“As Christians we are obsessed with being nice.” It was this one sentence Jason Royce said in his talk at the Youthwork Summit last weekend that got stuck in my head. I kept thinking about it and the more I thought about it, the more I realized he is right.
We Christians are obsessed with being nice. We want people to like us, we don’t want to offend anyone, we don’t want to come across as too radical or too much of a fundamentalist, we want everyone to know that we respect their religious beliefs even though we don’t agree with them and in general we just want people to feel good when they’re around us. Because isn’t that what Jesus did, what He showed us?
Erm, no, not exactly. Jesus wasn’t nice all the time at all. He cleansed the temple with quite some force, He wasn’t afraid to tell people the truth (‘white washed tombstones’, that’s not exactly nice to say to people, now isn’t it?), He was extremely radical (He called Himself the only way to the Father!) and He constantly confronted people with their attitudes and their sins. Not exactly nice.
And yes, He did love people. So much in fact, that He was willing to die for us all. But it didn’t keep Him from boldly speaking the truth, from showing strong boundaries, from being crystal clear in what He wanted people to do and from confronting sin where ever He went. That’s the example we should follow.
Speak the truth
We should never let anything keep us from speaking the truth about who we are, what we are and Whom we believe in. Yes, we live in a culture where being radical isn’t always appreciated. So be it. I think a radical message will always attract more people than a lukewarm one. If we present Christianity as ‘one more road’ people can take, they will cut-and-paste parts they like and create their own personal religion. We need to be very clear about the fact that Jesus is the one and only way to God and that no one can come to God outside of Him.
Show strong boundaries
Jesus knew when to say no, when to withdraw and take time for Himself, how to prioritize. He spent more time with His 12 disciples than with anyone else, and He didn’t apologize for it. We need to do the same. Communicate your boundaries to your young people and to your team. Learn to say no. Sometimes saying no to requests, suggestions or actions is the biggest act of love you could show. Learn to prioritize and don’t apologize for it.
Be crystal clear
Jesus was crystal clear about what He wanted people to do or where they should go. We should do the same. Let’s be clear about what we want for our young people, where we want them to go and what they need to do to get there. As Jason Royce said: don’t be afraid to lead them. In his case, he’s involved in a project to prevent ‘NEET’ (young people who have left school but are Not in Emplyment, Education or Training) and he is very clear about what he wants for his youth: a future in which they can achieve their potential.
Jesus said it Himself: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17 NIV). Jesus sought out sinners. He didn’t spend much time with ‘the rightous’, he went and ate and talked with sinners. Sure, we are all sinners and we all need a Savior, but how much time and effort do we put in seeking out ‘real’ sinners, people who have never heard of Jesus? Patsy McKie, another speaker at the Summit said it beautifully: “We need to work where sin is rampant. Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.”
How about you? Are you playing it nice, being safe? Or do you dare to step out and be bold, take risks? Do you dare to go places where sin abounds, just to show that grace abounds even more?
There were plenty of examples of being bold on the Youthwork Summit. Ninety-year old (!) John Langdon who is a ‘street angel’ in his city, walking around at night and talking to young people. Lyn Edwards who started a very succesfull youth drop-in center project called Shackles Off, backed by three different churches (Catholic, Anglican and Methodist…that in itself is a wonderful bold move!). Patsy McKie who lost her son due to gun violence and got involved in Mothers against Violence. Hannah Delaney, who workes in the Manchester prison with young female inmates and sees God heal and restore them before her eyes. And the aforementioned Jason Royce who took a group of guys into the woods for a survival weekend…and gave them knifes.
Step back and look at your youth ministry and the role you play in it. Are you being too nice and too safe?