What I Shared with Students of our Church Tonight
Full disclosure: I am going to be sharing this with the students before you get to read it. Because, well you know … spoilers and all.
Before I tell you what I said to them, I want to tell you why. Sadly, we live in a culture where some people don’t really expect much out of young people.
I mean, we expect them to excel in sports, and scouting, and academics, and extracurricular activities. We expect this because it will help them to get into a good college, and get a good job, and have a nice house, and a safe car, and a 401K, and a comfy lifestyle, and raise kids who will… do … all … the … same … meaningless … crap.
Yea. I said it.
What we don’t so much expect of young people in the church is to read their Bibles, to choose to live life the way God has laid it out. The last thing far too many of us want is for them to grow up and become missionaries to Namibia. We don’t actually want them to learn what it means to suffer for the sake of Christ.
We don’t expect our teenagers to take Jesus seriously when he said things like “Blessed are the meek” or “he who loses his life will find it.”
We don’t expect nor do we challenge students to make hard and sacrificial choices for the kingdom of God.
In the evangelical church for the past few decades we have expected that students would not really enjoy being in church, so we have given them fun activities to draw them in. We have babysat and entertained them right up until their high school graduations and then waved goodbye. And I promise, our stats aren’t great.
So, we no longer have a “youth pastor” and we will no longer have a “youth group.” Instead we hired an assistant pastor who will join the senior pastor in all the ministries of the church, including young adult discipleship.
Our goal is that we will not simply raise 18 year olds who think being in church is fun. But rather that we will raise 18 year olds who have the tools, desire, and knowledge to pursue Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God in all of life.
If you are thinking, “my goodness, he sounds passionate about this.” Then you understand.
The message of the Bible is that all of life should revolve around the kingdom. The message that you will learn from BOTH the Bible and life is that life is hard. Successful living requires hard choices.
Following Jesus as a disciple requires sacrifice and obedience. Not pool tables and ping pong. Sure, we have both a pool table and a ping pong table in our church basement, and we can keep them. But I would set fire to them both if I thought they stood in the way of following Jesus. Hey kids! It’s a bonfire!
I expect adults to be disciples, I expect adults to serve in the church, I expect that if I talk to an adult who regularly attends church they can tell me how they are growing in their walk with Jesus. It is a disservice to expect anything less of a middle or high school student.
So, now that you know the ideas and goals behind my message. Here is the basic content of my message to the students tonight.
Your lives are almost 25 percent over. Based on the average lifespan of an American adult, and the average age in the room, you have already lived between about 18 -23 percent of your lives.
How was it? Have you made a difference with it? Who have you helped?
I believe that sometimes we parents allow you to believe that you are at an age where you should be helping yourself. And in some ways I agree. You are at a great age to learn, and to grow, and to become what you want to be.
What do you want to be?
Do you want to be self centered? Do you want to be a person for the rest of your life that does what is only in your own best interest? Do you want to be wealthy? Comfortable? Secure?
Or do you want to be a person who makes the world better because you spend the next 50 – 60 years living the kind of life that makes the world better?
You need to choose now. Because you will either be learning to become one or the other kind of person. What you do right now will significantly influence what you are in 15, 20, or 30 years.
You might think, “well, I can deal with that later.” But I made mistakes when I was your age that I am still dealing with. There are things I struggle with today because of what I did 25 years ago.
I want you to consider choosing right now to be more than what most adults expect you to be.
There is a verse in the Bible that I think applies to you guys, and I want you take it seriously. It’s in a letter that an old guy named Paul wrote to a younger guy named Timothy. Imagine me, writing a letter to you. Suppose I’ve moved away, I’m no longer with you and you are responsible for leading the church without a pastor. Paul said to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
That idea of looking down doesn’t have to mean they have a bad attitude toward you. Sure it’s possible that older people might think,”what can they know, they are so young.”
But it could also just mean they have low expectations for you. I kinda look down on my dog because I don’t expect him use an actual toilet. He just isn’t smart or clean enough for that.
I want you to choose to set an example.
I want you to consider leading in the church.
I want you to consider reading the Bible with us, bring your bibles with you to church.
I want you to consider serving the church in the sound booth, help us make announcements on Sundays or lead in the service in different ways.
I want you to consider joining a K-Group, either with your parents or on your own.
Bring friends, not just to this room on Wednesday nights, but bring friends to Jesus.
Now, we know this is a season of learning. You are young, and no one expects you to know everything or be perfect in all that you do. There is a great deal of pressure on you to act differently than what I am saying.
So also, come to me for help. Come to Jim. Find other adults in this room or in this church who can help you. We’ve all been where you are and while we there, most of us blew it in one way or another.
It is my hope and prayer that your story will be different. That each of you in 20 years will be able to stand in a room full of people your own age now and say, “I could have made a lot of mistakes following Jesus, but I decided when I was your age that I wanted to be a person whose life made a difference, and I began training for it when I was young.”
To be real simple, here are the commitments I would like you to make this school year.
First, commit to admit when you fail. You will. I still do. Commit that when you fail you won’t argue or defend yourself, but that you will simply admit it.
Second, depend on Jesus. If you double the expected life span and live to be 150 you will still make mistakes. Know and believe that you are accepted and loved by God because of Jesus, not because you are making progress.
Third, Take risks. Risk answering questions in small group. Risk being honest about your struggles, risk volunteering in the church in whatever way you want. Risk helping lead the group of people around you right now.
The generation or two before you has taken a long time to get there. I don’t think you need to take as long. Set an example for us in your life. Teach us and show us that we have been wrong not to expect more from you than we do.
That is, if you want to. Because you do have a choice. You can choose to live for yourself, or you can choose to leave a legacy by pursuing Christ and his kingdom.
Which do you want?