The older I get, the more I understand how fast I can get out of touch with youth—their culture, their concerns, and their struggles. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with a few high school students hoping to get some fresh insight. We spoke on several topics, but our conversation continued to swing back to the issue of sharing—or simply living out—their faith. It was a severe point of stress for them—what Jesus demands of them versus what they feel culture allows. I asked where they thought this stress came from. They offered five specific points.
What will people think of me?
Despite what we believe or wish to be the case, social pressure among our students is real. And I’m not talking about the influence of negative peer pressure that most adults dealt with as children. Social media platforms have taken social pressure to an entirely new level. Share Jesus or show your Christian self to the wrong person, and you could drastically jeopardize social standing, friendships, and even opportunities within the school. Browse through Twitter for a second and you’ll see the constant barrage of hate.
But as the adult leader, you are likely thinking that our students ought to willingly endure persecution, ridicule, and scorn for the joy of sharing one’s faith. But if we are honest with ourselves we know that is a lot easier said than done. This is a hard enough obstacle for an adult to overcome. Imagine how difficult it is for our students. Especially in a culture that is increasingly hostile toward Christians.
Actually turning people off to Christ
This is purely a confidence issue. And rightfully so. It is a question of preparedness, and it compels us to ask ourselves as pastors and leaders of youth: Are we thoroughly training them? I know we can’t give them all the answers, but trust me, they are not fretting over deep theological questions that trip up even the best seminary grads. I am talking the simplicity of sharing the gospel, a more in-depth and proper understanding of salvation. And most importantly, how on earth do they confront the sins of their time when much of it is not considered sin?
The students I speak with express a sincere desire to represent Christ well, and they don’t want to be the cause of someone turning from Christ, or worse, coming to him under false pretenses or misunderstanding.
Not really know the baggage people are carrying
Anxiety, depression, social pressures, academic performance, broken families, gender identity and dysphoria, and way too much screen time. All of these and so much more are adding countless pounds to the amount of baggage our students are dealing with day in and day out. But in just a few brief conversations with students, I learned of the incredible sensitivity to each other’s life issues one is dealing with at any given moment. They understand that every problem is highly individualized and unique to each student. Rather than make assumptions, they appreciate the need to peel back the layers before rushing into a Jesus conversation.
Imagine approaching someone you know. Maybe a neighbor, co-worker, or family member. You intend to look for an opening for a great Jesus conversation. You’re not trying to save them right this instant, but you want to see if they are at least open to the idea of Jesus. But the minute they even smell a little bit of Jesus on you, they immediately label you as homophobic, bigoted, hateful, and even racist. Even your best intentions are widely misconstrued as an act of violence directed at them.
Perhaps. But this is the reality on many college campuses and is quickly trickling down to local high schools. The value of honest, intellectual, and respectful debate is becoming a thing of the past. Permission to disagree and offer alternative opinions does not come from debates and arguments, it comes from relationships.
Take a step back and look deeper into the issue and you quickly notice that so much of this boils down to relationships. Almost intuitively, students understand the great power behind building relationships with others and the power it has when we look for open doors for the gospel. Their desire for deeper relationships helps us see the importance of how others see them, judge them, and the baggage others are carrying. This rising generation of students has dialed into something we can all benefit from—relationships. Not just a means to introduce people to Jesus, but a necessary foundation for building community and making disciples.
Spend any time talking with students about sharing their faith, and you will doubt discover they have a sincere desire to help their friends, classmates, and teammates meet Jesus and experience salvation. However, you may also find that we, as leaders, make far too many assumptions. No doubt living out our faith in the public square and sharing the love of Jesus with words and actions is an essential part of what it means to follow Jesus. But I also think we need to appreciate how difficult that can be for the rising generation. Certainly not as an excuse to hide, but so that we can walk alongside them, build confidence in them, support and mentor them.