I think one of the greatest gifts I've been given is that I've had the privilege to not only work in different church denominations and traditions but to travel around the world and rub shoulders with Jesus loving people who are varied when it comes to their theology. These experiences and these relatonships have humbled me. I think its one of the greatest gifts God has given me - His diverse Church. What has happened it that I've grown in affection for those with a range in thinking within the Church. Now, I've written about this in my book, Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World, and I am convinced, more than ever, that the way forward to reach this post-Christian generation is to show them an orthodoxy that isn't narrow, isn't closed minded, but it's wide and deep, and there is room for them, their ideas, and their journey in the faith. Christian orthodoxy is really REALLY big and it's LARGE enough to handle their questions, their thinking, and their understanding as a young person. They don't need to fit into our personal tradition's box (which by the way, encompasses only a small part of Christian orthodoxy). Do I really need a 16 yr old to land on minor tenants of the faith? I'm in my 40's and I'm still trying to figure those things out! So how does this play out in the lives of students and emerging adults? What does this look like in real time?
Recently I was having coffee with a college student and she looked across the table at me and said, "Brock, I just don't think I can be a Christian any longer because of some issues I have with the church. I've changed my thinking on so many things and I just don't think I fit anymore."
Now I can tell you that as a youth worker,
this is one of the scenarios that just breaks my heart.
They think that because they are thinking differently
about non-orthodox questions, that they have to leave the faith.
That there's no room for them.
We long to show students and emerging adults, who are still forming their beliefs, theology, and understanding of faith, that our orthodoxy is generous. There's room for them. It's big enough, and so is God.
So I looked at this amazing girl, who has been struggling with the political stuff she hears some in the church spewing, and I and said, "Sorry, but you have to be republican and believe that homosexuality is a sin or else you need to leave the faith, and you'll probably go to Hell." NO!!! I didn't say that! I let her off the hook a bit. I kept her open to this quest of following Jesus.
I said, "Look, there are so many people like yourself who are following Jesus, who aren't republican, who don't think homosexuality is a sin, and they love Jesus. Christian orthodoxy is really big!"
But, I have to say, you cannot just leave it that - if you just say, "Hey, believe whatever you want to believe, it doesn't really matter", it is a form of abandonment out of laziness.
When I meet with students who are processing really important things, particularly minor issues of of the faith, I am required to help them journey through that stuff. But I do it humbly. If they land somewhere where I am not, but are still following Jesus, I am totally fine with that, because I know they've done the hard work. I know because I was there. This is the difficult part of pastoring, ministering, or parenting. Sometimes those we minister to or those we are raising land in a different place than we are. But have we created an environment of grace where discourse is welcome? Have we been warm? Have we showed them and been honest with them? Have we demonstrated and represented the truth = that our orthodoxy is big, and there's room for them.
Now some reading this right now might be feeling a bit uneasy. I understand it, I get it, trust me... But the reality is that someday you and I will be living in a diverse community called the eternal state. We as a Church living in the New Jerusalem made up of people who, right now, differ with each other on major theological and political issues. You might as well get used to it now because you never know who might end up being your neighbor.
But I wanted this young woman to know that Jesus is with her in the midst of her journey. That he believes in her. Plus, that reminded me of something that I always need to be reminded of: the Holy Spirit will produce a choice fragrant fruit in her life, convicting and comforting and I can trust him with her.
Youth ministry is not easy in today's world. Man, there's so many questions. Our world, that they are growing up in, is just so complex. Lets show them a BIG faith that they can live and grow up in.
May you create an environment where people you are caring for, can experience the warmth of God. May they have an overwhelming sense that they are safe and loved and that God is with them. And may they experience all of that, through you.
To read more about this issue as well as other complex things =) check out my book, Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World.