I’ve read several places that have compared the contemporary youth culture to a kind of Athens. The idea is that students are searching in deeply spiritual ways, they just aren’t recognizing/identifying God as the one true source of the whole-ness they’re so desperate for. So we must, like Paul, understand their culture well enough to intelligently discuss how elements from their very own construct point them to the one true God. This is what Paul did in Athens, on Mars Hill, in making known to them the identity of their ‘unknown God’.
I think this is a good paradigm for what we in youth ministry have to do. But if youth ministry is like going into Athens, it is also like getting into Troy. It’s not easy to gain admittance!
The city was virtually impenetrable. After 10 years of siege, the walls still stood. The city still survived. I think the student community has built up protective walls through which the church has found no way of entry. And much of the youth culture has closed the way to the entry of the church.
Don’t get me wrong. Our desire is not to sneak in and destroy youth culture, as the city of Troy was destroyed when the ‘horse’ was finally accepted into the city. But I think we need to find ways to offer peace to students. Instead of packing the horse with troops to destroy the city, what if we fill our gifts to students with a substantial caring and genuine love that will supersede their defenses?
So that brings up the question, “What does the church have to offer that students actually want?” Great music? They can have better… Awesome games? You’re joking right… Meaningful Bible Study? How many students are chomping at that bit… Music, games, Bible studies, etc. are all important tools in youth ministry – but I don’t think they’re gifts that youth culture by and large is eager to receive from us.
Here, I think is the Trojan Horse of youth ministry: meaningful relationships. Not surfacy ‘how’s school?’ acquaintances with adults, but real relationship. Students want to be known. They want to be loved without conditions. And when they are honestly offered that, don’t be surprised when they start tearing down the walls they’ve put up to keep God out.