Casual reviews of MTV, summer blockbusters, so-called reality TV, Teen magazine, or any top-40 radio station demonstrate just how far Christianity has fallen in relation to the lives of our kids. More than 50 youth leaders gathered in October 2003 at Mission America’s National Leadership Forum, to consider how we might strategically engage youth culture for Christ in the face of the seemingly increasing irrelevance of evangelical Christianity to urban communities.
We took a historical perspective as we considered how to produce revolutionary results. We looked to the Continental Congresses of 1774, when our nationâ€™s original freedom fighters met in the first of a series of gatherings to coordinate a collective response to tyranny. Rather than presume to be experts, they confronted new and historic challenges with outside the box thinking, audacious resolve, and a determination that ultimately declared independence in 1776 and birthed the grandest socio-political experiment in history.
As a local coalition of urban youth leaders, we face a no less daunting task when one examines the condition of our youth today. As a result of our discussions four key strategic objectives emerged from the gathering. These items form the foundation of our mission.
Established ministries and leaders must replace the popular myth that â€œyoung people are the futureâ€ with the truth that they are â€œthe church of today who hold the future.â€ All too common in our churches, the myth produces well-meaning adults who might intend to inspire future calling, but do so at the expense of present purpose. It provides cover for condescension, and directly contradicts Biblical precedent, including Paulâ€™s admonition to Timothy to let no one look down on young people.
The Church must commit to empower youth leadership and integrate youth ministry into the life of the larger Church body. Too often, youth ministry is viewed as a stepping stone to something more, with youth groups ghettoized into junior congregations with de facto junior holy spirits. Even worse are senior leaders who treat youth workers as threatening, and senior congregants who disdain them as â€œtoo young.â€ Genuine empowerment requires an investment of resources and a willingness to release authority to people on the frontlines who engage teens everyday, especially peer leaders, as well as grace to cover their failures.
Evangelicals must embrace and facilitate meaningful mentoring relationships that are lifestyle-based, not programmatic. Too many spiritual Joshuaâ€™s are leading people into the Promised Land without preparing a new generation of leadership for sustainable success. Further, at a time when 19.6 million kids live without dads in their homes (and 23.2 million live in homes without either or both parents), we must follow our heavenly Fatherâ€™s lead in becoming fathers to the fatherless, while maintaining accountability and integrity.
The Church must resolve, in no uncertain terms, to engage the culture holistically. The question must no longer be â€œshould we engage,â€ but â€œhow do we engage,â€ recognizing that Jay-Z, Britney, and MTV exert more influence on teen values than the church does because they have become better fishers of men than we are. As perverse as some of their songs and lifestyles might be, they nevertheless identify with kidsâ€™ pain and address their needs in language they understand and a forum they frequent, while we have evacuated the forum in order to entertain ourselves.