surrender my worry.
  • Guys, personal looks, family issues, feelings toward my dad.
  • Lust, selfishness, greed, materialism, alcohol.
  • Personal looks, shame and feeling unworthy, unhappy and worthless.
  • Pride.
  • Selfishness.
  • 4 P’s, wanting to love myself and my body, look for his love everyday, feeling him everyday.
  • Weed.
  • Personal looks, obsession.
  • Personal looks.
  • My stress, my striving for academic perfection.
  • My life, the need to be wanted.
  • Regrets, worries, depression, loneliness.
  • Self-consciousness.
  • Believing statan’s lies has led to cutting.
  • Future.
  • My lack of involvement with youth group.
  • My impure thoughts.
  • Myself, in all the pride, loathing, and disappointment.
  • What others think of me.
  • Depression, Suicidal emotions.
  • Performance: school and crew.
  • Controlling my own life instead of letting him.
  • Possessions.
  • I don’t know, I need help.
  • Clean up my mess Lord: heal my heart.
  • My EDNOS: fears of relapsing.
  • Performance for other people, priorities, patience.
  • Committing to true and real friendships.
  • Acting different around different people not always living for God.
  • My comfort zone.
  • Fear/Worry.
  • Worrying about a job, not trusting God’s financial provisions.  Boy and future with him.
  • Summer, Sean, next year.
  • Selfishness, pride, control, let go.
  • Disrespect.  My family and girlfriend.
  • God I want to surrender to you my full commitment to you.
  • Self image, worry.
  • Performance- academically and in sports.
  • Always being brave, performance, independence.

We sure received a potpourri of responses.  Some  responses are deep and incredibly insightful, and some are missing the point entirely.  Isn't this exactly how it is with student ministry and the variety of students we work we work with.  As we consider how to care for them and their hearts, it is important that we have a true picture of what is going on with them.  We can not project on them a depth that isn't there and we can minimize a wound because it seems small to us.   We have to love them where they are at.  And most of them are at a place where they can identify some place of brokenness and need, and it is in this place where there is a huge ministry opportunity.

It is amazing the depth of emotion and brokenness students feel and feel about such a wide range of issues.  Some of these issues are profound, and rightly deserve our urgent attention.  Some are tiny and seemingly insignificant.  But no matter how big or small the wound seems to us, it is profound to them.  These areas of surrender and brokenness should not be overlooked.  They are in fact the thin places where we can share the good news of God's love, grace, and healing for our students.

Students today have little use for a savior who helps them manage their sin.  Sin makes no sense to them.  But they have a huge need for a savior who will meet them in their brokenness and pain and will gladly accept the surrender of their garbage and exchange it for life.  (I wrote a longer piece on this here.)

May we lavish the healing balm of Christ upon our students, no matter how big or small their wounds may be.

thankful for being broken

as thanksgiving approaches i am closing the door on a flurry of thanksgiving themed youth groups and sunday schools.  i have taught our students everything they need to know about how every good and perfect gift comes to us from god, and how we are to be thankful for all our blessings, big or small.  with my due diligence behind me, i can now reflect on what i am thankful for.  but this is turning out to be more difficult then i expected, because of the main event itself, the actual thanksgiving family dinner. my family's thanksgiving dinner is revealing to me an entirely unexplored area in my spiritual development when it comes to being thankful.   this is being thankful for my brokenness.  coming from a broken home, thanksgiving brings an incredible amount of stress and anxiety.  there are sophisticated negotiations  just to keep the many families appeased.  then, once we are together there is the awkwardness of us young adults regressing to the childhood roles we played decades earlier as we struggle with new ways to relate.  the fancy facades we have been perfecting throughout the year, gets stripped down to reveal the broken and wounded kid underneath.  (and we haven’t even sat down at the table yet)

my family is just one area of brokenness in my life, and one that happens to get drudged up every thanksgiving.  but i have plenty of brokenness to go around. some of this brokenness comes form people in my past who have wronged me.  much of it comes from the poor choices i have made and still make.  and the result of all of this is a weak and wounded mess.  and it is in this place where the gospel comes alive!

the ministry of jesus christ is the ministry of reconciliation and healing.  these are the two things i always need more of in my life.  i need the power of jesus to forgive those who have wronged me and to accept the forgiveness of jesus for the many ways i have wronged others, including him.  and in the process of reconciliation there is healing.  jesus takes our wounds, our brokenness, our sin, and exchanges them with his wholeness and righteousness.

the truth is that all of us are broken.  the more we are aware of it, the more we can allow space for jesus to get in there and heal us.  and the more we are healed the more we become whole.  and it is in our brokenness and weakness when jesus’ power is made complete.  it is in this place where we are the most human and can connect with other humans on the deepest of levels.  this seems to be the most true of the students i work with.

brokenness is the easiest character trait for students to identify with.  their entire lives are in chaos.  some of it has been done to them, and some of it they are doing to themselves.  my  brokenness gets to be a point of connection with them.  with all the differences between us, it is the main thing we have in common.  and because of this common brokenness, we can share in the common healing christ offers as well.

this thanksgiving, i recognize it is my brokenness that has created depth and character.  it is my brokenness that has shaped my faith and revealed my need for jesus.  it is my brokenness that allows me to connect with students in an authentic way.  and it is my brokenness that god has used and is using to transform me into his masterpiece created for good works, which god prepared in advance for me to do.  and for that, i am truly thankful.