The first of the four things young people need from the Church is acceptance. We MUST welcome and accept young people as they are; precious, made-in-the-image-of-God, creative, unique and just incredible. Every single one of them. Our welcome makes a difference. Accepting young people is not simply a nod to their existence, but a welcome that includes, draws in and values them. The greatest challenge I have found in youth work though, is convincing young people they are worth the effort. Whilst this post is about the church (meaning all of us) accepting young people – many young people find it incredibly difficult to accept themselves.
They might believe someone else might be – but not them. Words mean nothing if they are not followed through with actions. Acceptance is demonstrated when space is created for young people to worship in ways they find helpful and meaningful; acceptance is demonstrated when their opinion is asked; acceptance is demonstrated when sermon illustrations are inclusive and might be something a young person can relate to; acceptance is shown when at ‘the peace’ adults approach young people to shake their hand; acceptance is illustrated when mid week meetings or gatherings of the church are at a time young people can make; acceptance is demonstrated – not when the church delivers things TO young people, nor when the church does things FOR young people, but when there is work WITH young people.
Part of the challenge for young people is what they can ‘accept’ is possible for them. Many young people ‘accept’ their lot in life – the hand they have been dealt meaning ‘this is it’ – they ‘accept’ that they aren’t going to achieve anything, aren’t worth much; are not valued and won’t get anywhere in life. It doesn’t take many people speaking this kind of stuff into young peoples lives for them to begin to accept it. 75% of media coverage of young people is negative. 1 in 5 young people struggle with mental health related issues. Of those I have worked with over the years a significant number struggle to accept they are FORGIVEN (these are young people who are Christians and repentant – seeking to live as God wants). In our world and culture – acceptance is earned, in academic life, achieving an ‘acceptable’ grade needs effort. What is so hard for young people to grasp is that NOTHING they can do can make them acceptable to God. Scripture says,
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
That’s pretty tough stuff. Yet, we (all of humanity, which includes all young people!) are worth saving – so much so that when we could do nothing to save ourselves – Jesus came for us,
God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us
Part of submitting ourselves to Christ and acknowledging Him as Lord and Saviour is accepting that this is true. Christ has made us acceptable!
God gave Jesus to die for our sins, and He raised Him to life – so that we would be made acceptable to God
We need to communicate this truth to our young people again and again. Then, knowing this to be true – we can talk about what that means – if we put our trust in a God, if we believe in His name – something wonderful becomes possible. It is a change that can transform any life – any possible destiny, any young persons life where they feel or believe they have no hope suddenly becomes full of potential and possibilities.
but, to all who believed Him and accepted Him he gave the right to become children of God
This acceptance thing is pretty HUGE. Our young people need to accept themselves, they need to accept that they are loved by God and acceptable to Him through what Jesus has done, the church needs to demonstrate this and accept young people.
Then we get to this ‘right’ that we have – to be children of God! Wow! Get in!!
In the film Minority Report, Tom Cruise plays a cop who hunts down criminals with the help of some ‘prophets’ who can ‘see’ people commit crimes in the future. Tom and his team then turn up and arrest the criminals just before they are commit their crimes – pretty cool way to police the future! Anyway, one day an image of a future crime flashes up on the screen and yes – it’s Cruise, in a room with a gun about to murder someone. Cruise goes on the run to try and figure out what is going on . . . . Ultimately the picture comes true, there he stands in the room, with the gun, about to shoot someone (as predicted) – then – from the corner of the room the voice of one of the prophets speaks before he pulls the trigger,
you can choose
That’s it. And for our young people life might seem like it is heading in an inevitable direction – but, it does not have to be that way! Our young people need to be shown they can choose to have a future as part of Christ’s family.
Let’s accept them, let’s help them accept themselves and let’s show them they are accepted by God – because of Christ – and encourage them to choose life with Him!