Saturday, February 18, 2006

the 5th commandment of youth ministry

thou shalt teach self-esteem

Some of the statements I make about these commandments will require that I give a caveat or two. Sometimes I may have to explain my reasoning in detail so that I am not misunderstood. At other times I may have to clarify some statements so that what sounds extreme or insane is really reasonable and perfectly sane. This will not be one of those instances.

21st century youth ministry has been Oprah-ed and Dr. Phil-ed to the point of being almost indistinguishable from talk shows. And when it is, the only differences are the diction and paradigm for which a common ethos is sought. In other words the chief end of youth ministry is the glorification of students and the enjoyment of each other till they move off to college. I would love to be able to say that it is never really communicated that way. But the sad fact is it is communicated that way. A self-esteem gospel taylor-made for youth ministry will motivate with a statement like "Look at the cross...see how much he loved you!" and never even think to say, "Look at the cross and how utterly sinful your sin is and how holy the God who created all things is!" One message points to the value of man only. The other points to the value of God. For one, the cross is an echo of the value of the sinner. For the other, it is an echo of the value of the sin-bearer (thanks to Piper). The rubber really meets the road on this issue in answering why Jesus came and died on the cross. The common amswer is, "to save us from our sins." But that is a deficient answer for youth. It is high time we give them a good deal more. Why did we need saving from our sins? Why did it take the Son of God turned into a bloody mess? Answering these questions would help to reverse the trend but I am getting ahead of myself here.

Why is self-esteem such a prevalent message in youth ministry?

Buy low, sell high, trade away. Let's face it. Feeling good about yourself sells. And self esteem is always feeling good about yourself. There is a reason why books on sin and mortification of the flesh, etc are not flying off the bookshelves at the local Christian bookstore. Which book will get more push from a publisher; the one on recovering lost God-given dignity or the one on seeing the excellence of the Sovereign God of the Universe? No contest.

How do rumors get started? For some reason there is this rumor going around that young people have low self-esteem. Yeah, right. Proving that this is not the case would require the same time as proving the grass is green. The fact is, we are chasing a right-field fly in left. One only needs to spend a little time with teenagers and see that self-esteem is not their problem. And church-going kids are little different than those who are not. Of course their leaders follow the 5th commandment of youth ministry with Talmud-like precision.

How do I break this commandment?

A pair of dimes? Change the paradigm now. Throw out the old playbook. If it is true that, "from Him and through Him and to Him are all things" then perhaps that should be your paradigm for youth mnistry. Most youth ministries begin and terminate on if kids feel good about themselves. Instead, set your face like flint on the peculiar idea that they should be way more concerned on how they feel about God. Proper feelings about themselves will follow.

"The Emporer has no clothes!" One thing I have done is every chance I get I tell kids I do not give a rip about them having self-esteem. I tell them they must go elsewhere to get such a message. I let them know in no uncertain terms that we will be about God-esteem and that only. I usually start this discussion by asking them, "who does God love and value perfectly at all times and has done so for all eternity." They might have to think for a minute but they typically will say, "Jesus." Then I prod them into seeing that If Jesus is God then God esteems himself more than anything. From here it is no problem in getting them to answer, "Who, then should we esteem above everything else"? Quickly, the need for God-esteem becomes obvious. Then it is great fun pointing out the ridiculous assumptions of all other ways of thinking.

What happens when you assume? Do not assume that kids have low self-esteem. It is not true? Someone might give you some stats on teen suicide to push a self-esteem program or lesson. Do not buy it. Teen suicide is a reality but only the most self-absorbed will kill themselves. Only those who care nothing for the reprecussions of such an action will do it. The answer to such a problem is the gospel which esteems God at the expense of a depraved and rebellious person.

Take the Roman Road. Teaching through Romans or even Ephesians will force you to teach God-esteeming lessons. Of course since the Bible is about God you could probably take any road you want and have the same effect. Starting with the Scripture has a way of doing that.

I probably could write for days on this problem. But I will move on. The great thing about breaking this commandment is how unique it will make your youth ministry (any ministry for that matter). It will stand in stark contrast to all other ministries. However, there is a risk. You will be called "negative" and maybe even "mean". That is ok you are in good company

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