Hey, Christian Youth: It Gets Better
While excellent at come-to-Jesus moments, Christian camps—and by extension, youth ministries—sometimes overlook their opportunity to emphasize the winsomeness of Christian maturity, to present the richness and fullness of life as an adult follower of Christ.
Given extended adolescence, segregation of youth from adults, and an increasingly secular culture, this is something we must address. Failing to introduce students to the expansive joys of Christian living makes the alternative versions of adulthood glitter attractively even if they are really fool's gold.
Young people who grow disinterested in the church assume that in leaving, they are putting childish things behind them and moving up and moving on. They cast off the rules that good Christians follow—don't drink, don't party, don't sleep around—for the liberty of a life unshackled by religious restrictions.
Yet, growing up and into our faith includes becoming a flourishing adult—a person who lives boldly, within thoughtful boundaries, who is both as wise as serpent and as innocent as a dove. The Christian adult is not perfect, but continues to grow in virtue, becoming more fully what God intended his people to be.
Misunderstanding adulthood as liberation from rules can be corrected through more intentional efforts to guide our children and teens. This summer, I worked for a Christian camp, Wheatstone, which explicitly sought to "welcome students into Christian adulthood." I was struck by the language they used to cue this transition and can see the benefits of extending this sense of welcoming to young Christians in our lives and ministries.
Christian parents rightfully protect their children from many aspects of the world, but as that protection lifts and children become adults they need to be actively shown a positive view of adulthood. At this summer camp, that introduction included emphasizing honest community, exploration of the wonder-filled world, discussion of hard questions, holiness found in modeling Christ, and above all, love. It gave adolescents the opportunity to speak more frankly about the pain and brokenness that is just as much part of the world as the beauty and wonder.
Aspects of this issue are already being talked about, and the discussion needs to continue. In a Her.meneutics article last year, Tish Harrison Warren suggested that something like a rite of passage—where girls are called to embrace a clear, alternative vision for womanhood than what our culture propagates—allows them to make this transition from adolescence to maturity. Similarly, a week at a summer camp like Wheatstone or a church retreat could potentially be such a rite of passage. Beyond standard camp activities and goofy games, these special times give us a chance to speak directly to young people about the Christian life ahead of them.
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