At our church, we often end our youth group year by inviting the teens to write down questions they’re struggling with. We as leaders compile them, note the overlaps, and spend time processing these questions with them.
This past spring I was shocked by the composite question that topped the list: “I'm embarrassed to be known as a Christian, and I don’t know what to do about it. I love Jesus and I love participating in this church community. But in my life beyond these walls, I’m embarrassed to be known as a Christian. How do I deal with this?”
I’ve been part of asking teens to identify significant faith questions for more than 30 years, and had never seen this particular issue voiced in such a focused and passionate way. We as leaders were so taken aback that we spent quite a bit of time inviting the group to expand on the realities that gave rise to this question.
We heard comments like:
“It feels like the news is always quoting Christian leaders who are proudly angry and judgmental.”
“I don’t understand why so many Christian leaders won’t publicly name any of President Trump’s flaws. Everybody’s a sinner, right? Isn’t it normal for Christians to apply the Bible to our leaders? It seems like these leaders felt free to criticize previous presidents. What’s different now?”
“It seems that all too often the loudest Christian leaders are later caught in significant sins and exposed as hypocrites.”
I drove home that night with several thoughts rummaging through my mind and heart in moderately incoherent ways. They looked something like this:
- Often it’s OK to be embarrassed! There’s a certain kind of embarrassment that just comes with the territory of following Jesus. We are, as Peter says, “foreigners and exiles” (I Peter 2:11), and so we don’t fit within our cultural context. Furthermore, we are not perfect, we are redeemed, and our lack of perfection is subject to public scrutiny. Even so, I recognized that these teens were not feeling holy embarrassment; they were struggling with the inability and/or unwillingness of fellow Christians to represent Jesus with grace and truth in the public square and to consistently call public leaders to account using biblical standards.
- I pondered the ways in which I have been an embarrassment to my Lord and Savior, ways in which I myself have not represented Jesus with grace and truth to these same teens. The call to walk with integrity is humbling.
- The teens who spoke about the issue are, for the most part, thoughtful, mature, committed kids, the kind who are making a difference for the gospel wherever they are. The pain and confusion in their voices was palpable. I felt grieved for them. I pray that wherever teens and young adults in the CRCNA express these sorts of confusions, that we as leaders will listen respectfully as we grieve for them and with them.
- These teens recognize that the tone of our conversations either enhances or diminishes gospel witness. It’s not just what we say that matters; frequently the how we speak communicates more powerfully than what we say. These teens were hearing too much talk from public leaders that was not seasoned with the fruit of the Spirit.
- The teens who said the most during this discussion are themselves strong leaders, and they were reflecting on their experiences of older, public Christian leaders. Affirming and developing the leadership gifts of teens is one of the most crucial aspects of youth ministry. I was struck by the irony of building their capacity for leadership during this discussion as they lamented what they saw as failures of Christian leadership.
- I’ve always been deeply aware of James’ warning: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3: 1). I found myself praying, “Lord, what kind of a leader/teacher am I? What role am I called to play through my actions and my words that would play a part in helping these teens receive the courage and conviction they need to persevere through their embarrassment?”
I’m thankful that our youth group trusted us with their embarrassment, and I pray that as a church community we will be a sturdy, collective witness to the grace and truth of Jesus Christ in the midst of all kinds of wild, noisy, contradictory claims to represent Jesus.
I am a 42 year old father of three and I can fully understand how these teens feel. Many of their comments mirror my own thoughts and concerns. I have been bewildered and dismayed by some of the words, actions, and inaction of many in Christian leadership. However, I am heartened by your story of young people who are struggling. It is encouraging that they are concerned about current events and that they recognize the disconnect between their beliefs and the actions of leaders. These young people are demonstrating discernment and that is a beautiful thing. We need to encourage young people to live out their beliefs, as the Spirit leads them, and not fall in the trap of following the crowd. Even if that crowd is being led by persons with great authority.
