In our current series of podcasts, Matt Clinton of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and I have been discussing the various struggles that teens face today, especially regarding their identity – who they are and where they fit in.
This week, though, we also talk about the unique victories that the students Matt meets with are having that too often go unnoticed.
Leslie: Throughout our whole lives, our identity is challenged. Even as adults, you and I can sit here and wonder where exactly do we fit in this great big world.
Once upon a time, I was an athlete. In fact, I’m nursing an old softball injury, and having to realize that I may never be able to play softball again. Now, I’ve been playing softball for nearly my entire life, so to look in the mirror and say, “Wow… I’m not a softball player anymore.” That’s a tough thing because we do tend to identify with those types of things… even as “grown ups”.
And, when it comes to identity, it’s getting harder and harder to nail down who we are and who we are supposed to be.
Even when it comes to the very basics, like gender. Princeton University wants to get rid of all gender specific vocabulary throughout the school’s policies and curriculum. And that’s an obstacle that I have to work around, too, as I speak at public schools. I can’t make any assumptions regarding the students’ gender identities or school policies. So, I also have to speak “gender neutral”.
And, quite honestly, I’m great with this. I love all kids exactly where they are at. And I don’t want to alienate any of them.
My point is that all of this compiles on top of the age-old questions that kids ask:
“Who am I? Why am I here? How do I fit in? What is my identity?”
So, all this makes me wonder, what are the greatest victories that kids are having these days?
Matt: It’s interesting these days because I feel like, as a follower of Jesus, we are constantly backed into a corner within today’s culture. There are some people who just lay down and take it, figuring they have found salvation and now they’ll just punch their ticket while they kill time here on earth. But, there are others who are willing to come out fighting out of the corner.
It’s so odd to me that being a Christian has become a counter-cultural phenomenon. But, what I find exciting is that there are some kids, coaches and teachers who are all about that! They are okay with not being in the majority because they know that their identity comes from being accepted by God, not by the people around them.
So, I think that while culturally we may be getting beat back by a variety of different forces from more angles than ever, the nucleus of the kids who are still standing strong for Jesus is as strong as it’s ever been.
And what’s really awesome is that these kids are taking the time to understand who Jesus is, rather than just repeating a mantra that someone at youth group may have told them. A large reason for this is that more and more youth groups are spending more time on apologetics, equipping kids to not only learn about what the Bible says, but apply it to their lives with conversational aspects of Christian reasoning.
Back in the day, the old message for Christian teens was simply: Don’t do drugs, don’t drink alcohol, and don’t have sex before you’re married!
This approach doesn’t work.
It was the equivalent of sticking a giant red button in front of them and telling them, “Just don’t touch this! And that was it. “Don’t push the red button” was how they described faith. That just didn’t work… even for the “best” of kids.
Today, I’m seeing kids taking the time to learn how to simply be an awesome, normal person… while loving Jesus and having conversations about Him and what He wants for us.
That’s a huge victory for today’s teens.
Not too long ago, the Christian on campus may have been viewed as the nerdy kid… the guy who was different than everyone else and didn’t have much to do with anyone else. Today, though, the school’s ASB President, Varsity Quarterback or Point Guard – the people running things among today’s high schoolers – are following and proclaiming Jesus! And, by their nature, these kids aren’t just following along with what we are talking about, but they are leading.
And best of all, these leaders are doing the groundwork in making disciples of Jesus!
Leslie: I was in Youth Ministry for years, and I quoted 1 Peter 2:8-9 all the time:
They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
I’ve learned that when kids learn and own the fact that they are a chosen generation – part of a royal priesthood – then they joyfully find so much more victory than they could ever imagine!
Something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is that we need to be Jesus “in the practical”. We need to take an honest look at ourselves as sinners with real struggles. But, we also need to realize that we have an Almighty God to turn to in the midst of those struggles.
We need to show people that we chose different things because of Jesus, not just out of scare tactics, but because of how Jesus cares for us and wants us to avoid real consequences.
We need to love people like Jesus loved – with dignity, respect and honor for other people.
Matt: Working on high school campuses with FCA, I quickly realized that some of these schools have 3,000 kids on campus. So, one at a time, I’ve gotten to know as many kids as I can. I get to know their stories – what they’re going through, their family dynamics, and so on. But then I quickly am hit with the reality that this kid is just one of
3,000 on their campus. Yet that doesn’t intimidated them at all in standing firm for Jesus. And that encourages me!
Pastor Able Mendez at Calvary Chapel Oceanside puts it this way: “It’s a crazy world and Jesus has put YOU here. That says a lot about what He thinks of you. God knew that all this was coming. He’s not surprised. He’s on the throne.”
So, how will we react?
When I was a teenager, I was equipped, but didn’t step up.
So now, in a lot of ways, I walk around the high schools and I look for “me”. I seek out the kids who might be able to be an influence on their campus, teach them about Jesus, and who they are in God’s eyes. Then I tell them to go out an look for the other kids who are just like that and share God’s word with them.
“Go find me!”
Tune in next week when we will hear how Matt is not only equipping today’s teenagers, but also giving them the courage to boldly step out of their comfort zones and follow Jesus!