I’ve been thinking lately about modesty.

I know: after the Miley Cyrus episode on the MTV Awards, we’ve all been thinking a little bit more about modesty lately!

But, I’ve been thinking about a different kind of modesty.

I had been scheduled to speak at a large youth event out west, and about two weeks prior to the event I received a phone call from a woman on the design team who wanted to review with me some basic details of conference schedules and travel plans. All in all, it was pretty routine.

That was when she added, without any hint of irony, this additional word of direction:

“Please, when you give your talks to the kids, we’ve decided as a design team to ask that you not mention the Name of Jesus. We don’t mind if you talk about God, in fact, we hope you will. But we hope you’ll understand that talking about Jesus will offend some of our young people, and we don’t want to do anything that will make them feel uncomfortable….”

I tried to imagine a doctor who refused to tell her patient of his disease because it might upset him. Or, the spelling teacher who didn’t have the heart to tell his students that they were consistently misspelling certain words because she didn’t want to discourage them. Or, the traffic cop who couldn’t bring himself to ask the driver to please keep his truck off of the sidewalk because he didn’t want him to think policemen unfriendly. We can almost imagine the furrowed brows as this Design Team wrestled with what they must have considered “the Jesus problem”.

A New Kind of Modesty

In an age in which modesty seems as out of date as Pong and penny loafers, in an age in which no topic is taboo, no indignation un-televised, no truth held back, it is striking that we, in the church, have finally found a modesty that we can feel good about: We can be modest about Jesus.

Now, please understand, I am completely sympathetic with the motives that must have led these good folks to “design” The Designer out of their youth event. After all, they wanted to make the conference a safe place for kids to ask questions, to feel accepted, to feel comfortable. I agree with that. That’s important. But just because we want all patients – no matter how sick – to be welcomed into the hospital, that doesn’t mean that we have to be hospitable to every sickness and germ, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we have to be modest about the cure.

It was supposedly an Archbishop of Canterbury who commented several years ago that the Church of England was “dying of good taste”. I hope it isn’t in poor taste to say so – and it certainly isn’t often that youthworkers are accused of exercising too much good taste – but sometimes I feel like I see the same thing happening on the youth ministry landscape.

There’s a very important and a very fine line between being bold to speak the truth and speaking the truth in such a way that we just sound rude and cranky. I suspect that’s what Paul had in mind when he asked his friends in Colossae to pray that he would proclaim the Word with clarity, “as I should”, he wrote (Col 4:4). But, he also counseled them to “Be wise” in the way they act toward outsiders – to “make the most of every opportunity” (Col 4:5).

Paul doesn’t want to sound rude and cranky, but that doesn’t mean he wants to sound sweet. What he wants is to sound clear.

For Paul, good teaching was a combination of grace and salt (Col 4:6), and for good reason. Salt without grace has a bold taste; but it can be so strong that not many “outsiders” will come back for more. On the other hand, grace without salt is sweet and appealing – everybody loves it – but it isn’t a clear proclamation.

Lord, keep me from being “modest” when I ought to be bold. And may my “boldness” never provoke outsiders with over-exposure (Think: evangelistic twerking). I want to be gracious without being sweet, and salty without being sour.

Which tendency is greater in your own teaching?