Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World
I’d like to offer some food for thought, so please just hear me out. First of all, we have to begin by embracing what I’ve termed “Christian relativism.”
“Whoa, Brock! What are you saying here?”
I know, I know. Just hold on a minute.
Years ago we did a series for our high school students called “Pick One.” We took controversial issues in the Bible and taught all the different orthodox positions on the topic. For example, we taught on the topic of homosexuality. We looked at the Scriptures together, and then we talked about all of the different views and interpretations of those passages that are accepted by orthodox Christians. We also looked at hell, women in ministry, the end times, and many other issues.
The funny thing is—well maybe it’s not so funny—this discussion brought a lot of heat my way. As you can imagine, both the church leaders and the parents wanted me to just tell the students what to think. However, I was more interested in teaching them how to think. I wanted them to know how gracious and big the faith was. I really don’t care all that much if a student believes in the rapture or not.
So now back to that student who’s chatting with me on the park bench. He’s ultimately asking, “Is there room for all of me in this faith?” Embracing Christian relativism is, as Brian McLaren wrote in his brilliant book by the same name, a generous orthodoxy. What if Christians were seen as being generous? Generous with ideas, generous with theology, generous and patient and tolerant with each other and with the world. Another word for this would be gracious. What if Christians were known for showing grace to each other and the world, first and foremost? Right now the world looks at us and thinks, Christians aren’t even gracious toward each other. I hate to think what they might think of me!
People need to know that the faith is big enough for them. That our orthodoxy is generous and allows for all kinds of positions on all kinds of issues. We need to remember to keep the main thing the main thing. Some things in the Christian faith are just relative. They are minor issues that can sometimes, mistakenly, take center stage. You can be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, and land in a different place on a host of topics and issues. It’s what makes the faith so beautifully complex. And I believe the mystery of such things is a purposeful, sovereign act of God. We must show the world that we can disagree yet still love and respect each other.
To embrace Christian relativism is to embrace a unified faith. It’s to embrace each other. Followers of Jesus must see the beauty in our diversity. To embrace Christian relativism is to actually live out Philippians 2. Check out verses one through four in The Message:
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Does agreeing with each other mean we agree on everything? I think not. It means we agree to love each other, to embrace each other, to honor each other’s perspective. We must show students who are struggling in this post-Christian world what unity really is, what Christian relativism can look like, that we will cherish whatever they faithfully bring to the table as followers of Jesus. Now, I want you to know that I am aware of the danger here, but let me talk about that after my next point.
About a year ago I received an email from a parent telling me that her ninth grade daughter would no longer be coming to our youth group. The family doesn’t attend church, although they consider themselves religious, and the parents felt their daughter’s regular attendance at our church would end up confusing her. In the middle of her email, the mom basically said their family doesn’t believe the things we believe. I wondered which of our beliefs would cause them to pull their daughter out of our group. So I called the mom and asked. Her response was that we probably didn’t agree on hell, homosexuality, and other issues like that. I told her our group focuses on Jesus, and Christians hold to all kinds of positions on those issues. I also stressed to her that all are welcome in our church—but to no avail. We haven’t seen that girl at youth group since. The perception that Christians are closed-minded and not welcoming was just too great for me to overcome in a phone conversation.
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