Saturday, February 18, 2006

the 6th commandment of youth ministry

thou shalt never expect much

As much as this commandment overlaps with others it demands to stand on its own. For it is one of the least discussed commandments in youth ministry even though common sense makes people want to break it. The idea is persuasive and can be fairly convincing. Youth leaders should not expect too much from the youth they minister to. They are, after all just teenagers. They are by nature interested in the trivial and shallow and cannot be expected to long for depth and challenge.

These low expectations manifest themselves in a variety of ways. The following are but a couple off the top of my head...

Old dogma for new dogs. Youth cannot be expected to not only be interested in doctrine fought over hundreds of years ago but they cannot "get it." It is either too complicated or too archaic. And of course it is not "relevant." I do not know how old such an idea is but the idea that kids do things just because they are,, is a dangerous one. It goes like this, "teenagers are just going to behave badly so you might as well just not worry about it." There are so many things wrong with that statement from a biblical perspective that I do not even know where to start. Let me say before I go any further that the answer is never to deal with behavior alone. That would be putting out fires with gasoline. There are heart issues that must be dealt with. And those hearts are shot-through with other words they are just like everyone else.

And so we dumb down lessons and studies and curriculum and we laugh about sin and we fall in line with a mentality that says, "well, at least they are here!" Who cares that they ridicule the leader and the 6th grade girl with stringy hair and thick glasses? They are there! Give them something simple and give them something short. All this just ticks me off. It reminds me of affirmative action, blacks cannot get a job on merit so lower the standards and discriminate on the basis of race.

How do I break this commandment?

Sex and violence. The reason why people think that we cannot keep the attention of teenagers with doctrinal Bible lessons is that they are boring. No, we make doctrine boring. We have made the Bible into a G-rated Disney movie or Leave it to Beaver episode. I would be bored too. But the Bible is full of sex and violence...all the things that we are worried about of course. But let's face it if we rated the Bible it would probably get an "R" rating. Good. Paul talks about justification in the midst of terrible suffering (Romans 5 and 8). Get gory about it. All you have to do is tell real stories from Church History. Start with Nero. Then ask them about why it might be hard to believe the Gospel when you are about to be impaled upon a stake so the emporer can see his gardens at night. This not only works. It is more like the world the bible writers lived in. They were not nearly as squeamish as we are. And I talk about sex, sex and more sex all the time. And I get salty when I do. Believe me, they listen.

Jerk Chicken. Do not be a chicken when it comes to dealing with kids who are jerks or simply display bad behavior. Deal with it. I do not ever get hung up on bad language. But I do get hung up on jerks. I have at least one guy that rarely comes because I have had to get onto him for being a bully to the younger kids. That, I will not tolerate. I root it all in the gospel in public and in private. But I do not ignore it when they talk about cheating in school or say, underage drinking. Their parents might think it is no big deal but I am of a very different opinion. Their actions now as "teenagers" will affect their own future and the future of their children and others in the community and beyond. It is possible no one has ever told them they are being a jerk. You might be doing them a huge favor.

Let 'em have it. I just tell the kids I am working with that they can handle it. They might not get it all but they will will get more than most expect. I tell them that if they can learn things that I never had to learn in school like, physics I have confidence in them. It works best when you tell them that you believe they can learn this stuff even if there are others who would dumb it all down. It will get their rebellious butts to the edge of their seats.

Students always surprise me when it comes to learning. Perhaps I should stop being surprised. But they seem to be able to rise to the occasion. It is one of the things I love about my job. When their minds are doing what they were created to do and then they make decisions about their lives that buck the trends of their peers I get excited about what the gospel can do.

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