Jesus said to his disciples, "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the seas with a millstone tied around his neck than him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves" (Luke 17:1-3)
Sinning is part of adolescence. Sinning is the natural consequence of young people rebelling and finding their way. That's why youth workers talk a lot about sin. We're good at warning young people about dangers of sin. We talk a lot about aborting, alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography-and we should. And even more than warning kids away from sin, Jesus' admonition to his disciples makes it clear that we're not to cause any of them to sin.
What if our ministries cause little ones to sin? What if our programs cause the little ones to sin?
Think that's ridiculous? I wonder.
See if the following tendencies feel familiar...
When we tell young people that Jesus is the answer to all our problems, when we paint the world as black and white, when we make following Jesus an either/or proposition, when we suggest that young people "just pray, then everything will be all right," when we promise that Jesus always makes us happy and always gives us what we want, we cause little ones to sin.
We know life is much more complicated than "take two Jesus Pills and call me in the morning"
If we're honest, we know not everyone who follows Jesus is happy, fulfilled, or has it all together. Surely we understand that prayer is much more complex than simply requesting and receiving. Even asking "What Would Jesus Do" isn't all that simple-because often we don't know what Jesus would do!
When we promise that life with Jesus is simple, we set up our youth for failure. when we run off in affairs, what do our youth do then? When their senior pastors are caught abusing little children, what are our youth supposed to think then? How do we communicate the harsh, complicated, difficult, wonderful reality that Jesus really is worth following-even when life is blurry, confusing and difficult?
If I witness one more Jesus cheer, If I hear one more "let's have a hand/round of applause/praise offering for Jesus," If I have to endure more pep rally for Jesus, I'm returning my youth ministry I.D. Card Because as much as we criticize and complaining about our media-ravaged society, as much as rant about the evils of MTV and Pop culture, we've imitated them by rushing to create the worlds biggest youth events.
At these events we parade around and glorify all things "beautiful"-the dazzling musicians, the laser shows, the foxes and studs for Jesus. At these events we mesmerize young people with how "cool" Jesus is. These pep rallies give teens the illusion that God is cool, that God is winning, that God is the majority-and that their ministries and youth leaders are cool, too. But what these events don't dare say is that even cool, dazzling, "beautiful" youth workers (adults) are screwed up,broken and constantly in need of Gods grace.
So rather than cheering our young people into the kingdom, maybe we should point them to the the broken, inconsistent, uncool followers of Jesus found in the Bible. Maybe we need to stop pressuring our young people to cheer long enough to prepare them for a world in which the real heroes are powerless, tiny and considered insignificant.
The radical, ugly truth? Jesus was killed by the very people who threw him a pep rally a week before.
What characterizes followers of Christ is that we tell the truth. I'm not talking about doctrinal truth-I'm talking truth truth:Where we talk about our strengths and weaknesses;where we talk about victories and defeats;where we talk about our successes and failures;where we talk about our answers and doubts;where we talk about our joys and depressions;where we talk about or courage and fear.
We talk about all of life. We're not afraid that teens will see life as a struggle every day-and that it will always be so. Most of all, we point them away from us and toward Jesus. We decrease while Jesus increases.
Whats so disturbing about youth ministry today, however is how little truth telling there is.
I've been in youth ministry for 40 years and I wish I could have some of those years to live over again. Oh God, forgive me for causing your little ones to sin. Oh, God, help me to learn from my mistakes. Oh, God, in spite of me, cause all of your little ones to run into your arms.
Oh, God help us all.
**Mike Yaconelli (July 24, 1942 — October 30, 2003) was a writer, theologian, church leader and satirist. Co-Founder of Youth Specialties, a training organization for Christian youth leaders, and The Wittenburg Door (sometimes just The Door), a satirical magazine, Yaconelli was also the pastor of a small church in Yreka, CA - "the slowest growing church in America" as he called it. He and wife Karla used to share their time between Yreka and the Youth Specialties offices in El Cajon, CA.As well as his contributions to the Wittenburg Door, Yaconelli also wrote a number of books for youth leaders, and was a well-received Christian conference speaker. He was a regular at the Greenbelt festival in the UK. On his last visit to Greenbelt, he said:
If I were to have a heart attack right at this moment, I hope I would have just enough air in my lungs and just enough strength in me to utter one last sentence as I fell to the floor: "What a ride!" My life has been up and down, careening left then right, full of mistakes and bad decisions, and if I died right now, even though I would love to live longer, I could say from the depths of my soul, "What a ride!"
Mike was killed in an automobile accident in 2003.