This is my column in the April issue of ChurchActs, the diocesan newspaper. If you're wondering whatever become of March's column so am I. Can't find it anywhere.
Over the last six years I can't count how many times I've said something like “This generation is the busiest/most heavily scheduled in the history of mankind”. Then I'd go on to make some profound point about the importance of youth ministry. The other day it dawned on me. By simply accepting that point, shrugging my shoulders and moving on I was part of the problem. That's not right. Somebody needs to stand and up, speak out and fight back. And I'm just the guy to do it. So here goes:
LIFE DOESN'T END AT 18!
So stop living like it does
I'm astounded at how much “stuff” seems to get crammed into the first 18 years of your lives. The underlying logic seems to be that you better do it now because you'll never get the chance again. Say WHAT?!? Are you really comfortable with the idea that all the rest of your life is going to be so busy, so overwhelmed that you will never have the chance to do things that might be fun? You have to do all the fun things now because adult life is just one long hard drag from high school to the grave. Yee Haw, let the party begin!
I'm not going to tell you that being an adult doesn't come with more responsibility and more claims on your time. At the same time it's also a wonderful time with responsibilities (like being a parent) that can be more fun than any theme park, game console or concert. In some ways it's the best part of life I think. The other side of that coin is that childhood and your teen years are the last time that you DON'T have all those responsibilities. It's a time when you can relax, enjoy and have a special kind of freedom.
Unless your schedule bulges like a water balloon about to burst. Think about it this way – one of the things you are supposed to be doing as a teenager is getting ready to be an adult. So what is this lifestyle training you to do? To be on the go 27 hours a day, with an activity scheduled for every waking minute. Is that really the best that the world has to offer you? I don't think so. That's why I want you to stop.
There is one other way that I've seen this lifestyle have an effect. In the last two years I've had young people say something to me that even I have trouble fathoming. I've received complaints that during youth ministry events we haven't told them what to do or had something planned for them at all times. That's right they've been complaining to me about that dreaded concept - “Free Time”. Now before the parents start getting twitchy thinking we leave your children wandering around for extended periods of time without supervision let me reassure you. Your young people are cared for and watched over when they're at camp or Happening or other youth events. The most recent complaint was about an amount of free time that was astounding to me, one hour. They got one hour of free time to hang around, talk with their friends, play games, read a book, listen to their tunes, whatever. Quite simply most of the young people (high school aged I note) had no idea what to do with themselves. To be honest that scares me. Free time is one of the most precious concepts I have as an adult. Time just for me, or for me and God or for me and my wife or daughter, or my friends, or just some QUIET! It's a gift it seems to me. But it appears to be a gift that too many of our young people neither understand nor desire.
So here's my advice to my young brothers and sisters (and the adults who love and care for them). Give it a rest. Take a serious look at that planner. Make some serious decisions about what's really important. My prayer is that Faith and Family and Friends will get high priority. Add in school and then see how much time is left. Figure out what fits and then do something radical. Dump everything else. Walk away from it. Yes, there'll be some weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth about the effect on the “program”.
I don't care.
I care much more about the effect on you.