This last week I got in the mail some response cards from some of my students who went to a local summer camp. On these cards my students checked the box that they had said yes to Jesus and have made some sort of faith commitment.
In my faith tradition this encounter went something like this:
Now with every eye closed and every head bowed, I would like to give you an opportunity to respond in faith to Jesus. If you want to say yes, say this prayer with me, “Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I trust and follow you as my Lord and Savior. guide my life and help me do your will. In your name, Amen.”
This handful of students prayed this prayer! Praise God! Hallelujuia!!
But on closer investigation, I have realized that this prayer makes absolutely no sense in their world view!
It may be different in your context, the but students I work with have no touch points with words like, “Lord,” “sinner,” or even “forgiveness.” My students are the center of their own universe, entitled to fulfill their own dreams, and accountable to no body. If someone has a problem with them, even if a teacher fails them, the problem is not them, but those outside their universe who don’t understand them or support them.
I know you are thinking that of course our kids are sinners, of course they are broken, of course they need a savior and forgiveness. You may think this, and this may even be true, but it doesn’t compute to our post-modern, post-christian students.
So, if our students don’t think they are sinners in need of a savior, or broken in need of healing, what angle of the good news is needed to be both true to the biblical message as well as have true touch points with our students cultural context?
As entitled, self-righteous, self-centered, and connected as our students come across, every single one of them when given the safe chance to share all share the common story of being lonely, isolated, friendless, and wrestle with the anxiety of keeping these emotions under wraps.
It is this “thin place,” this cultural reality where the gospel of Jesus actually gets to become good news to students. Our students don’t know how to have real friendships anymore. Their family structures are crumbling, and they don’t even know how to not compare their lives to the seemingly amazing lives of their peers on instagram and facebook. It is in this lonely, depressed, and anxious state that Jesus invites our students to be adopted into His family!
Adoption can become the gospel metaphor for this generation. It validates their lost and loneliness. It validates their lack of identity and purpose, and invites them into the family of God!
This family has an amazing Father, millions of sisters and brothers who actually belong to one another, and resources to empower these kids to take up the family business, to be partners with our brother Jesus as we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
This is a paradigm that I am wrestling with as I am trying to address this changing landscape of student ministry. What are the “thin places” you see in your context? What is the good news that connects with your students?
Ben Kerns has been investing in students for over 15 years, and is still going strong. He regularly blogs at averageyouthministry.com and attempts to tweet on @averageym. He has been blessed to spend the last 7 years of his ministry at Marin Covenant Church, in Novato, CA, where he lives with his wife and 2 kids.