It stems from a parenting philosophy that aims to protect children. It comes from a noble place of wanting the absolute best for our kids. We want every success for them. We want them to experience every victory, only the positive, and no pain or evil. After all what good intending parent, youth leader, or pastor would wish for anything less?
From the moment I entered student ministry to the moment I held my oldest daughter for the first time–even today, I constantly battle my tendency to carefully wrap them in bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and clearly mark the package fragile.
And it is a trend that is setting our students up for failure. We are preparing the road for our children rather than preparing our children for the road ahead. As a result, we are raising a generation obsessed with safety. Take a glance at any of the latest research being done on the rising generation. It reveals an overwhelming desire to avoid risk. College campus features safe spaces at every corner, not just protecting them from real physical threats of some kind, but from the danger of ideas that students might not agree with. On many college campuses across the country, to disagree is commit an act of violence. Growing up, I wanted to get to college and have a voice so that I could be considered and treated like an adult. Today students expect the same activism, but to be treated as children. Simply put, the rising generation is in no hurry to enter adulthood. And they are not ready for it either.
If we are not careful, clearing away the obstacles in the path of our students will damage their faith. It will impair their ability to persevere and their ability to grow in Christ. We want our students to have a tremendously powerful faith. Powerful and strong enough to move mountains and confident enough to change the lives of the people God has placed around them. But the kind of faith we hope for our youth is the kind that is refined and tested. The sort of faith birthed out of perseverance, trials, and testing is the kind that is proved genuine, purified by fire, and brings us closer to Christ (1 Peter 1:6-9).
I believe our faith depends on it.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could promise and deliver a hassle-free, stress-free, failure-free life for our kids and the students we lead? But the reality is that we are never guaranteed that Jesus will take on the role of the lawnmower parent and remove every obstacle and hindrance in our paths so that we might only know peace, prosperity, and unrelenting success. We are, however, promised difficulty, strife, and the filth of sin staining our lives—precisely the reason we need Jesus. So why do we as parents, pastors, and youth leaders insist on preparing the road for our students rather than preparing them for what lies ahead? The rising generations don’t need adults filling potholes, and laying down a fresh coat of asphalt so they can spend more time admiring the view. Instead, they need the tools and preparation for the journey ahead—as it is, not how we would like it to be.
Encourage experiences that teach and embrace the failure that comes with it
Not the kind of experiences that will hurt them or tempt them to sin, but the kind that will teach—sometimes through success, but often through failure. I have never met a person that has not affirmed experience as the greatest of all teachers. But I have also met very few parents that allow that teacher into their home. Expect failure, embrace it, and be the first person to help students up when they fall. We expect pain in so many other arenas of life. If you play sports, you expect sore muscles, learn to play guitar and the strings will make your fingers bleed, study any academic discipline long enough and you’ll experience mental exhaustion. Why would faith be treated any different?
Learn alternative viewpoints
It is so easy to shelter students from non-Christian influences. With brains that are still developing, why not keep them from ideologies contrary to Scripture? Because we are called to engage the world with the gospel, not hide from it. The best time to expose students to other viewpoints and ideas is before they head off to college—allowing the presence of good mentors, teachers, and parents to help students process those ideas inside a biblical framework. Yes, it will challenge them in their thinking, but it will also help solidify what truth is. If Christianity is, in fact, true, then we shouldn’t fear views to the contrary.
Support calculated risk-taking
The most natural thing in the world to do is play life safe. But God does not call us to safety, he calls us out on a mission—a mission full of risk—financial, social, even our own lives can be at risk. We admire the risk takers, the ones who fought against the odds—and beat them. We love the underdog stories, so long as it doesn’t conflict with our desire to be safe. I have even caught myself telling my young to children to, “be careful” when the risk was rather minimal. Imagine how that narrative translates throughout years of “being careful.” How can we expect the next generation to have a strong faith if we have taught them to always be careful?
Our faith is something we work out, we form over the years, and refine through experience—many of which require heavy reliance on patience, perseverance, and even resulted in failure. This is a kind of faith that Jesus said would move mountains. This is the kind of faith that took a small band of followers of Jesus into a worldwide movement of millions. This is the kind of faith we want for our students. Instead of teaching our students how to stay safe, let’s show them how to live the life God desires for them.