Have we created a spirit of fear, in our children and even our selves that is hindering our ability to share the gospel?
A few days ago, I read an article from Relevant Magazine, that has me camped out on this question. The article, “3 Youth Group Lessons I’ve Had to Unlearn” was originally written for youth leaders, but it is entirely relevant to the body of believers.
I’m just going focusing on the first of these three lessons:
1. Your Classmates/Peers/Friends/Teachers are Going to Persecute You for Your Faith.
One of the recurrent themes in my Christian youth was the pressure to stay strong for God around peers and teachers who, I was told, would be antagonistic toward my beliefs. So many talks and sermons and rally-sessions wrapped tight around this topic, constricting my chest with the urgency of knowing how to accurately and compellingly disseminate the specifics of the Christian faith to others—even if they mocked me for it.
I spent the duration of junior high and high school braced against the entire student body, sure that they secretly mocked/hated/despised me. I wore Christian T-shirts like some kind of bullet-proof vest. I memorized all of the brilliant apologetic arguments in favor of Christianity in case any teacher or student ever cornered me in the hall and forced me to debate my faith.
But no one ever did.
What actually happened is that I distanced myself from everyone who didn’t believe like I did. It wasn’t that they didn’t like me—it was that I had barred my arms in an eternal defensive pose, and no one could even get close. So after a while, they stopped trying.
I understand that there are places in the world where persecution exists. And it’s is not something to take lightly. But the American cultural climate, right now, is not violent toward Christians. And despite the popularity of Christian movies like God’s Not Dead, I’d argue that 99 percent of teachers are not in it to shatter students’ faith. And yes—kids can be cruel. But, in the land of first-world problems, it’s usually not about anything quite as noble as religious beliefs.
I’d love to see youth pastors and teachers who refuse to play into that “Us” and “Them” paradigm. Who encourage, instead, their students to understand that we are all so much the same—complicated and quirky and broken and beloved.
Instead of teaching kids that Jesus is something we have and they don’t, let’s teach them to look for the bright image of God in each person that crosses their paths.
We are called to be bold about our faith, we are supposed to encourage our children to stand firm in their faith… but then we negate that lesson by saying “and you are going to be picked on for it”. Anyone who has raised a child knows that is not going to turn out well. These are kids who are desperately trying to fit in, and we are telling them to do something that will hinder that.
No wonder they avoid it like the plague.
To date, however, I can not think of ONE SINGLE INSTANCE where my daughter came home with a story about the girls who wear hijabs being picked on, or that anyone gave the Jewish kid a hard time when he passed out his Bar Mitzvah invitations. Please do not think me naive that discrimination doesn’t happen in these cases elsewhere in the world. But, for our town, this has been a non issue.
So why then, are we telling our Christian teens that they will be made fun of for it?
Which then led me to additional thought… if they are being made fun of, is it because we as a culture have said it’s ok to do it… because Christians expect it? Have we taught a spirit of fear to our children vs. a expectation of respect that other religions demand?
When I was in high school, we had several different clubs/events that would happen that were “Christian” and I went to a public school. I remember being intrigued by it, because it seemed like such a bad idea…. putting a target on their backs to be made fun of. I watched from the side lines. No one made any derogatory comments about the club, or showed up in protest about their on campus events. If they didn’t like it, if they didn’t share those same beliefs, they just went on about their business as usual.
But, for those who did… and watched from the sidelines… it created a feeling of safety. It is ok to claim this as your faith, no one here is going to hurt you for it. In fact, they really couldn’t care less about it.
What if we said something different to our kids? What if we said something like….
Your school is made up of a lot of different kids. They come from different countries, with different traditions. They come from different religions, with different rules and celebrations. Just like they have their beliefs, we have our beliefs. Not everyone is going to agree with you, and not everyone is going to understand you. That is ok. You are not going to totally understand everything they do and celebrate either. You just continue to be you, answer their questions, don’t get into arguments or debates. It isn’t worth it, take the higher road. Love them anyway, be kind to them regardless of what they say.