Original photo from Nicki Varkevisser.
Unfortunately, one of the most successful strategies for funding youth ministry involves demonizing young people. This process involves painting a picture using statistics, stories and alarmist scare tactics in order to convince adults to give money to help reach the youth culture because “it’s never been worse.”
This strategy works for fundraising but I don’t think this posture of viewing teenagers as the most evil demographic group, creates an environment that results in genuine salvation and the biblical Christian formation of young people as disciples of Jesus Christ. These fear-based tactics create a fear-based environment.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” I John 4:18
I am not saying that today’s young people don’t have problems. Teenagers are facing significant developmental and cultural issues today that weren’t as complex as those faced by previous generations. “Lost and sinful” is a correct description of today’s generation of teenagers. Let me give you a current example.
“Sex-ting” is the act of sharing nude or partially nude photos via cell phone text message.
According to MSNBC, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reported in December 2008 that a survey of 1,280 teens and young adults found that 20 percent of the teens said they had sent or posted nude or semi nude photos or videos of themselves. That number was slightly higher for teenage girls — 22 percent — vs. boys — 18 percent.
High profile cases in Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, Alabama, New York, Washington, and Michigan have resulted in teenagers being charged with felony for child pornography in these “sex-ting” incidents. This is a very serious problem. I have counseled parents of teenagers in the last several weeks that are scared to death about this issue and are desperately seeking help. “Sex-ting,” along with a host of other issues, is the kinds of things our staff at Youthfront deal with all of the time in youth ministry. We have seen about everything. It would not be difficult to engage in telling some very scary stories and use “teen bashing” to convince you to write a big check to help us save these kids.
Here is my problem with this…
Today’s teenagers are no more sinful than today’s adults.
We are all broken. We all need a Saviour. Jesus Christ is the only answer for the restoration of all sinful and broken people, regardless of their age.
American sociologist, Mike A. Males is senior researcher for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Several years ago, Males wrote a book entitled Framing Youth: The Media War Against Kids. Males debunked the myths that today’s teenagers are more violent, commit more crime and abuse more drugs and alcohol than their parents’ generation. Nor are teenagers test scores lower than their parents’ scores were. The author presents convincing data to show how the media manipulates statistics to portray a distorted view of adolescent culture.
Unfortunately, the stories of today’s youth who are doing amazing things don't get a lot of press. They are proportionately much more engaged in community development, volunteerism, and global issues than their parents’ generation. I am thrilled to see increasing numbers of young people embracing a compelling vision to co-operate with our Triune God’s mission in the world.
It is actually the Baby Boom generation which is experiencing death rates related to drug abuse that is nearly triple that of today’s youth. I am a Baby Boomer. In so many ways, the adult population has failed to pass on a healthy environment to our young people to grow up in. This is true also for the church. If our Christian young people are apathetic about their faith and do not embrace the importance of living Holy and Godly lives, shouldn’t adults accept a lot of the blame? I think we must accept responsibility for living the kind of Christian lives that fuel the kinds of problems we see in our kids.
So, how should we respond? I suggest that we cease any form of “teen bashing” and do a better job of celebrating Christian young people who are attempting to live out their faith. I suggest that we take seriously our role in the salvation of young people AND their Christian formation.
We are all broken, youth and adults alike. We can only be made whole by the work of God in our lives. We all desperately need each other in order to truly be the faithful people of God.
Mike King serves as the President of Youthfront. Mike and his wife, Vicki, live in Blue Springs, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City. They have two sons, a daughter, a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter.