The evidence is most obvious among our teens. The messaging they receive through social media, tv, music, and movies is highly sexualized, relativistic, narcissistic, and resistant to traditional structures.
As an administrator at a Christian school- you can imagine the conflict I constantly live in. My parents and grandparents are appalled at the loss of innocence while most of my students compare themselves to the rest of culture, shrug their shoulders, and wonder why they are not being congratulated.
I also live in turmoil... how do I inspire a pursuit of holiness without sounding legalistic while, at the same time, not causing others to stumble over perceived hypocrisy and worldliness?
I have been pondering the world and witness of the Apostle Paul:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13 ESV)
This passage challenges me on so many fronts.
It also helps me.
It is not a requirement to be a Christian to attend our school- we have students all across the spectrum- and I have to remind folks often.. my school does not equal the church.
The environment of a Christian high school is unique- and not easy. It is hard for all of us to navigate the truth of Scripture, the grace of the gospel, and the rules that all institutions need to function well while providing as much safety and security as you can.
The teens I rub shoulders with are so much like me at that age and so different at the same time.
Human nature has not changed... but cultural dynamics produce feelings, attitudes, and emotions that I was capable of in that stage of my life- but not to the degree these teens experience. And just like any circumstance, it is a mixed bag of blessing and difficulties.
Let me mention what I observe and then reflect on the passage in I Corinthians.....
Students today are extremely empathetic to the marginalized and wounded. Combine this with a deep desire for justice AND dislike of any perceived hypocrisy or insincerity and you have potential triggers to resist traditional structures in the Church community.
The strangest part of this is that they hurt each other quite frequently with jabs, barbs, and improper actions that spring out of their forms of humor and entertainment- but if ANY adult, parent or other, hurts anyone their age- they rally to protect and fight.
Almost any parent of a teen on this culture experiences this.
After listening to whining and complaining about the actions of their friends, you say something negative, and before you know it- your child has taken a position to defend them against you. The first time it happens, it is like a shock; especially in the intensity of the defense!
It becomes too easy by those of us in older generations to fold our arms and count all of this as poor parental discipline, extreme narcissism, and evidence that we are sliding quickly into Sodom and Gomorrah.
One thing I have found myself fighting in the last decade of my life, is a growing pessimism that, if I am not careful, will harden my heart toward teens. If I find myself losing patience too quickly or giving up on students too soon.... I know I need to do some prayer about my disposition... the gospel never loses hope and maybe I forget what condition I was in when Jesus saved me.
Almost every Scripture I read from Jesus challenges me to be hard on MY sin and be loving towards sinners.
How can you stay patient and hopeful in a culture where there is no blushing at sin? How can you keep from being in despair... when you realize that Clark Gable saying the word 'damn' on the movie screen in 1939 was controversial? Who can't help notice a huge difference in Andy Griffith and Criminal Minds?
THE GOSPEL NEVER FAILS
When I first started youth ministry in the last 1980's, I had the privilege of working at 2 schools that were close together in geography, but vastly different in social mores.
One school was small and staunchly traditional- strong nuclear families, collaborative parenting, and great partnership with school and churches.
The other school was larger and less traditional. New money, more broken homes, and more fractured partnerships with schools and local churches.
Well, you can imagine the social atmosphere among the teens in those schools- one was full of compliant and (on the surface at least) rule keeping kids- submissive to authority and stable.
The more traditional school had most of their students being introduced to alcohol and drug opportunities between 9th and 10th grade. The other school had a big drug issue beginning in 7th and 8th grade.
I was never asked to chaperone kids on a trip at the smaller school. It was parents and students traveling together with good accountability built in.
The other school? I took some students from that school to the beach for spring break. One condo had students drinking at the pool while the condo next door had all the parents drinking at their own party at their own pool.
What may surprise you was the more fruitful ministry I had was at the less traditional school.
It doesn't take long for sin to show its truthful side... what seemed fun and exciting, cool and adult.. before long becomes shallow, old, and empty. The kids I spent time with were hurting.... they were desperate to know if there was more to life and where to go with the pain and guilt of their sin. They were ready for the message of hope, forgiveness, restoration, and meaning in Christ. They were longing for Him and grew to love His Word.
The other ministry was effective as well... it was just a slower process. A lot of the students in that school needed the Holy Spirit to show them that they actually were sinners and that they actually needed God.
