Managing social media for MORF and Student Life is a huge part of my job every day. (That’s how we find and share great articles on Twitter and Facebook throughout the week.) Some days, however, the quotes from Church leaders shared on social media concern me because digital-savvy Millennials look to them for spiritual wisdom and how to live a Christian life. Here’s some of this disturbing Twitter “wisdom” I have read recently:
– If teens were in love with Jesus they wouldn’t have mental/emotional issues. (Check out the Psalms, many of which were connected to David, the “Man After God’s Own Heart”)
– Evangelism is 100% about the heart, not something that needs to be taught. (Even after traveling with Jesus Himself, the disciples still needed rebuke and correction!)
– God wants to bless you and have favor on you, if you would just have the faith to claim it. (versus Jesus’ assurance in John 16:33 that life on Earth includes suffering; not to mention, the martyrs might redefine “favor” for us.)
We can’t emphasize enough to teens that loving Jesus is the beginning of the journey, not the happily ever after. Sure, emotions, outreach and blessing are vastly different issues, and the heart is the first place to start, but the problem with these is that they assume the state of someone’s love and devotion to Jesus. They assume that if we just loved and trusted Him more, we wouldn’t have the need for practical discipleship and pastoral guidance.
Too often in Church World we carelessly toss around clichés about how Jesus is the solution to all of our problems, the answer to all of our longings. Of course, that’s true, but in a much more complex way than “Just love Him more” or “Have more faith.” When we tell young people that they are suffering because their faith or love isn’t big enough, they hear that they are inadequate. They hear that they aren’t trying hard enough. Soon what was intended to be a reassurance of divine provision twists into a pathway to works-based legalism. Here’s how it typically goes (bonus points if this sounds familiar, perhaps akin to the Book of Job) –
- Christian has a problem, struggle or obstacle or overcome.
- They try to follow all the church advice: read their Bible, pray, count their blessings, seek accountability, walk in community….
- Said community teaches on, sings praise songs about and recommends books on how Jesus is the Answer. Period.
- Without much training, experience, time, resources or knowledge of the situation, Leader quotes the above to Christian and encourages them with a platitude that sounds an awful lot like they wouldn’t have these struggles if they were really devoted in their faith.
- Christian comes away briefly energized and encouraged. They will do more! Pray more! Read more! Sing more worship songs! Try harder to believe.
- As you might expect, Christian is quickly exhausted and hears another quote. They can’t work their way into love or grace or salvation. Freedom comes through Christ alone, who offers it to us without pre-requisites.
- Christian is confused. If Christ has and can give them victory over this, why are they still struggling? They begin to question – not the existence of their God, at least, not at first – but the truth of what they have been taught about Him. Perhaps He is not enough. Perhaps He doesn’t really care. Perhaps He is not even listening.
Here, one of two things happens.
1. Christian, through the unseen Hand’s grace and provision, stumbles across someone who can relate to their problem and validate their struggles. They lovingly walk beside Christian, taking the time to hear their story, disciple them into trusting God again and help them see His plan, while also seeking practical solutions and watching out for non-spiritual issues. They encourage them to get help from professionals, if needed, and acknowledge that faith isn’t a magic wand, but a battlefield. Sure it is one in which we already have the victory as conquerors in Christ, but the spiritual warfare is real for each individual in the King’s army.
But in too many cases:
2. Christian goes looking for a new lifestyle and community outside of faith and the Church. It’s not just a story. We are losing our Millennials. Without the influence of mentors and disciple-makers willing to come alongside our students and patiently walk with them through their issues, doubts and insecurities, these young Christians will turn toward other outlets to find the answers. Outlets like media, celebrity trends, other religions and philosophies, their extracurricular activities, their own ambitions… wherever they can find identity and mentorship to meet those needs – the ones that “just have more faith” didn’t help – and the Church will lose them.
We have to start with the Gospel. We have to start with staring at Jesus. We have to address heart issues and encourage growth in faith and love for Him every day.
But we can’t stop there. We can’t pretend that our jobs are done as long as we have thrown a scripture and a quote-worthy saying at hurting people. Real discipleship – whether about evangelism, emotions, blessing, or any other area – has to be a lifestyle of spiritual formation, an intentional journey, a relationship.