They Just Aren't Interested

This Sunday I asked my high school Sunday school class a simple question:
What does it mean to be a Christian? Specifically, what are the beliefs and practices that make a person a Christian?
What did they say? Well…they acted sort of stumped. This was a group of students who had all graduated from our two-year confirmation program, many of whom are regular youth group and church attendees. This was a group of church kids. I know that they know the answer to these questions, but for some reason the room was filled with awkward silence.
So I probed further.
“Let’s say someone at school, a friend or acquaintance, asks why you go to church or youth group, what do you say? Why is your faith and participation in faith important to you?”
More silence. More silence. Finally, one of the students solicited a response, “Well, it’s hard for me to figure out what I would say because I literally can’t imagine being asked a question like that at school.” Everyone agreed. Faith is not something these students are talking about. Faith is something to be avoided. Faith is personal, after all. It’s yours; it’s mine; but it’s not something we should publically discuss.
So I probed further.
“Let’s say we really believe that those who don’t believe in Jesus will be separated from him forever after they die. Shouldn’t we tell them about Jesus? Shouldn’t we tell them about belonging to the Christian faith and why it matters to us?”
Back to silence. More silence. Again, one student was brave enough to try a response. He said, “I don’t think they care. Even if I told them about my faith I don’t think they’d care because they wouldn’t want to change the things they’re doing. They don’t want to quit partying or messing around with girls. They don’t want to change, so they don’t care.”
Interesting. I suppose I can see his point. I can remember high school Chad well enough to remember that he was great at avoiding faith conversations, and even better at refusing to impose his Christians beliefs and practices on his non-Christian friends. So I can empathize. Adolescence is tough. The thought of damaging one’s social standing is motivation for adolescents to do, say, and be all sorts of weird. This can even apply to standing up for one’s religious convictions regardless of how entrenched they are in the life of a teen. As a Christian teen I knew what I believed about partying and appropriate physical contact in dating relationships, but I would never think to impose these same standards on my friends.
So what do we do with these realities? Is what these teens shared true?
1) Faith is Private
2)Non-Christians just don’t care
3)Non-Christians don’t want to change
I’m not buying it. First off, faith ain’t private! If our faith is private - if it’s simply something that’s good enough for us but not for others – then I question whether we have truly grasped the bigness, inclusiveness, and GRACE of God that is for ALL humanity. Second, I don’t believe that people “don’t care” and “don’t’ want to change.” I do believe that people have a hard time imagining a different life, but this is furthered when those of us who know about Kingdom living don’t model it or demonstrate what living differently – living for Christ – looks like. I refuse to believe that the students caught up in the junk of high school are actually happy and would refuse to change if another, more fascinating, option was presented.

What do you think? Are people resistant to change and indifferent? Or…Is it possible that it’s easier for US to think that’s the truth so that we can get out of sharing our faith and showing them a different way of living – a way of living for others, and for God, rather than self?


The Go Nowhere Generation?

Anyone else read this recent New York Times article?

“According to the Pew Research Center, the proportion of young adults living at home nearly doubled between 1980 and 2008, before the Great Recession hit. Even bicycle sales are lower now than they were in 2000. Today’s generation is literally going nowhere. This is the Occupy movement we should really be worried about.”

The proposition that the current generation of young people is going nowhere and doesn’t seem to care is troublesome. Really troublesome. I’m seriously wrestling with the implications for youth ministry. On one hand I disagree. I see more young people interested and aware of the world’s problems than I did at their age. However, awareness and interest aren’t the same things as action and investment. Today’s youth are certainly aware, but are they going anywhere and doing anything about the issues they are so aware of? Well, are they? Am I? What does this mean for youth ministry in 2012?

This is one of my big frustrations with Short Term Mission Trips, even the ones I have led. We are made more aware and we are given opportunities to volunteer while on the trip, but what happens when we return home? Do we bother making change in our community, or is a Facebook post in protest of injustice and social ills enough?

I believe that we have slowly begun to accept awareness as a substitute for action. I am more aware. I will make you more aware. There. I did my job. The rest is up to someone else. And we accept this. In fact, my generation and the next, take great pride in spreading the news. Disagree? Look at the spread of the now infamous “KONY 2012” video last week. Over 80 MILLION views and counting. One week. 80 million views. Why? We want to change the world, and clicking the “share” button on YouTube or Facebook makes me feel as though I’ve done my job. Ok. I’m sure that’s oversimplifying the issue, but if we’re honest, isn’t that the way we feel? Click the “share” button on Facebook. Use your status update to tell people hat this guy is a problem. Then what? Then what?

For Christians, this should bother us; this should make us unsettled and uncomfortable. The call of Christ – for ME and for YOU – is to care for the least of these, our neighbors, our enemies, our fellow human being. So a generation of kids going nowhere and not giving a rip that they don’t give a rip is a problem.

So what does this mean for Student Ministries? What does this mean for churches trying to reach the Why Bother or Go Nowhere generation?


Feeling Supported?

We left the hockey game, all 47 of us, and headed for the vehicles. What a night! The Silvertips, who are having a terrible season, almost won! They blew it on a penalty shot! We headed for the church van. Oh yeah, the 1992 Chevy Club Wagon; the one with AM radio only. Try explaining that to today’s teenager. It usually goes something like this:

“Hey Chad, will you plug my iPod in?”

“Can’t. No auxiliary input.”

“Oh ok, will you put the FM radio on so we can play our music through the radio?"

“Can’t. No FM radio.”

“No, I have this adapter that will let you pla

y your iPod through the radio. So just turn the radio on.”

“Can’t. No FM radio.”

“Ok. Well, just turn on the radio and I’ll show you how it works.”

