I’ve been thinking a lot about value systems over the last two weeks. At our summer camp facility in Colorado called KIVU, we’ve hosted two different large youth organizations and I think I’m beginning to understand more about how and why groups function the way they do. It’s been an eye-opening experience, sometimes with a rub of conflict, and other times a relationship made in heaven. But I think I’m beginning to identify the sources of those conflicts in light of what people value at the core of their belief system.
Identifying Belief System
It’s difficult to parse through someones belief system, many times due to the semantics we use. In the faith world, words can often be interchanged and confusing. For example: a lot of Protestant Christian churches will use the phrase, “It’s all about relationships, not religion.” On the surface this belief system value seems to reveal a departure from rote religious rules and the trap of legalistic morality many of us grew up in.
I remember growing up in a place where the clothes you wore, the length of your hair, the words that you used in conversation and even the people you associated with were the centric pieces of teaching. It was almost like the behaviorist wanted to teach morality instead of teaching what it means to truly engage in life changing relationships. While their mantra was “Relationships above Religion,” when the real consequences of teaching became evident, it was more like adherence to religious doctrine trumped the relational capital being built outside the tribe.
I think it’s important we take some time to evaluate our core belief system. It’s crucial we take time to identify the meaning of the words we use. If relationships are at the core value, then everything we do should be considered through the paradigm of developing those relationships no matter what! If it’s behavior modification we’re teaching, then it begs the question why we try to mask that teaching when the rubber meets the road.
The Difference in Faith Community Value Propositions
For years, I’ve been helping youth leaders understand the culture of teenagers today. Working in the youth culture world for the last 20 years has given me some insights to what students are really longing for in a faith community, and what I’ve found is pretty counter intuitive.
Most faith community youth leaders believe we can attract more students with events, parties, and large concert like gatherings. Many of the “mega-churches” I’ve been to have a state of the art facility, video game consoles outside, and several “youth like distractions.” What I’ve found is, although students like having fun when they get together, the real heart felt need for students is learning how to make friends, identifying with leaders, and longing for mentors.
As a parent, I watch my own kids fall into their friendships without much trouble. They identify with one of their classmates with common activities, common interests, and friendships form. But for some, friendships are a pro-active intentional value system.
To identify relationships as a core value of your group means…
- You spend time knowing and being known
- You look for uncovered stories like an explorer of old searching for precious metals
- Everything takes a backseat to learning about someone and working to integrate your own story into theirs
- Sometimes well made plans have to fail for the sake of the needs of another.
To run a youth community based on program means…
- Doing an activity is more important than getting to know the students
- Having the best light show at your concert worship service trumps the needs of the students
- Budgets are geared for facility instead of for trips where students have to learn about one another
- The latest greatest social media trumps conversation
The Jesus Way
I think part of the reason many students find religion less than a compelling conversation is because they just see faith groups as events. It’s like we’ve taken a cue from Disney, and created these event filled programmatic groups that are seeking a ride rather than a relationship.
As I read the red letters of Jesus, I find Him more interested in the heart-felt needs of the people He interacted with. He wasn’t concerned with how many people followed, after all; he only invited 12 to be in the inner circle. He didn’t have the pressure of feeling like the growth of the Kingdom equaled some quantifiable business model. He was interested in the depth of relationship of each individual.
He cared for the heart of the prostitute, not simply her behavior.
He wanted to know the tax collector when He went to the house to dine with Zacheas.
He was interested in the lives of the blind man, even beyond the healing.
It seems like all the healing things were just icing on the proverbial cake of knowing and being known.
We read this morning in our leadership meeting, “I no longer call you servants, but I call you friends.” (John 15)
What if our value system lined up with Jesus’ value system instead of the latest Xcel spreadsheet we wanted to present to the executive guys? I’m not saying there isn’t a place for numbers and accountability, but I am wondering how value systems play into the heartbeat of what we’re doing in the youth world today.
What do you think?