THE BIBLE IN THE FIRST CENTURY AND OUR HERITAGE
This is where we need to see what Paul was saying to the Corinthians.
The early church was being planted in Gentile lands..... greed, fornication, idolatry, violence, and syncretic, false rituals were normal. Often trade guilds were required that included practices that were not in keeping with the moral commands of God. That is why the church decided to publish the ruling regarding converted Gentiles on abstaining from sexual immorality and not eating food that had been given to idols- both were common practices in that culture.
PAUL DID NOT DESPAIR OVER THE BEHAVIOR OF NON-BELIEVERS. His biggest regret was how he had acted before meeting Jesus. Paul did not shrink away in worry. Make no mistake, he very well KNEW the penalty of sin... it is all over Romans 1. The wages of sin are contained in the acts themselves. I can only imagine what Paul saw in the culture. He was zealous for traditional religious living- but because of the depth of God's love and mercy he wrote Holy Spirit inspired verses of constant hope and joy... even in prison!
Here in the south, in this great country- we are living in FAR different times... the gospel did take root and swept the globe. Authentic and obedient Christians (sinners who embraced the message of justification and adoption) took the challenge of sanctification VERY seriously- and began to apply that life to all of culture. Our prosperity and liberty are blessings of that work.
I understand the pain of seeing us lose ground to the world as the church has less and less influence in the culture at large... the salt seems to be losing its saltiness...
But it should never lead us to despair or bitterness.. and it should not cause us to automatically treat young people in the culture with distance, anger, and presupposed ideas of their sin.
A LIVING, AUTHENTIC, AND PURE CHURCH- FOUNDED ON ONE AUTHORITY OF FAITH AND PRACTICE
Now here is where I am challenged.... while I am to stay hopeful, loving, patient, and optimistic towards the next generation... it doesn't mean that I don't lovingly confront open sin. Where I need to be careful is staying on actual Biblical sin and not getting into preferences.
And I think the older generation is challenged to make sure we don't mark youthful sin as MORE egregious than older sin.
Is is a sin to not be as patriotic? Is it a sin to not like a musical genre? Is homosexual sin more sinful that heterosexual sin?
Again, I am not trying to stir controversy... but the challenge of truth is that only the truth should lead and follow us on our journey. We have to be willing to separate truth from tradition. And we must be willing to stay with truth when cultural fads distract our attention.
I have struggled over the past few weeks with this statement in Isaiah:
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19 ESV)
I have linked it to the response Jesus gave to the challenge by the disciples of John in Matthew:
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14-17 ESV)
The challenge of this culture is to disciple others in Biblical truth with a goal of producing uniquely prepared disciple makers to reach others as the culture changes. The truth does not change..but it often comes in new structures.....
Our evangelism needs an effective apologetic and our ministry needs to pour out of hearts of love. We needs God's zeal and a palpable passion for people... no matter what they look like!
So in dealing with teens in this culture..... how does this flesh out?
OPEN EYES- We can't shrink back from what we find in culture. It is there. It is not going away. We don't have to like it- but we do have to live with it. We need to stand firm without flinching!
OPEN ARMS- We have to reach out to sinners in love and understanding. The gospel knows no depth of forgiveness when human hearts cry out for mercy. We also have to minister to those in need. Food, water, and the gospel.
PURE HEARTS- We HAVE to be willing to lovingly confront sin in the church. We must demand a pursuit of holiness in our own lives first. We need to cling to one another and inspire one another to hunger and thirst for righteousness.... not morality per se.... loving obedience to Jesus.
AUTHENTIC FAITH- We cannot just be in love with the message- we have to love the ONE WHO IS THE MESSAGE. We cannot honor God with our lips but secretly crave the idols of this empty world.
GOSPEL SATURATED DISCIPLESHIP- What I have learned about this is ... less is more. We think we want big crowds of people excited about Jesus... but it is better to pour into a few.... it is long and often very messy.... but the fruit of that effort is someone who goes and makes disciples themselves.
Take a few guys and start today...... share Christ with just 1 person.... read the Scriptures.... and pray.... we don't have to change the world... we just want to be found with our hand on the plow and faithfully building... when He returns.
By the way.. how do you know if you are doing it right?
Sadly, it is when you are finding a lot of criticism from the home team.....
But you need to love them too! Never let the response of others rob you of your hope and joy!