Why is holiness something people are interested in but rarely articulate? Are we making some serious steps toward a Matthew 28 reality? Is there a stronger piece of discipleship that yields students with sticky "scrubbed to the core and strengthened by God" faith that causes them to continue growing and bearing fruit? We're currently reading MOVE: What 1,000 churches reveal about spiritual growth. We're looking deeper into the why's and how's of what we do.
I look into the future to see our own children who will be asking questions. What does it mean to be set apart? The future of youth ministry really does depend on what we do with today. I hope we'll have ears to hear what our kids are saying and courage to be what they need to see.
Original Post: March 10, 2010
“Thinking how to practically connect young teenagers with a lifestyle of holiness. The word “holiness” seems archaic to them…”
A few comments were quickly posted. One in particular piqued my interest,
“It makes me think of long hair and long skirts? Oh yeah and no make-up. No offense to anyone it’s just my first impression.”
I’ve been scratching my head on this word for nearly a decade. I love the concept of holiness and its potential expression in our lives but struggle with responses similar to what I read on my Facebook profile. I used to think we needed to ban the term holiness in our youth ministries. It just doesn’t make sense to teenagers. They have an ever-evolving way of communicating and using old words with old perceptions doesn’t seem to sit well with them.
However, the longer I’m at this, the more I realize that I may be having the wrong conversation. Maybe it’s not so much about the words we use but the foundation of our ministries. It sure is easy to live like flies hovering too close to the canvas. We need an aerial view to help us see what offering holiness to our students could really look like if we didn’t dwell too long on the semantics.
I’ve started to believe that doing youth ministry in a way that focuses on holiness can’t be about how many times you use the word in a sermon. It can’t be about how many lessons on holiness you include in your small group series or youth talks. I know deep in my soul that it has to be more than that.
The Hebrew word qodesh, translated “holiness” comes from a couple of root meanings: “apart” or “separateness.”
When we look at all the ways we hope our students would be transformed in Christ-likeness, we tend to compartmentalize. We teach on holiness one week and the fruits of the Spirit the next. We talk about sanctification or the cleansing work of the Spirit and the next week on physical purity. None of these things are bad to teach on, however, I think we’ve stuck holiness on a shelf with the rest of the attributes of God when realistically, holiness should be the background behind all that we teach.
It’s a tough inner battle when my own thoughts on holiness take me back to a tabernacle on the old Central Ohio campgrounds where holiness people ran the aisles of the place singing and praising God. Mostly everyone wore dresses to church and the men wore button down shirts and nice shoes. It was a place where I wasn’t allowed to chew gum and my grandfather preferred that I not braid my long hair. None of these things are bad but they helped feed a perception that holiness meant “apart” in the most literal meaning of the word. In my young mind, holiness meant just that: living in a way that didn’t look familiar in any way at all.
It’s important to remember that the holiness of God suggests an “otherness” rather than “remoteness” from us. How this “otherness” plays out in all that we do and model in youth ministry is the key for me when dealing with our thoughts and perceptions on holiness.
So how do we do youth ministry when holiness is seen as the background for all the attributes of God that we aim to teach our students? How does holiness affect our mission and vision for youth ministry? Well, we’ve got to keep flying around to see the big picture.
Look down below at all of the things you do in youth ministry:
Service To Others
Sharing the Gospel
Hanging Out (Fellowship)
While you may do some things more than others (pizza eating and crowd controlling), your main objective is to help your students see Christ, accept Christ, and become more like Him. So, we’ve got to back up and think about all of the stuff we do to make sure that becoming more like the divine “Other” is our main objective.
Let me give a practical example. You are heading to youth camp and you’re looking forward to a fifteen hour trip in the church van (you know you love those trips!). You decide to make it a learning experience by having everyone examine their iPods (or phones, or whatever else they use to listen to music). Give everyone a list of questions before the trip to answer about their music preferences. Is the music on my iPod helpful or hurtful to others? Does it feed my soul or just put noise in my ears? Would I let my parents read the lyrics to the songs in my ears? Do you want to be built up by what you hear? Then ask your students to clean out their music based on the responses to these questions. Maybe challenge them to find the best music they can find online to share with everyone on the trip. Encourage them to find things that sound good to them but that build people up, keeping in mind that the reason for doing this is to be set apart.
What you’d be doing is teaching on Godly discernment, which leads to a holy life.
Doing youth ministry in a way that focuses on holiness isn’t taboo when it is the reason you do youth ministry in the first place, it’s the background for every song you sing together. It’s the reason for discipleship. It’s the underlying call to service and mission work. Even your time just hanging out can reflect a group that desires to be set apart in ways that make them more like our loving God, not set apart in bizarre ways without an understanding of our own context and culture.
So, to answer a not-so-easy question on how to practice youth ministry that transforms students into holy people filled with love and cleansed of sin, I would say keep doing what you’re doing but let your passion for a holiness outcome fuel and inform all that you do. Keep questioning why you do what you do and pray for God’s Spirit to fill you with the same holy love and cleansing that you hope your students will experience.
By the way, it’s still helpful to use language that’s relevant to a teenager’s ears. One commenter on my Facebook status, who happens to be my younger sister, proposed we begin talk of holiness with our teens by calling holiness what it is…
“Scrubbed to the core by God and then walkin’ it out that way for life”
I like how that sounds! The bottom line for youth ministry: allow holiness to be in and through all we do (including our personal lives). Teenagers want to go deeper if you will give them a chance to know why they need to go deeper. Seek God’s face and they’ll see the reflection in you.
(Written for Youth Ministry Academy)