Being entrusted by parents with their children is a remarkable gift. I am not with their children as often as their school teachers are – God bless the hours school teachers invest in children and the resources they have to work with – but I am with their children a few hours every week. In those hours I, along with my youth leaders, are to impart spiritual wisdom, practical life skills, and fellowship with these young folks. It is scary to know you are influencing the young minds as they develop their ethics and understanding of theology, claiming them as their own.
The scary part for me comes in the fact the theology I share with my students is not black and white. I hope to teach my students to live in the grey, to question what they are taught, and to find a truth that allows them to feel whole in mind/body/spirit. At times I wish I would return to the Southern Baptist teachings I was raised with and live in a bit more of white and black – that way I could be a bit more certain in knowing my students followed a set of dogmatics and I could feel that certainty in checking things off of my “theology in a box” checklist. Fortunately I do not have “theology in a box” checklist, nor do I believe in giving my students a black and white theology.
As scary as it is to shape critically thinking theologians as the young people they are, it is also fantastic when you get to see these young folks claim the theology they believe to be true. One of the greatest spiritual gifts they offer me and our church is when they question what we believe and challenge us to be forever authentic. My students are brilliant and often do not realize it. They don’t have to deconstruct bad theological baggage in order to claim themselves as Beloved children of God, void of shame and guilt. Their theology is one of hope and uncertainty, which leads to unheard of concepts of God and creative interpretations of Scripture. They leave me in awe more often than I likely bestow wisdom to them. What a spiritual practice it is to listen to people who are wrestling and claiming (or not claiming) God as their own for the first time.
Another scary piece is that just as I had to deconstruct the theology I was raised with, my students will have to deconstruct the grey theology we are encouraging our students to engage, wrestle with, and embrace. I lean on the hope that Christ never forced his theology upon anyone and often lived in the grey of fulfilling the law while living out the new law. I am no Christ – not that it needed to be said – but I do hope to model how he claimed his theology for himself, lived it out, offered it to the disciples and those who came to hear him but never forced people to follow him in order to offer them grace, love, and hospitality.
With all the uncertainties this role in the church holds I absolutely love it. Young people are smart beyond their measure and ground the church into daily life and life outside of the church walls in ways many other populations in the church do regularly. My challenge as one of their leaders is to ensure they have the tools they need to claim, create, and wrestle with theology and spiritual practices. My challenge is to also figure out what it looks like to engage them where they are and meet them in the daily perplexities of life. My challenge is to have them help us envision the future of the institutional church and help them own their voices in its future.
I am up for the challenge and incredibly grateful I am invited to be part of these young people’s lives. I am deeply honored to be trusted by their parents to journey alongside their children during these incredibly formative year. Here to another year with one of the scariest and best jobs I have ever had.