“I was surprised that they had no excitement about going back to school,” she said. I hadn’t really thought about it before she said that. She elaborated and spoke about the state some schools are in. Too many students have to go through metal detectors and other hoops simply to get into the school building. They have to deal with bullying and a complacent administration. In spite of all the metal detectors and all of the resource officers, too many students do not feel safe in school. If they do not feel safe, can young people really live at school? All of this begs the question: For what are the schools preparing students?
When you go below the surface, it seems that in some areas students are being prepared for the prison system. It’s hard for you to come to a different conclusion when the academic standards are poor. These schools have limited resources. Students do not have access to the books and equipment that would position them for an excellent outcome. Moreover, they are criminalized from an early age.
In other areas that are well-served on the surface, there are still issues of detectors and/or rigid enforcement of policies. Students are hearded from class to class, activity to activity. Thus, the question still needs to be asked, for what are they being prepared? Is it to be docile, compliant members whose allegiance is to an authority outside of God?
In all of this, we see aspects missing that make us wonder, can young people really live in school without these?
Can young people really live without grace?
Where do you find grace in a zero-tolerance environment? Why do resource officers administer disciple for simple misdemeanors that a firm hand coupled with humor could fix? You look and wonder what’s going on in the schools.
Now, first off you know that there are very dedicated teachers and administrators. You know that some environments are more difficult than others. Some students are, to say it nicely, a challenge. Still . . .
How can you enforce a zero-tolerance policy with young people? They are still developing. They have developed neither sound judgement nor consistency. Young people do need firm discipline. However, they also need understanding and grace in the midst of their slip ups in order to truly live.
When they come to you in youth group, recognize that they are operating in difficult, grace-less environments at school. In your youth ministry, provide a grace-filled space with firm but loving boundaries.
Can young people really live without creativity?
Whatever the prevailing national standard of the day often stifles creativity. Why? Teachers feel hemmed in. They know what the consequences are of students not achieving the required score. How these levels are set is a whole other issue. The point is, many teachers find it hard to bring in anything of a creative nature. They also find it hard to bring in and discuss anything that is not part of the test curriculum.
Now, you know that it is important to follow a curriculum. In youth ministry, you follow a plan. However, it works best when you include creative elements. It works well when you can respond to the immediate needs and then come back to your plan.
Help your young people to really live by adding creativity to their lives. In your youth ministry, give youth room to respond creatively to lessons. Use the arts. Embrace nature. Be willing to deviate from your plan to respond to immediate situations and needs. However, this is not an excuse to be haphazard in your approach. Give God your best.
Can young people really live without God?
Where is God in schools? Surely there must be a way of allowing “God-language” without it being obnoxious. You have to wonder when teachers are told to remove everything of a religious nature from their rooms and their emails. That’s really asking people to suppress a critical part of who they are. So much for free speech! Free for some, I guess.
It’s one thing to say that you can’t force people to accept God. It’s another to shut God out completely. In God you find life, grace, hope, and strength. God is love. When people shut God out completely, they close the door on the possibility for life-giving conversations about God. To whom will young people turn when they are at school? Nothing remains to give them a signal.
Yes. Your young people need a life-giving encounter with the living God that will endure when they are in and out of school. In your youth ministry, invite your young people to encounter the true and living God in Jesus Christ. Lead them to grow in God. Teach them to dwell with God at all times. Help them to understand the need to disconnect in order to abide in the vine and really live.
Do you want your young people to really live? Extend God’s grace, allow for creativity, and lead them to the cross so that they encounter God. Counter what is too often a stultifying and life-negating environment. It’s time for young people to really live.
Living fully. Living faithfully. Following Christ.
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