Teenagers as a Mission Field [Part 1 of 4]

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Earlier this week, we had a very interesting discussion in our weekly pastoral staff meeting. The conversation began when our worship pastor pointed out an article in the local paper (we are situated in Ogden, Utah) about the recent General Conference of the LDS church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). Eventually, the conversation became about how we communicate the Gospel in a clear way to those who have a background in the LDS church. Essentially, here is what we affirmed as a staff: Just as a foreign missionary’s goal is to communicate the truth of the Gospel to the culture he or she is serving in that culture’s language, our goal is to do the same in our culture. In our discussion, we touched on the use of different worship settings and illustration tools, such as drama, cardboard testimonies, or other creative avenues.

Here is the basic principal that we hold on to at our church: we do not change the message of the Gospel, but we will do everything we can, short of sin, to faithfully communicate it to those who need to hear it.

This got me thinking about how we do our best to proclaim Jesus’ message of love, grace, and forgiveness to teenagers. In my opinion, one of the best theological reasons for youth ministry in the local church is our mandate to go into all cultures and teach people about Jesus. After all, since the beginning of the 1900s, adolescence has in many ways become a distinct culture unto itself. A great book documenting this is A Tribe Apart by Patricia Hersch.

Let’s take the “job description” of a missionary once he or she has accepted God’s call, which is–grossly oversimplified:

  1. Learn the language and customs of the culture which you are serving;
  2. Use your knowledge and experience from #1 to communicate the truth of Jesus to the culture; and
  3. Establish indigenous leadership that can effectively continue to lead God’s people in that culture.

As youth workers, how well do we do with the different parts of this job description? How well do we try to understand the language and customs of adolescence? What about sub-cultures? We would chastise a missionary who does not seek to learn the language of the country in which he or she serves, would we not? In the same way, I should be chastised when I do not care enough about the students I serve to learn about their customs and how they communicate. What about equipping and encouraging students who can lead in ways that we never could because they are a part of the culture we are trying to reach?

Next week, I will take a closer look at each of three parts of the “job description” I suggested above to see what it looks like to be a missionary to teenagers. My hope is that I will learn how to creatively communicate Jesus’ message to teenagers and their families by keeping Christ at the center of the message but using any means necessary–short of sin–to communicate that message.

Update: Read Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of the series.

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