In its worst forms, youth ministries are just clubs of teenagers who meet once a week and pretend like they don’t drink or smoke or have sex. As though those that was the checklist of what made you a “good kid” or not, Christian or not, loved by Jesus or not.
I’m talking to teenagers on Sunday night about substance abuse, but not because I think whether or not they bum a cigarette or steal a beer has anything to do with whether or not they are welcome and wanted in the Kingdom of God.
We’ll talk about definitions and realities of substance abuse and addiction. We’ll talk about some of the forces that push people towards substance use and abuse, like social pressure, curiosity, and perhaps most importantly, as a maladaptive coping mechanism for the stresses and heartbreaks of life.
But, I also want to stress something else. The thing behind the thing.
We’re not talking about these issues with youth because they have to follow a strict list of rules and prohibitions to call themselves Christians. We’re not talking about this because Jesus inherently has a problem with alcohol or cigarettes. We’re not talking about this because trying these things, or even being addicted to these things makes you a bad person, or less fit to be loved by God and welcomed in to the Kingdom of heaven. Probably the scripture I quote most often at teenagers is from Romans 8.
“I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.”
We’re talking about this because when we chase after things like alcohol and drugs (and pornography, and Instagram likes, and that perfect body) it’s because we think they will be the thing that satisfies us. We think they are the things that will feed the aching hunger. We think they are the things that will calm our anxious spirit.
We think that if we have that thing that it will make us happy. That those things will silence the nagging voice that tells us that we are not enough.
Earlier in that same letter, Paul is talking about churches wandering away from God and says they “traded God’s truth for a lie, and they worshipped and served the creation instead of the creator.” Paul is mad at those churches not just for breaking some rule but because they have chosen to chase something that cannot save them. He cares about them and they are hurting themselves.
I will tell our teenagers that I don’t think we should drink in excess or do drugs, or watch pornography, or have non-committed sex, or feed addictions of approval of others and being skinny enough, not because it doesn’t fit into some pre-prescribed definition of what it means to be Christian but because I care about them and I don’t want them throwing their energy and heart and time and love after things that will hurt them. I don’t want them dedicating their lives to that which cannot save them.
Because we deserve to throw our love after a Savior who loves us back. Who does satisfy. Who will feed that aching hunger, who, when we feel like we’re not enough, instead of demanding more, tells us that we are loved just as we are.
God cares about sex and drinking and idols and whatever, not because God is arbitrary, but because God’s greatest desire for us is for us to live into the abundant and joyful life that God has called us to. God wants to see us grow in faith and peace and hope and joy, and chasing after things that will not satisfy, trading the truth for a lie, will not help us grow into the people that God so desperately desires us to be.
I encourage you continue these conversations with the teenagers (and you know, adult people) in your life, and to continue to chase after the One who does satisfy us.
Director of Youth Ministries