The church throughout its history has struggled with what it means to be in but not of the world. John captures Jesus’ thoughts on this matter stating in John 17:14 “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” Further, Jesus goes on in verse 15 saying that “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” It is in this latter portion of Jesus’ statement that we are reminded that we are in the world with God, even while we clearly know that we are not home and true part of the world.
The church does not always have the best reputation in the community. We are all too often seen or known for those things we stand against rather than what we stand for. This does not in any way lessen the need for the church to stand against particular moral issues in our culture, but perhaps it does speak to the need to rethink how we approach communicating the stands which we take. Additionally, if the church is already known in the community for the positive impact that it tries to have, perhaps we will better earn a hearing for those issues where we must stand against the current direction of the culture.
The Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) found that churches that are Growing Young spend more of their efforts enabling young people to know what it means to be a good neighbor locally and globally, rather than on “condemning the world outside (their) walls”. Here I think I need to make a distinction that FYI does not. There is a difference between the need for clear doctrinal statements issued from a national church body and the living out of those doctrinal positions by the local church. By their very nature doctrinal statements issued in order to maintain pure teaching on the part of a denomination must sharply divide truth from false teaching. It is then the work of the local church to embody this true teaching with love in Christ.
This opens that door for dialog with younger generations. The LCMS Youth Ministry Office study of Millennials and the LCMS found that young people who maintain healthy, strong relationships with leaders in their churches were more likely to remain connected even despite differences in beliefs related to many of the issues that the church has had to take a stand on against the culture. This ongoing dialog creates the space in which young people can explore Opportunities to Serve and Lead with church leaders and ministry staff from more seasoned generations. While those of us leading churches are having to adjust to changes in the culture and adapt our understanding of what it taking placed in it, younger generations are able to offer more of an inside view. Together the wisdom of age and the perspective of youth can work together in order to faithfully witness the love of Christ without compromise communicated into the culture with a more nuanced and accurate understanding of current trends within the culture.
This takes much listening to take place across generations, which in turn lays the foundation for much trust and deep relationships. Having Supportive Adults who are willing to walk with young people long-term listening and learning with them helps young people to Discover a Resilient Identity in Christ. In the midst of discussing the connection between the needs of our culture and the gifts that the church has to offer, young people are able to grow in their understanding of how they can develop Opportunities to Serve and Lead which in turn directs them toward a personal exploration in which they are able to Discover a Resilient Identity in Christ.
Seeing the church as a place where the concerns of our culture are addressed by the Word of God and the serving spirit of God’s people, youth are able to explore their own role and thus identity as a follower of Christ. When the ideologies of our culture run counter to the teachings of the church, young people who are nurtured to explore those differences openly with Supportive Adults and Engaged Parents who open God’s Word and confront the often difficult nature of those differences and the personal implications of remaining faithful to Christ in word and deed.
One of the key aspects of helping young people to Discover a Resilient Identity in Christ can be seen in the idea of their having humble confidence. This speaks well to the large culture and positions young people well to be able be the Best Neighbors possible. The church should aid young people in developing their knowledge of Scripture and through that knowledge a confidence in the faithfulness of the risen Christ. Yet, that confidence is best received by our culture when offered in humility. Christians are routinely viewed as narrow minded for our firm stance related to the nature of the truth claims of the Gospel, yet I believe that when we are able to approach those truth claims humbly we can better win over people to at least listen to the position of Scripture. Notice that I did not talk about my position or our position, but the position of Scripture.
The fact is, Scripture calls on Christians to affirm truth claims that are not always easily incorporated into our own lives. When we are able to humbly admit when we struggle with Scriptures reshaping effects on us, we acknowledge that seeking the truth of Christ and conforming our lives around His teachings and trust in Him, is not a matter of our being right and winning an ideological argument, but rather seeking to truth even when it hurts.
Through this exploration young people Live Out Their Unique Vocation as they find their own personal calling to bring Christ’s truth to bear in our culture. Whether that is through church work, business, or creative arts (maybe even as YouTuber whose content can provide a positive influence on their peers), young people are able to live out their Christian faith as the Best Neighbors they can be, making a positive impact on their communities.