At this point they think that I’m just an old man who can’t figure out technology. That’s when I have to explain to them what AM radio is. Most of them have no idea such a thing exists, and after scanning through some stations even more of them are shocked that anyone would actually listen to this nonsense!

Back to the story. We’re leaving the hockey game and headed for the Club Wagon – AKA, Bertha. I sent some kids and leaders ahead to get in the van while I, being highly responsible, wait to make sure no one gets left behind or lost in the crowd. After I’m sure everyone has headed to the vehicles, I start walking the block and half to the van. That’s when I’m greeted by some overly excited Junior High boys,

“Chad, did you move the van? It’s gone!”

Ok. This is a joke, right? The van can’t be gone. Vans, especially 15 passenger Club Wagons, don’t just disappear. But they’re right. It’s gone.

Now, this story is more elaborate. There is a reason we parked in a tow zone. We legitimately had permission. But that’s a different part of the story.

The one I want to tell is about youth ministry, and the sort of crazy situations I often find myself in while working with students. Honestly, I’ve never visited the impound lot, and I certainly didn’t imagine I’d be doing it to retrieve a church van.

Who calls to have a church van towed? We even have, in beautiful purple/pink writing, the name of our church and phone number painted on the side! What kind of person has a church van towed?

Ok, so I tell you this story because I was reminded of the strange circumstances I often find myself in because I work in youth ministry. The van impounded, 13 kids standing outside with no way to get home, and four other vehicles loaded and ready to head out.

It’s moments like these that I am actually reminded of how much I need volunteers, parents, and support of others in ministry. Had I been alone and pulled a bonehead move that got the van towed, what would I have done? Had I been going it alone, doing my own thing, this could have been much worse. I pictured 13 Junior Highers walking the streets of shady neighborhoods, under the freeway, next to the bus station, to get to the impound lot only to wait on a tow truck driver to show up and release our church van. Maybe that would have made for an even more exciting story, but that usually doesn’t win points with parents. Instead, because we have amazing volunteers and parents, I was supported helped through a sort of crazy situation!

Like I said, I don’t tell this story because it’s funny, ridiculous, or humiliating – though it was a bit of all of those things – but because it confirmed for me that we have a great group of students, volunteers, and parents at Bethany Covenant Church. Everyone did his/her part. Everyone remained calm and pitched in. So instead of being a disaster, it was a hiccup in an awesome night! Oh, and the kids have a story to tell. It was one of those unintentional, group bonding, memory makers with the youth group!

What support do you have? Who supports you in your work, your ministry, your life?

When you wake up to realize the proverbial Club Wagon's been towed, who do you lean on for help?


Helping People "Hope"

Watch this short video please.

Yeah, maybe it's a plug for Starbucks, but it's so much more!
"People without hope come in here for hope."
I wish people said that about church. There's so much to say about this little video. I was literally on the brink of tears as I thought of this man who is doing something so SIMPLE, yet so INCREDIBLE to bring hope and joy to people facing traumatic circumstances.

What about me? What about you?

How can we show HOPE in a tangible way to our community?

As we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection, the ultimate sign of HOPE, how can we demonstrate our hope in a TANGIBLE way?

Dan says,
"I'll do it to my last breath and my last dollar."
But what about us? What are we committed to; passionate about; hopeful about? What are we willing to do to our last breath and last dollar?


On Being Pray-ers

What Kind of Pray-er Are You?

I’ve often felt guilty, or just plain old bad, about my prayer life. I certainly know first hand and believe in the power of prayer, but upon examining my “prayer life” it is certainly something that I know could use some work.

Today, in Richard Rohr’s Lenten reflection he says,

“Did you know that you only ask for what you have already begun to experience? Otherwise it would never occur to you to ask for it. Further, God seems to plant within us the desire to pray for what God already wants to give us, and even better, God has already begun to give it to us!”

I read this and realized just how true it is – especially if we are to take Jesus words from Matthew 7:7-12 seriously. “Ask, seek, knock, and your Father in heaven will give you good gifts!” In fact, Jesus seems to be saying that God is already giving us what we are asking for. This, Rohr says, is absolutely true!

In prayer, God is already giving us answers. Otherwise, how would we know what to pray for?

Back to my prayer life…

This notion of God being active in and through our prayers before we even pray them, think them, ask, seek, knock, is comforting and relieving. For me, I feel a release and sense of relief knowing that God is in full control and fully capable of answering even unspoken prayers – those prayers that are no more audible than groanings or “sighs in the Spirit.”

Consider something you’ve been praying about recently. Why has this been on your mind or heart? Why is this person, that situation, or this need something weighing on your conscience? Is it possible that God is already working in these things, and praying is a way of changing your attitude, your heart, your way of thinking in relation to these things? Is it possible that an answer to prayer is already taking shape?

Is it possible that God really is that Good Father that Jesus mentions – the one who gives graciously when the children ask, seek, and knock?

After reading Rohr’s words I began thinking about the things for which I’ve been praying of late. Baseball has begun and I’m coaching again. I find myself praying for literal doors to be opened for conversation, encouragement, and mentorship. I’m praying for our students at Bethany Covenant to go deeper in faith and to increase their capacity to trust God with their WHOLE lives. I’m praying for my colleagues in ministry, for friends who are looking for work, and for people in need of healing. I’m praying, and I’m a little more relaxed knowing that God is already opening the doors for conversation, moving in students’ lives, providing for those in need, and healing those who are suffering. God is already answering prayers. This gives me comfort, confidence, and incredible joy. This removes my feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and guilt.

So I ask again, is it possible that God really is that Good Father that Jesus mentions, alive and active in the world today, eager to good gifts to those who ask, seek, and knock?

If this is true, I dare you to imagine what praying a little more might do! What a concept! What a God!