3 Disturbing Cultural Trends Youth Pastors Need to Address
“I really like Jesus, but I have no intention of following him.” I was dumbfounded, but that is what they told me. They sincerely believed that to be a Christian only meant they had to like or appreciate Jesus and some of the things he said. Jesus was nothing more than sort of a model citizen and loving like he did means accepting people for who they are and affirming them in whatever lifestyle they chose. To do otherwise was a heinous act of hatred. The symptom of this ideology has been called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Essentially the idea that what matters is being a good person. And being a good person means the negation of truth. Because truth presupposes exclusivity. And exclusivity is hateful and hurtful.
The underlying root cause is our culture’s recent dive into what is now call post-truth. From college to elementary school, students are being taught that all ideologies are equal and all ought to be embraced simultaneously. Now, simple logic would reveal this cannot be true. In terms of worldviews, two opposing ideologies cannot both be true. You can’t believe Jesus to be the only way to the Father but also believe in reincarnation. They don’t fit — a clear contradiction.
The western world is officially post-Christian — actively rejecting Jesus and the gospel. This is forcing churches to face some new challenges. Nowhere is this challenge more important in Christendom than in our youth groups and families. Parents and youth leaders work tirelessly to ensure that our students are discipled and given every opportunity to own their faith so that they might walk in faith boldly as they enter adulthood. But here is the problem: Our efforts are falling short given the overwhelming and deafening sound of the world’s lies. Even as I write, I worry that my language is too strong and my analysis too bleak, yet I cannot turn a blind eye to what see every day.
These trends are seeping their way into the church. We don’t mean for them to, but in our efforts to fill buildings in hopes people will hear the gospel, and in our efforts to connect with a fast-changing culture — with every other organization is outpacing the church in its ability to connect — we are showing signs of compromise.
I want to offer three of these trends here:
1. The Bible is ignored.
In his book, Hope of Nations, John S. Dickerson commented that “any ministry or family that abandons the authority of Scripture is one generation away from abandoning Christianity entirely.” It is no surprise when we hear atheists, agnostics, or other opposing worldviews discount the Bible’s authority over our lives. However, twenty years ago, that opinion was still considered the minority. This is no longer the case.
In our post-truth, post-Christian culture, the western world has gone so far as the demand the removal, influence, and relevancy of Scripture. To do otherwise is to actively promote a hate-hate-filed agenda — creating a perceived need for the church to compromise. In our pursuit to appease culture, to be relevant, liked, retweeted, and shared, the church is dangerously flirting with putting her needs over God’s desires.
2. Service is more social than gospel.
There is no shortage of philanthropy, non-profits, organizations that donate profits, even individuals that live incredibly generous lives. Their stories inspire us to be like them. Giving is contagious. There may not be a shortage of giving, but there is a shortage of the gospel. Our world’s poverty will never find its solution in our attempts to remedy external needs. The solution is not external, it is internal. The solution is the gospel. The mission of every follower of Christ is not only to serve as a reflection of the risen Christ bringing redemption and rescue to ends of the earth, but also to proclaim the gospel and the reason for the hope that lies within.
Generally speaking, our students appreciate the ability to give back. They feel the need and are more than willing to lend a hand. But the good they are willing to do falls far short of good without the gospel.
3. Sin is a moving target.
We desperately want to believe in the goodness of humanity. We want nothing more than to hold on to some kind of delusional hope that people are inherently good, resulting in an increasing need to excuse many of the world’s sins. The line between what is moral and immoral is a constant moving target. The times when we sought after biblical, family values are becoming a distant memory. We have replaced the doctrine of total depravity with a new doctrine of acceptance and affirmation of nearly any kind of behavior. After all, who are we to judge the result? No need for Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, or resurrection, or even Jesus at all. If sin is marginalized then what do we need saving from?
As we seek to disciple our students in youth group, our own children, coach our teams and lead our small groups it is important to recognize the cultural trends of the western world. As students hang out at home or walk through the church halls, it is far too easy to forget about the difficult world our students are navigating every day. As pastors, parents, youth leaders, coaches we must show our students what it means to submit to scriptural authority, recognize our depraved state and the need for Jesus, and be bold proclaimers of the gospel.
I firmly believe that the only thing that can truly defeat this post-truth ideology is the hope of Christ in the heart of a student. But what does that look like? I’ve explored that in a follow-up post. Read Part 2 here
What are some other trends you have seen that parents and pastors should be ready to handle with students?