Let’s not beat around the bush: I’m trying to be part of a church youth ministry that will talk about the hard stuff and be confused about it together, and I hate that I feel like I’m in the minority of church leadership in the U.S. when it comes to wanting to engage hard topics from the stage. (pardon my cynicism)
Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like many of my friends grew up in youth ministries that were more concerned with their students having fun than they were about their students knowing how the Gospel gives full hope in the midst of what was going on in the culture around them. Many of my friends were sheltered from the realities of racism, sexism, abortion, sex trafficking, porn, and homosexuality by glaring into bright lights and big production and games on games on games; OR they were taught to ignore it by doing yet another book study with their vastly homogenous friend group.
(I don’t blame them, just so we’re clear. They were just doing what those before them had done. They didn’t know any different. I don’t think it was malicious, but that doesn’t change the reality of the current situation.)
I don’t think that’s all bad. I don’t think middle schoolers need to be as caught up on all the politics that adults have to deal with on a daily basis. That would be a detestable thing to do to students — to strip away their emotional adolescence. However, I think it’s yet another social injustice to force our students into ignorance and to send them off into adulthood having no earthly idea what the world around them looks like.
(Let’s be honest, if my parents hadn’t been straight up with me about the culture in which we live, I think when I got to college, I would’ve given a rude finger and some harsh words to church-people for living in augmented reality and never stepping out of their prim-and-proper Christian bubble.)
But there lies the challenge: how do you protect the emotional innocence of students while still equipping them and sending them into the culture?
Grace. Grace and patience. And I’m bad at those things.
Personally, I think in such a black-and-white manner and my natural expectation for people is to get concepts objectively and be able to think critically about them immediately. But that’s not even how most people work, much less middle schoolers and high schoolers. So it takes being able to take a deep breath and chip away slowly at pre-conceived notions. It takes chronic honesty and a willingness to not know the answers. It takes a willingness to hurt when their hearts begin to hurt for someone who faces injustice. It takes a whole lot of patience and it takes a whole lot of empathy.
We are talking about the Sanctity of Human Life in youth this week, and specifically in that conversation is a dialogue on abortion. My hope for our students is not that they would learn all the stats and have a cold, hard opinion on the policies and legislation that our country has on the matter.
My hope is so much more for our students!
I want them have a deeper valuation of all human life.
When they hear their friends quoting our president about other cultures, I want our students to know that all humans have inherent value apart from their economic states.
When their friends devalue movements such as Black Lives Matter, I want our students to confidently know that Black lives DO matter, because our African-American brothers and sisters are also made in the image of God.
When they hear arguments back and forth about whether it’s okay to kill an unborn baby, I want our students to think about the inherent value of that unborn child and for their hearts to break that it would even be a question to kill the child. Because contrary to what the Left thinks, the child has more value than any human could attribute.
But I don’t want another generation that is baby rights vs. momma rights. I want their hearts to shatter at the injustices that have been done to women for centuries. I want them to raise their voices for the voices of unheard women. I want them to value, protect, and fight on the front lines for women. Because contrary to what Right thinks, the momma has more value than any human could ever attribute.
Jesus valued the economically impoverished (the “shithole countries” if you will) by first inviting the shepherds to his birth scene before anyone else in Luke 2.
Jesus valued the invalids who couldn’t perform and make themselves look all prettied up and perfect before they came to him by healing the paralyzed man in Mark 2.
Jesus valued women by protecting the woman caught in adultery in John 8 (who, for you classic conservatives out there, had “already made her choice” to sleep with the man), and by raising the little girl back to life in Mark 5, and by letting the women be the first to see him after he raised himself from the dead in Mark 16.
Jesus valued other cultures by going out of his way and giving up his time and emotional energy to sit and converse with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.
Jesus values sinners. He valued us before the world began when the Father chose us in Christ to be set holy and blameless before him (Ephesians 1). He valued us when we were DEAD IN OUR SIN, unable to perform and earn the right to be valued (Ephesians 2).
We like to play this game of valuation as if we are all a bunch of estimators for a contractor. But the valuation of human life is not up to us! Our value is solely in the fact that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1-2). Humans never lose their value because they did nothing to earn it in the first place.
You are loved and you are valued.