Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Spiritual Candyland Doesn't Work

“I’m Done with Pizza Parties” (although I still love pizza)
WARNING: This chapter is hazardous to youth ministers and youth ministry

by Kevin Shrum

God uses “means” – stuff, happenings, events – to bring about change. Change needs to come to churches and youth ministries across this nation. Three issues will converge to bring about this change and cause ans explosion of spiritual restlessness and confidence energized by the Spirit of God.

Pizza Party Youth Groups?
First, the movement will come from a resistance to and a fatigue from the spiritually boring and trivial. Students are tired of the “pizza party youth group” where things are a “mile wide and an inch deep” and where people don’t really care about people or the truth. There’s a hunger and a yearning for something more, something deep, brooding, engaging, and powerful. The entertainment model of youth ministry doesn’t cut it anymore (as if it ever did).

Students are tired of the ‘pizza party youth group’ where things are a ‘mile wide and an inch deep.’ There is a hunger and a yearning for something more, something deep, brooding, engaging and powerful.

You know what I’m talking about. It’s where you come to church or attend your youth group meeting and talk about feelings to the exclusion of what God has to say. God cares about what you think so long as you care more about what He has said in His Word.
It’s time to re-learn the truth behind that worn out, cheesy, but true phrase – “It’s not about me; it’s about Him.”
There is no excuse or reason to be boring and uninteresting. Thank God for the technology that has made ministry easier. But how could God ever be boring? While the church is not called to be intentionally boring, neither is it called to “out entertain” the world in an effort to draw people to Christ. It’s silly to think that the church can entertain better than the world. The church will never out “MTV an MTV generation.”

Pepperoni Theology?
The “pepperoni theology” that is learned in the “pizza party youth group” cannot withstand the assault that will come from the challenges of life. College students quickly discover that the shallow, easy-believism of the pizza party youth group from spiritual candy-land doesn’t work in a materialistic, pagan, anti-Christian intellectual context.
This is why the interest level in theology and apologetics is on the rise among college students. They’re playing ‘make up’ for what they should have received in their youth group.
It’s no wonder that in 2007 Holman Bible Publishers released the The Apologetics Study Bible to great fanfare. Students like you are growing weary of a pagan culture that is hell-bent on its own destruction and, at the same time, are rejecting a pop-style theology that is nothing more than a student version of a health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. You want truth and you want it straight up and unvarnished.
This is why, as a student, you must demand a Christ-centered, Word-based student ministry at your church. OK, let’s play, eat pizza, and do crazy things. I’m game for that! But in the end, demand that Jesus Christ and His Word be front and center when it comes to the core of what you’re doing as a ministry.

No More Paris Hiltons, Please
But trivial, pizza party spirituality is not the only seismic cause of the coming tsunami. Second, the renewed sense of boldness I’m talking about is also coming from a rejection of a pagan culture that is bent on the shallow, the silly, and the inconsequential.
It’s still OK to be as current as ever on pop culture phenomenon. I still love SNL and all kinds of music, movies, and cultural icons. Who could resist Tina Fey playing Gov. Sarah Palin? Who doesn’t want to know the latest ‘top ten’ whether it’s music, books, TV shows or the hottest bands? But there’s a growing sense that all the music, TV shows, and cultural icons lead to nowhere fast.
Artists come and go, music changes and evolves, clothing styles change and the “scene” is constantly shifting. The fear killer generation is looking for something more permanent, stable, deep, and grounded.
This is why when I walk into a Starbucks I’ll often see a student reading one of Ayn Rand’s philosophy books (Atlas Shrugged) or a John Piper (Desiring God or Don’t Waste Your Life) book that he/she cannot understand but that who knows it is important and who has been told that it’s worth the read to discover truth and meaning.
For some, pop culture has simply become a hobby instead of a focus of everyday life. Too many Paris Hiltons and Brittany Spearses have given many reason to think about the meaning and purpose of a culture that treats its young as products to be used only to be discarded like so much trash. In other words, some in the pop-culture generation are beginning to seek a depth to life – meaning and purpose beyond skin level.

And I’m Bored with God, Too – The Rejection of Status Quo Christianity!
But there is a third and even more powerful ingredient to this new sense of spiritual and seismic bravery. It is a dissatisfaction and disgust with “status quo, boring Christianity.” Students like you are no less spiritual than previous generations. In fact, it may be fair to say that your generation is as spiritual as any generation in the history of the world.
I hate to say it, but the problem is not with God. It’s with us – me and you – and the organized church. This is why many are not seeking spiritual expression through local, traditional houses of worship.
Fed up with denominational politics, committee structures, stuffy religiosity, and a church that has a limited concern for spiritual and social issues beyond the church the church building and more of a concern for maintaining the organization of the church, students and young adults are setting new trajectories of creative spiritual engagement.
Don’t get me wrong. I love God and His church. But we have made God so boring, so mundane, and so predictable that people even in the church have misconceptions about who God is and what He is willing to do through and for His people. We’ve made God out to be a nice, cuddly teddy bear. We can squeeze Him tightly for comfort, but never fear or stand in awe of Him.
The rejection of “status quo Christianity” is giving new meaning to the term “loyalty”, defining it around truth rather than institutional structures. Labels are out and authentic truth-telling is in. And much of this is coming from your generation that has become jaded by shallow church life, bankrupt doctrine, and rampant hypocrisy.

The Needless War is On!
As a result, needless battle-lines are being drawn between the generations as to what constitutes ‘church,’ a battle that is wrecking havoc in churches, especially in North America. One generation wants sugar-coated, soft, orderly, predictable, kind-hearted Christianity. The other generation wants God raw, powerful, straight-up, exciting, and unpredictable.

A Strange Thing Happened On the Way Home from Youth Camp
But it was inevitable. Think about what happens in your own church. You plan a trip to a camp with a great speaker and an incredible band, worship is intense and small group times break down walls and bring about spiritual renewal.
But then the whole thing “crashes and burns” on Friday when your youth group loads on a bus or a van to return home to for what often feels like a trip back in time. Worship is mundane and not intense, the preaching is not immediate and passionate, and people seem to avoid intimacy with one another. Whatever gains were made on the trip are quickly swallowed up by a lack of passion.
But it’s not all your church’s fault. Many students tend to think that Christianity is nothing but raw emotion. So when the intensity of a week in the Word dies down, so does your commitment to Jesus and His truth.
So, what will it be? The decision is up to you. Will it be the spiritually shallow, the culturally trivial or the religiously boring? Will you fade into the next phase of life only to live a mundane life of your own? Or, will you sow seeds of bravery, courage, and boldness that will lead you to live a life that counts?