Finding agreement points across large cultural demographics requires keen judgment today. A verse almost every human being benefits from remembering is Luke 6:41, “Why do you look at the speak of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” We need more Grace! We see everything wrong with other people but want a free pass every time we fall short. Grace is vanishing from society. Absent from our homes, schools, and work environments; athletic arenas, and roadways; grace has disappeared! (The next several posts will look at rediscovering grace in these places.)
Recently a long-time youth worker friend described his youth group challenge. He found success for several years growing teen disciples by guiding them through the Christian Endeavor tenets, specifically the pledge and practices. These teens graduated and a new student core emerged. About twenty teens normally appear at the church’s weekly youth gathering. He diligently instructed the teens on the C.E. pledge and practices. This group’s defeated reaction toward the pledge over months of training confused him. Why was something so successful with one group having trouble getting off the ground with new students. As I asked questions about the teens, I learned the previous group had been primarily from families connected to the church. Both mother and father lived in most of their homes. Eighteen of the twenty new teens came from divorced homes who were also not “church kids” but came from the surrounding community.
After processing this we realized grace was one reason the C.E. approach stalled. Grace was missing from the new student equation! The previous teens heard the C.E. practices “Pray, Study, Serve, Share, Worship” and accepted a challenge to grow closer to God. The new teens heard the same words and recoiled feeling weighted down by authority and unrealistic expectations. In essence, the first group saw opportunity where the second group experienced what I am calling the vanishing grace syndrome (VGS). The C.E. practices are only what God asks of all believers, so how do we prepare youth for lives as Christ’s disciples?
Traditional youth ministry practices use events and periodic gospel presentations to reach teenagers. Teens with VGS may attend events and listen to “the sinner’s prayer”, but what they are really longing for is authentic relationships over time. They need to absorb the gospel bit by bit gradually moving toward a place where they are prepared to hear more. This will be a place where they are encouraged to “Pray, Study, Serve, Share, and Worship.” Instead of recoiling from something that feels legalistic and wreaking with authoritative overtones, they will embrace a path toward intimacy with the God they are beginning to know.
So in the end youth workers, parents and pastors: reaching many VGS teens (and increasingly many adults are in this camp as well) requires patiently modeling the very grace people do not understand. Then what seems to have vanished, through Holy Spirit power, may become visible to them.
By the way, Christian Endeavor begins its work on the new resource “Grace Encounters” in 2017. Helping people guide VGS teens to embrace grace and take steps toward intimacy with Christ.