Friday, August 29, 2008

Was it a good trade?

(I don't know these people -- this picture is purely representative.)

One of the reasons I'm not sure I could ever be in full-time youth ministry is that I get really REALLY bummed when kids mess up. So since kids are human and we humans tend to mess up a lot... I end up really bummed on a regular basis. This is something I wrote as a response to one of those youth ministry experiences. I wasn't going to post it because I thought it wasn't relevant to this blog. But it turns out my preschool kids will eventually be youth group kids... not to mention the fact that everyone messes up, not just teenagers, so I guess that makes it relevant.

Every act is a spiritual act. It's whether you're aware of the spiritual implications of what you're doing.
-Rob Bell

I see you.
You are bartering. Trading.
Do you know?
Somewhere, you do.
Was it a good trade?

You heard them. You listened.
They lied, but you didn't care.
This will be fun.
Let me show you.
You laughed, but without joy.
You felt release, but no freedom.
You were numb, but still hurting.

What did you bring to the table?
What did you trade?

Come back!
The robe, the ring, the feast...
It's all waiting.
I'm standing on tiptoe, hoping.
I love you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Good Intentions

This summer God has presented me with some incredible and very humbling opportunities to share my faith. As I reflect on those experiences, something jumps out at me. Nearly all of the people I talked to had hang-ups with Christianity because of negative experiences, either with Christians themselves or with Christian education. Some had been turned off by judgmental or hypocritical people who claimed to be Christians. Others had felt forced or pressured into religion through Christian education, then put off further by 'boring' rituals, rote memorization, and graded tests on religious principles.

What scares me about this, particularly as a parent, is not that my kids will be led astray by hypocrital Christians they meet or overly strict Sunday School teachers. My fear is that I will prove no less hypocritical... that the religious education my children receive, whether around the dinner table or at church, will lead them to empty rituals instead of fulfilled relationship. Of course I have the best of intentions for my children... but anyone who admits the existence of Truth must also admit that good intentions are not enough. I don't doubt for a minute that our local Christian high school was founded with the best of intentions. And yet, in the minds of the students I spoke with, the beauty and truth of the gospel has been reduced to a set of motions one must go through. [To be fair, I have also met students from this school who love Jesus and have been radically changed through their relationship with Him.]

Getting back to my point, parental (or institutional) good intentions are not enough. Intending to teach your children the truth about God does not guarantee that they will get it, and apparently they may end up resenting you for it. So what is a parent to do? Some parents take the 'let them find their own way' approach, based on the idea that religion is something everyone has to discover for themselves. I can see where these parents are coming from, to some degree. But how could I hide the love and grace of God from my children? It would be like withholding food from them on the grounds that it will taste better if they go out and find it for themselves. But at a certain point (and here's the hard part), kids need to start making their own PBJ... and making their own choices. I can teach them everything I know about fiber and protein and trans-fats, but I can't and won't go off to college with them and make sure they eat right in the dorm cafeteria.

So I guess that is the same approach we will take with spiritual matters. By our lives and our words, we will testify to our children the love and grace we have received through Jesus Christ. We will pray for them, hoping that as they start making their own choices (and their own PBJs - yay!), they will respond to the good news they have heard and follow Jesus. What happens if they don't? That's a question I don't have answers for.