Last week I spent a week with a group of high school students from 4 different church groups that came from Maryland, Wisconsin and New Jersey. Our own church group from Montreal was made up of students from our church and some of their friends. I've had a few days now to reflect on both this mission trip and the earlier one in Nicaragua with a few of our young adults and a couple of things stand out for me.
The first is how our youth and young adults see the church. Our young adults actually have a pretty negative view of the church while our high school students tend to see it more positively, though they have questions they about church and God as well, many of them very good questions. Now you need to know that not all the youth are connected with a church, which brought out different kinds of questions and ways of seeing things. It got me thinking about Christians, church, God and how this all fits together.
First some reflections on the trip with our young adults. Many of them are negative about the church because of mis-information about what the church stands for and believes about different social issues. There is also a reluctance to make a commitment to the church or to faith. It seems that they don't care for Jesus' call of an all or nothing approach to following him. They seem to have heard better what our society says we believe as Christians about issues such as homosexuality than what we actually teach and believe. This has bothered me ever since we've come back from Nicaragua and I have no answer that completely satisfies me as to why this is.
Why does the voice of the church have so little connecting power in their hearts and why are they so willing to believe the worst of the church? Could it be that we say the right things, the God things and yet somehow we don't connect this with how we actually live as a church in our society? Is our faith a passionless faith, making it easy for our young adults to believe what our culture says about us over what we actually teach and believe? Do we really know God and what He loves and hates, or do we read our own likes and hates into God? Is this why their faith, and maybe even ours, is so passionless? We've taught them all about God in church, but is this connected to home and school and life in general? How passionate are we as a church about being God's transforming presence wherever we are? Are we really working to make this world a better place for others, or are we more concerned about making life better just for ourselves?
Lots of questions, not as many answers! I wonder if it has to do with our approach to our relationship with God and with each other. Do we take these relationships too casually, do we see God only as "papa" and no longer as our creator and Saviour. Do we accept salvation as our right and fail to see it as the costly gift it really is? Do we hold ourselves and our youth accountable for their faith or are we too soft on them and ourselves, telling each other that when they get older they'll get more mature? What does this say about our own faith? Do we really live what we say we believe?
Much of what I've just written also comes out of my time on the high school mission trip to the Adirondacks last week where the theme was "Be different". This sharpened up some of what has been going on in my head and heart ever since the Nicaragua trip. The high school students asked some good questions and forced me to think deeper on faith and how we should be different. One of the things that came up was that many people who don't believe in God are really nice people as well and other religions call for their followers to be good too, so what makes Christians different? We can talk about grace and Jesus dying for our salvation and forgiveness of our sin, a hugely important part of our faith, but many people prefer working for their salvation instead, so is there anything else that makes us different?
From my life experiences and study of Scripture, I will say that there is one other thing that makes Christians different: we don't live for ourselves, we live for others; our lives are outward focused instead of "us" focused. We focus on God and living lives that bring him glory, and we focus on loving others, being a blessing to them, working to change our communities so that everyone can experience the shalom that the Old Testament talks about, creating a small piece of God's kingdom wherever we are. In order to do this we need to know God and understand what his kingdom is like so that we can do the work he's put us here to do. As Christians we need to know what we believe and then let this really shape our lives, our focus, what we do and why we do it. We can't simply drift through life gathering up stuff and let life flow all around us. We can make a difference in the world, God calls us to make a difference in the world, that's why we're here. He gives us eyes to see, ears to hear and hands to work to make a difference for God in our neighbourhoods, our cities, our country and our world; speaking up for justice, for compassion, for rightness, fairness, beauty, and more that makes our world a better place for everyone and brings glory to God. This is what we need to show our youth, this is what they're looking for; to make a difference and have a reason to do so. We're called to live what we believe in deep and passionate ways and our youth will be drawn to faith in deep and wonderful ways. The world will see God working through lives like these.
These are just a few musings on what I learned this year from our mission trips, lots of questions, not as many answers, but that's alright as we had opportunities to talk together about God, faith, life and what life is all about. Life is messy, faith is sometimes hard and even messier, but always God is with us. What a blessing to be with our young adults and high school students and learn from them. I see faith in them, and a struggling with faith sometimes. I recognize also that faith is hard today, especially for our youth here in Quebec, and that makes walking alongside them even more important. We need to invest ourselves in than our young adults and youth and you will find that you will grow too. I feel like I've been given a wonderful gift in being part of their lives.