I can relate to their embarrassment. When I read an article in which the son of Liberty University's founder said that Trump was their dream president, I decided I would not refer to myself as an evangelical Christian anymore because people like him were giving the word a bad name. I am not the only one to feel this way either.
I have a question after reading the article. I am supposed to be embarrassed because more 'Christians' are not criticizing Trump?
Since Obama, I have been doing the opposite. There are many scriptures admonishing us to do the exact opposite. We are told to pray for them. Unless we talk to them first, we have no business criticizing them. Where are the scriptures telling us to call out our leaders flaws?
The article talks exclusively about criticizing Trump's flaws (without even mentioning one). I read a lot of these 'Christians' writers writing articles like this. I actually do not read many, if any talking about what Trump HAS done.
My take on the struggle youth are having is there is so much negativity in the U.S. they wonder why they do not hear the same from the Christian community. They shouldn't.
Are these students also embarrassed with Bible studies in the White House, making an executive order saying life begins at conception, getting us out of America killing Paris Accord, exempting Christian organizations from having to pay for abortions, asking for prayer for areas hit with catastrophies, actually giving of his own money to help in disaster relief, actually going down and physically helping in these same areas, encouraging our military instead of gutting it, or surrounding himself with advisors who are Christian? Does he talk to them about vice president Pence who is open about his faith and loyalty to his wife? Or do they even know about these?
I guess I wonder why we always look to criticize? Does not I Corinthians 13 say that a mark of a believer is to always look for the good? Even to the point of ignoring it when something is done wrong?
Is Trump perfect? No. Do I believe he is a believer? None of my business. Is it my job to pray for him? Yes.
Bottom line is that my take on the article is that he missed a great opportunity to teach these youth how to live as a believer in a darker and darker world.
Maybe the best place to start is to challenge the 'embarrassment' question in the first place. Have the youth look up scriptures on authority and how we are supposed to react to it, even if it is bad" How did David react when the king tried to kill him?
A start is Romans 13, I Peter 2 and I Thessalonians 5. There are MANY more.
Maybe I can explain it best by explaining what happened when a volleyball player (I am a coach) asked about the transgender issue. The first question I asked in response was. Why did you ask the question? Was it so you could condemn? That is not our job. Or justify? That is not our job. Or because it is an issue you face with a friend?
The answer to a friend is to not answer but to let them come to their own conclusion. Then I gave her several verses about the clay complaining to the Potter because it did not like the way it was made.
But, here is the real question. I ask if they do the same thing. Do they not like their body, or something about it? When they do that, then they are telling God they do not like the way He made them.
Homework for them was to write down what they APPRECIATED about the way God made them, find a verse about it and put it on their mirror. One actually is putting them one her cell phone so she sees them all the time. Some of her classmates are now doing the same thing.
So by turning this around to get the to look inside, several lives were affected in a positive way.
When asked these kinds of questions, is it not better to get them to look inside themselves and find a way to make them better believers rather than wallow in the mud of criticizing? How would that help them in their walk?
How would I have answered the question?
Write down what 'criticisms' you have of Trump. Let's use one many agree on. He says things he should not say. OK, find scripture verses that deal with what comes out of our mouths:
"from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."
"let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth."
"encourage one another, even more as you see the day approaching."
" Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."
There are many more. Homework assignment. Write some of these verses in a place where you see them all the time. How many of these verses do YOU violate every day?
Now read Matthew where Jesus says not to judge because in the very thing you judge, you will be judged. You criticize (judge) Trump on words that come out of his mouth. You will be judged on the words that come out of your mouth.
Just in doing the above, you have several great opportunities for Bible studies.
As to many of the responses noting how they 'feel' scripture is clear that we are not to live by our feelings but by the word of God. Jesus said it best in Matthew 6 and John 14, 15 and 16. Do not just say you believe DO WHAT I (Jesus) COMMAND....and the greatest command is to love. How much love is in critisizing?
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