This busy-ness has lead to a group that some have referred to as “slacktivists,” half Slacker, half activist. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slacktivism) They are concerned about global issues: poverty, AIDS, hunger, Climate Change, etc. They can usually talk a good talk, and they genuinely want to do something about it, but they are too busy to walk it. Or perhaps they have never been shown how to act. Has being an “activist” really ever been modeled to them in a healthy way?
On that note of “busy-ness,” in the activities they are busy with I have a fear that students are often viewed as “commodities.” Coaches, teachers, perhaps even parents, give off the message of conditional love. “I’ll love you if you win,” “I’ll love you if you make me look good,” “I’ll love you if you don’t embarrass me.” I venture a guess that this conditional love is for the most part unintentional, but loudly communicated through actions. So the challenge for the youth worker becomes how to model and teach unconditional love when all they are used to is conditional love.
“He is an only child and isn’t very good at working with his peers; put him with older students.”
“She is extremely shy and hates to be up front. Let’s put her in snacks or something where she can hide out and serve.”
“She is boy-crazy so watch who you team her with–her dad is not much part of her life and she seems to be seeking that attention elsewhere.”
“He is new to our day school and hasn’t come to church so let’s be sure he gets paired with one of his friends.”
“He has Asperger’s Syndrome so we need to be sure he has a patient, nurturing adult leader with whom to serve. Also, keep him away from younger kids who are too touchy.”
“His parents are going through a divorce so let’s put her with Mrs. Smith who can get anyone to open up.”
It went on and on with one student after another. As I considered that experience later, I realized this was a snapshot of a struggle I’d been having in youth ministry: everybody has a story. We live in a world that focuses on the individual and meeting the individual’s needs. We live in a society that tends to label and categorize people in order to “fix” or at least manage them. We want our youth ministries to meet each student exactly where they are at in their faith development. This is a tall order as we realize that the spiritual is intertwined with the emotional, social, and intellectual.
I am overwhelmed by the virtual scroll I see as I talk to a kid: daddy issues, parents going through a divorce, brother has special needs, confused about his sexuality, poor social skills, not as smart as his older siblings, ADHD, parents are out of work, spoiled, ignored at home, etc. There are so many issues with this one and that one that I can barely keep them straight.
Each student seems to require special attention and consideration. As students and their parents grow in their trust of a youth minister, more and more time is spent dealing with the family and interpersonal issues (divorce, questioning sexuality, depression). The time to help students grasp God’s word and basic doctrine seems to slip away. As I prepare a Bible study or get ready to lead a small group, I find myself struggling to find the one-size-fits all message that will connect a student’s hurts, needs, and limitations to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are also far more ways for youth to spend their free time, some healthy, some unhealthy. Like it or not, technology isn’t going away. When we were younger, maybe we played video games at the arcade or on our Nintendo, but today kids are immersed in gaming both on home systems and online. They’re connected to the internet 24/7 by their phones. They’re checking Facebook, emailing, and texting at all hours. So how do we get them to put down the phone and interact with the people right in front of them?