Over the course of many hours on the streets talking with young people, in schools, cafes or parks, one of the major challenges that as a team weve faced is not only the perception young people have of Christians in the media, but the actual actions that theyve experienced by christians in the course of their lives thus far.
It becomes a difficult one to have to deal with as the actions may have had good intentions, but with astute young people perceived rightly as odd, condescending, or at worse manipulative. Ill not name any names but heres a few;
1. You’re not like the christians who locked us in the cellar to do sunday school
2. You’re not like the christians who encourage us onto their bus and force us to pray a prayer before we get off
3. You’re not like the christians who advertised a rock band night only to use it to advertise a christian programme between every band (youth alpha)
4. You’re not like the christians who take over the park with their bbq and try and talk to us about jesus and their church. But then we dont see them.
5. You’re not like the street preacher who just shouts at people.
6. You’re not like the christians who judge us.
7. You’re not like the christians that put big jesus posters up.
8. You’re not like the christians who turn up at our school, teach us to play music, do a concert then leave.
What im trying to say is that whilst well intentioned ministries (though some are v bad practice, ill leave you to decide), they can act to alienate the very young people who might be interested, be in need of being listened to and journeying in faith together. Young people it seems, especially the very astute ones, not only see a phoney, but also have high ethical standards and want to be respected.
I am no amazing Christian person, but just being one in that space with young people and they can be quick to share their negative experiences of christians thus far. And they should cause us to gulp and take stock of what is going on in actions to young people.
For us, these have been opportunities for us to share to young people that christians are different, and at other times have to apologise on behalf of other brothers and sisters, in the faith’s, actions.
If there are only events and ministries, where is the space to reflect and build relationships with young people, especially those not attached to christianity at all. The streets are one place to do this, one place where young people build those relationships, and have space. Where christians can be not like other christians that young people have issues with.
Meeting young people where they’re at also means meeting head on their previous encounters with christian ministries some of which might claim high attendence/output rates, but at what faith costs?
Mission with young people is not just the message spoken, its the message acted.