How the Internet Taught Me to Like Teenagers

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Internet lists ruin my life.  For example I was recently looking at a list of the best video games of all time and Final Fantasy 6 wasn’t even in the top ten.  That annoyed me.  Another list said “Inception” wasn’t even in the top 50 movies of all time and that angered me.  Still another list said that the worst Star Trek movie was “Star Trek 5” and.  .  .I actually agree with that.

Still my lovely wife recently showed me another list of church sayings that supposedly get us young types (millenials they call us) all bent out of shape.  Being a Millenial pastor, I eagerly clicked on the link and revved up my righteous indignation drive, sure I was going to agree with the author on all accounts.  I quickly perused the article getting ready to yell a hearty amen and pump my fist in the air as the author called us out on all 5 dumb churchy sayings.

Holding my fist poised by the side of my head, I read the first paragraph which told me I should hate the words, “The Bible clearly says.  .  .” and, to my delight, I do hate that phrase, despite the fact that I use it quite often to prove my point about what the Bible clearly teaches.  Still, people who disagree with me about the Bible’s clear teaching shouldn’t say that, especially if they aren’t a Millenial.  So I belted out, “Aaaaaa-mmmeeeennn!” while pumping my fist multiple times.

With my fist hanging victoriously over my head, I read the second phrase “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  Here my fist dropped a little because while I seldom use this phrase, I do hear it a lot and it has never annoyed me.  But I got to thinking that maybe that phrase isn’t nearly as true as people claim and that maybe not everything in life does come from God, like cancer or tornadoes or dumb internet lists that don’t recognize Final Fantasy 6 for the greatness it is.  I was starting to feel reflective instead of indignant.

With my fist un-clenching, I read paragraph 3 where the internet told me I couldn’t “love on” anybody, especially youth groups and young adults (of which I am one).  This was perplexing because over the last two years I have been trying to start ministries for both teenagers and young adults at my church.  In exasperation I would call my former youth pastors, describe to them the teens and adults in my community, and ask the age old question, “What do I do?!?!”

And they would reply with one phrase, “love on ’em.”  At the time I knew exactly what they meant and so went about the business of loving on ’em, which in practice took the form of saying “hi” to them at the park and in the grocery store and asking them, “how are you?” and pretending to care when they answered.  Then I would go home and check off another “loved on person” in my notebook.

In fact I got so good at “loving on ’em” that they sometimes felt loved enough to ask me questions about God and the Bible.  Occasionally they felt so loved upon that they would ask me to fill out reference forms for college scholarships and summer jobs.  I was that good.  It was like I had a Masters in Loving On ‘Em instead of a Masters in Divinity.  In fact, I was so confident in my loving skills that when the lousy internet told me as a Millenial I should be offended by that phrase, I nearly broke down crying.

Because, here is the thing, the internet is right.  “Loving on” is degrading and insulting and a bit creepy.  It is a cheesy and ridiculous sentiment and people my age and younger can see right through fake sentiments to the arrogance which feeds them.  They want nothing to do with those types of adults.  And the reason “love on ’em” took off as a church phrase is that us evangelical Christians have a fair share of pride hiding behind our sentimentalism.  Those who grew up in the church really believe today’s youth (churched and unchurched) are worthless and the only way to make them worthwhile is to “love on ’em” which really means, “throw love down to them from our position of superiority.”

But the youth I work with aren’t worthless.  Surely, they have their unique set of difficulties like abusive homes and the drug scene.  I also wish most of them were not as sexually active as they are and they also struggle to connect with each other.  But behind their brave facades and smart phones, they are quite likable.  They have interesting hobbies, kind personalities, wonderful humor, and a hearty work ethic.  They care about their families and friends, even if they don’t always know how to show it.  They want to succeed and do well in a world where arrogant adults are stacking the chips against them.  In fact, the more I get to know the young adults and youth in our community, the more I find that God has been at work in their lives long before I met them.  In fact, that echoes the title of this website, “Go-Before Grace” which eludes to “Prevenient Grace” which goes before us.

It isn’t enough to love on them, as if they needed our proud pity.  Instead we should be kind and compassionate and bear with them in love (in fact, the Bible clearly says that.)  To me, this means coming alongside them, enjoying their presence, listening to their joys, cares and concern and choosing to walk through life with them no matter what.

I think this is relevant because the churches I have been a part of are saturated with the types that want to “save the youth” and not always in the theological sense.  These are the people who volunteer for youth group so that they can throw down the love that will “teach them respect” and show them how to “work hard” and convince them to “stop taking drugs.”  But the youth I work with are plenty respectful, work harder than most adults I know and not all of them do drugs.

I hurt for the churches who let those adults near their teenagers.  These proud teen sponsors are doing way more harm by “loving on ’em” than the world has all ready done.  And I would venture a guess that the particularly troubled youth and young adults among us never had anybody in their life who liked them for who they were.

So instead of “loving on ’em” I want to just like them.  This might look like laughing at their jokes and listening to their songs and hearing their opinions and sharing their pain.  All of that might be a good deal harder than just saying “hi, how ya doing?” at the park.  It might take a whole lot of time and effort and resources and I definitely will feel a fair amount of pain myself, but it just might pay off in the end.

So thank you internet lists for ruining my life again.  The world really is better for it.

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