A place of writing and reflection…
It puzzles me these days to see so many children and youth who don’t make it—and further more are not expected to. (Keep in mind I’m not talking about those in foreign, third-world countries were this may be common practice, but here, in the United States.) It’s sad really that we raise our youth with an expectancy to fail; to get pregnant or end up in jail.
I remember being started by the stark difference of staff at my high school compared to that of my elementary. Talks that once began as “You can do it” and other efforts to raise self esteem, suddenly became bleak statistics of the likelihood of you failing in life:
“By the time your such and such age, you be this likely to get pregnant before finishing high school or this likely to be hooked on some drug or another. If you’re lucky you’ll rob somebody and go to jail or develop a dependency on mom and dad and they’ll take care of you for the rest of your life. Inevitably…you’re doomed.”
By the time I got to high school it was already predicted that before graduation I would either be pregnant or blow up the school because I was one of the ‘quiet ones’—dubbed so shortly after the horrific Columbine Shootings.
Sounds a bit backwards doesn’t it?
Working with a youth ministry in my neighborhood, I found the same to be true for the youth coming after me. One young man held a hatred toward the church because a deacon had called him a ‘son of Satan’. Several others had parents who drank or got stoned or had witnessed some sort of violence in the home. Still a few others came from homes broken by divorce or other family issues.
The problem is these kids are surrounded by low standards and nor are they expected to rise above them.
“You’re no better than your parents. You’re just like so-and-so. Why should you expect to do any better? You live in the ghetto—nobody makes it big from there.”
It almost makes me want to cry.
Looking back on my days in youth group, those same painful statements left a mark on not just me, but a majority of the other youth there as well. While there was rebellion among the lot, I believe it was out of a need to be pushed to to better.
When I first began attending church at the age of fifteen, a couple was in charge of the youth and while they took us for various fun activities, there was a standard held. We weren’t allowed to act certain ways, or dance certain ways, or talk certain ways. When they moved on from the church another gentleman and his wife took over—that’s when the rebellion set in.
I remember problems first showing up with the yearly youth camp trip our church took every spring. The typical pranks with shaving cream on your pillow or mustard and ketchup in you shampoo bottles escalated. It was to the point that the youth pastor quit on grounds of the youth being unrighteous brats—I’ll give him that. On the other side, little had been done to stop it.
Needless to say the next youth pastor to come on the scene was just as likely to get it. After all, he would have his hands full with thirty plus youth who were angry and bent on rebellion.
Observing the drama myself, I stepped out of the church for a time until a friend invited to me come back and see the new leadership over the youth. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the guy I saw leading.
His name was Johann: a white guy from South Africa who talked with a rather unique accent. I say unique in that the youth had already picked up on the way he pronounced particular words like ‘hotdog‘ and ‘hamburger‘ and made jokes out of it. Added to that was the fact that he was working in a largely hispanic church, in a mostly hispanic neighborhood.
He began by putting a group of youth a leaders over the rest, and setting boundaries. He put up with a lot of junk from both youth and adults alike, but he hung in there and slowly but surely a Christ-centered environment was set. In the midst of that, there was lots of pushing and encouragement to ‘raise the standard’ as our shirts from VBS said one year.
Evangelism Explosion was a course—for youth and adults—to teach Christians how to present the gospel in an easy to understand format, while at the same time ministering to those in the community. At first it was to be an adult only course, but Johann pushed for us to take it as well—and not the youth curriculum. The adults and leaders had their doubts, but at the end of the class about thirty youth, many with honors, and two adults graduated the course.
For the California trip we had to raise all the money necessary to make the trip and back on the church’s infamous blue van dubbed ‘Old Blue’. Johann estimated total costs to be about $10,000. The church said he was crazy. The rest of us set to work doing various fundraisers, out of which simple bake sales and lemonade stands were banned. Johann along with the other leaders challenged us to use our heads and be more creative than the average joe. It took a while and much labor, but the money was raised and the trip was a success, even getting placed on the front page of a popular newspaper called the Baptist Standard.
Like wise the Bible offers us examples in a number of young people doing incredible things because they refused to keep a low standard:
David, a country boy who grew up in the boonies, slew Goliath—though only a teen—with a rock and a sling. Though later he was chased as an animal by Saul, he became Israel’s first great king and was also recognized for his musical talent at an early age.
Many of the disciples weren’t past their twenties yet when they began to follow Christ and yet three are credited with writing the gospels. Not only that, but many were given honor as ‘the real deal’ by some of the top historians of the day.
Yet these also had all the stats against them—poor, little education, broken homes, thieves, liars, and back stabbers. But even with all that against them, they still became some awesome people. They set the example because they refused to lower their standards. How many people can you think of who refused to lower the standard?
You see its not so much about where you come from or the odds against you. Everybody is going to run into opposition at some point whether it be a classroom, a job, co-worker or politics. We don’t make it any better with name calling or blame-shifting either.
Rather we must raise the standard as Christ did and chase after it.
Copyright The Faithbook 2011