I spent June 29-July 3 with 6 middle school students and 2 adults in Florence, Kansas at Morning Star Ranch. It was a great time for work, fun and fellowship with those students. We met daily and talked about the 10 Commandments and their application for today. I was blown away by the questions these 11-14 year old students asked. There was an incredible amount of depth and spiritual hunger behind them.
I spent last week, July 5-11 with 86 high school students in Bristow (Big Enough to Accomodate, Small Enough to Appreciate!) Iowa at North East Iowa Christian Service Camp. In addition to co-deaning (which means that Hannah did all the work), I taught a class on media discernment using Britney Spears' "If You Seek Amy" as our media to review, and was a Family leader with a student from Ozark Christian College. We played a lot of dodgeball, ate some great food courtesy of the Huskey's, got eaten by mosquitos, heard some challenging messages and did some service projects. I got an inside view into the lives of 10 high school students. While there were moments of great discussion, the vast majority of the spiritual discussions that we had were shallow.
I learned a few things over the past few weeks:
- Most of the high school students in my group had no idea about why they were baptized. There was no ability to articulate their faith or to integrate it into their lives. Additionally, they had no idea how to study, much less read or apply, God's Word into their daily lives.
- Students are hungry for God's Word. They are spiritually dry and will turn to anything that provides them the slightest bit of satisfaction, no matter how temporary or fulfilling.
- My guess would be that the parents of these students are completely un-engaged in both the lives of their children and their own relationship with God.
- Our churches are doing a lousy job at discipleship, both to adults and students. On the final day of camp, I visited with some girls from another church. While they could not agree on the specifics, they guessed that their church was made of of 25-40 people. But, their high school youth group would be about 8 in numbers. Last year, this church cancelled their Wednesday night youth program because they were "too small". FAIL! 8 high school students is WAY above the 10% rule (if your high school group size is 10% of your congregationsize, your youth group size is average). Here is what this church has communicated to their high school students: "You are unimportant. We don't care". No doubt this church will lament the loss of these students over the next few years as the walk away from both the church and Jesus. They will likely point to culture, temptation, all the usual suspects, but they will never, never, look to themselves.
A few weeks ago, we graduated 4 students from our program who have remained engaged throughout high school, and while it's WAY too early to tell, I think they'll be sticking around. We celebrated this. It is right to.
Remember January-April of 2002? The Taliban were defeated in Afghanistan. With a few dozen Green Berets and the Northern Alliance we toppled a government.
How about May-December of 2003? Iraq was invaded, Saddam Hussein was captured and we had relatively few casualties.
2004-2008 were grim years in Iraq. IED's wounded, maimed, and killed thousands of American soldiers. Innocent civillians were killed by the thousands. It took 4 years to create a strategy that is only now bearing any fruit.
In case you missed it, we're in the process of sending at least 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, and they aren't cooks and PR people. These are battle-hardened troops, taking with them what they learned in places like Fallujah and Anbar.
These 4 students are an anomaly. They are not the norm. When I go through the names of the graduates next year, and the year after, and so on...I'm not so sure of what I see.
I fear that the battle has yet to begin.
- I see an insurgency being created and strategies being formed. I see students who were baptized years ago not equipped for battle because other things have gotten their attention.
- I see little compromises in their lives, and frankly, I see parents doing nothing about it. Students who have no business dating, are. (Reminder: dating leads to one of two things...break up or marriage. At 14, do you really think your daughter is going to marry her current boyfriend?) Students are downloading music and movies illegally online on their computers. Students clothing is getting tighter on the girls, necklines are falling and shorts are rising. The excuse "I can't find anything else" is both lame and a lie.
- Students who are interested spiritually are squashed because their parents do nothing to encourage it. There is no scripture reading in the home, either private or corporately.
- Students are left home, for hours at a time by themselves. So there they sit, ears consuming all the best Beyonce and Nelly have to offer, eyes taking in all the internet has for them. No filters, no guidelines, no guardrails. Why? "Because we listened to bad music when we were kids and we turned out ok."
- We are "cultural christians". We speak of faith and Jesus, but we just talk about them. We say that Jesus meets all of our needs, but we'll work like He has no clue what we need.
- We have a "culturally christian youth ministry". As long as our kids leave our youth group with the intent of being good citizens who can take care of themselves, raise a family, will not get into "too much" trouble, and attend a church maybe even a Christian college, we're ok. After all, we just graduated 4 of them. And look how good we feel about ourselves.