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Teens reflect a culture all of their own within American society. The language that they speak, music that they listen to, and many aspects of their lives differ from that of past generations (Linehan 3). Therefore, many people of older generations tend to make judgments and assumptions about teenagers. These assumptions are typically based on the manner in which teenagers speak, dress, and present themselves. Because of these generalizations, faith of many teens is commonly overlooked. In a society where violence seems to be accepted and many teens are lost about who they are, faith can be the one bond interlinking a group of many. Despite occurrences such as the shootings April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School, and other negative aspects surrounding teenagers’ lives, there are still many young people involved and/or seeking a life with faith in Christ.
Although there are many instances of violence and hate in society today, one that shocked the nation more than most was the massacre at Columbine High School. Some people say that the boys’ families caused them to kill, some say it was other students, however there was also another ingredient... a lack of faith in their lives (Grace and Mitchell 58). In a world where many teenagers are surrounded by things such as materialism and discrimination many have the strength to maintain a spiritual life. However Klebold and Harris, the shooters at Columbine High School, had a loss of a sense of sin. They killed innocent people, one of whom was Cassie Bernall, a devout Christian.
When a Columbine gunman asked Cassie Bernall if she believed in God, she allegedly replied, “Yes, and you should too.” Moments after hearing this reply, one of the gunmen put the gun to he head and took her life. Such a strong testament of her faith in Christ cost young Bernall her life (58). Because of this strong commitment, many consider Bernall a martyr of sorts, and say that she is a testament to their own faith (Grace and Mitchell 58). Many teens and younger youth have been greatly influenced by Bernall’s decision to stand up for her beliefs, this is a large encouragement to teens everywhere, especially because we live in a society where teens’ identifies are greatly challenged (59). Susan Teran is one student to whom Bernall’s act spoke out to. “If there were a shooter in my school,” says Teran, “I’d volunteer to sacrifice my life. I’d say, ‘Don’t shoot my friends; shoot me, because I know where I’ll go when I die.” (58). While some teens, like Teran, are quite secure in their faith not all Christian youths would have the same courage and security in where “they will go” when they die.
Today’s church wants to play a larger role in letting teens know just where they will go upon their death from this world. More than many previous popes, Pope John Paul II has a distinct goal for the ministry of youths (Light For All the World, 3). “Help these young men and women be a light for all the world to see,” (3). Part of John Paul II’s plans for ministry includes Sons and Daughters of the light: A Pastoral Plan for ministry with young adults. That is a plan for ministry to people in their late teens and early twenties, with a purpose of a development of a spiritual life (3). The plan seems to be working because where as five or ten years ago it was not cool to believe and pronounce faith in God, now many teens cannot think of anything cooler.
In high school, there is a second side to the blessing of modern Christianity. While many communities offer programs for fellowship and leadership in Christ, many teens get caught up in the wrong things. These programs are meant to not condemn the “bad” ideals teens may posses of things that they may do, but these programs are an outreach. The philosophy of many programs being to love the unlovable, and to accept people as they are. Several of these nation-wide programs for teenagers wanting to grow closer to Christ include FCA (fellowship of Christian athletes), Young Life, and church youth groups. While none of these programs are better than the other, each has its own uniqueness and own appeal to different groups of teenagers. Despite the many youth ministries, American culture has let many of today’s young people go uninformed about the church and, uninstructed in their spiritual lives (“Light For All the World” 3).
A further look into one of the teen ministry programs available is FCA. What is FCA? A group that meets weekly and is led by high school students, promoting youth leadership and fellowship (Personal Interview, Story). There is a strong focus among group members in relating sports and life while in high school to Christ (Story). Where is FCA held? You can find FCA meetings all over the country and on all age levels from high school and college students to a group of adults still active in the organization (Story). The basic concept of FCA is to take an issue that many people face, find a scripture, relating to the problem or issue, then through prayer, communication, and skits use Christ to eliminate that problem (Story). FCA works so well as youth ministry because a group of people whom might not typically come together join to worship and lift up Christ and the word of God.
While it is easy to walk into a room of teenagers and easily find a group of teenagers who would consider themselves atheists, and admit so without shame, it is a bit more difficult to find someone strong enough to admit their relationship with God. One person who will quickly identify herself as a Christian is Jessica Ruth Lang, or Jessi to her friends. Jessi is a Christian and accepted Christ into her life when she was only seven years old (Personal Interview Lang). “Because I grew up in a Christian home, it (faith) was always present in our lives,” said Lang. Lang is a very strong believer and follower of Jesus Christ and therefore her weekly schedule consists of a lot of church oriented activities. “Let’s see... Sunday I go to church, Monday is bible study- Teen CBS, Wednesday is young life club, and Saturday nights are HMC, like senior leadership,” (Lang Personal Interview). Another factor of her life is also affected because of Lang’s faith- the party and dating scene. “I don’t think that there is anything wrong with drinking, I don’t do it though- it is against the law of the land, and you should obey those laws ... yeah that is one problem with drunkenness. I don’t condemn people who do drink- it just isn’t a thing I do,” (Lang). When it comes to dating, Lang feels like in high school there is really no point because she is looking for a person to marry. “In high school I just can’t imagine treating anyone as a serious relationship with marital prospects,” (Lang).
Also, Jessi feels that her strong faith gives her an advantage of sorts over those who don’t have Christ in their lives. “Being a Christian helps me to be more concerned for others, because I have Christ being concerned for me. A lot of things that I think and do are self-centered but, having Christ still helps to keep the focus on others,” (Lang). Jessi also said that her possessing the light of God helps for others, to look up to her and perhaps notice something that they desire, then go after it; that being Christ (Lang). While teens like Jessi may seem to be the exception they really aren’t, but most media attention isn’t focused on teens like her. The media tends to focus on incidents where teens have a lack of faith, which drives them to doing many things, such as murder.
In a certain hope to raise the faith among teens and in hopes that more teens will give their lives to Christ, many youth ministry seminars are run around the country. Typically the seminars are filled with ten to twenty thousand youths, all of which are excited and screaming for Jesus. In Anaheim, California there was a weekend of celebrating the gospel and praising Christ that could easily beat out the noise and excitement level of any rock concert. At youth conferences like the one held in California a speaker will talk about the gospel and about the life of Christ and then, an hour later a Christian rock band will take the stage, lighting the fires of every youth in the place (Kauffman, L.A. 306). When teens are given an environment in which they can feel loved and the love they have for Christ can be nurtured the number of people like Jessi Lang climb quite exponentially.
While sharing the word of Christ through rock music and merchandise may not be quite what the bishops were calling for when they recommended that, “They hope to find ways that will allow young people to connect with Jesus Christ through a program of spiritual formation and religious education,” (Light For All the World, 2). The teachings are still being spread though not as conservatively as many straight line Christians would have hoped. Even though teens have jumped up at this call for evangilization many seecontradictions in the teachings of their faith. “The same kids who were told to shun worldly concerns in the name of Jesus spent much of the California conference pursuing the newest, hipest Christian commodities. They were warned to not worship false idols, and then ran off to get autographs from their favorite Christian rock stars,” (Kauffman, L.A., 307). While it may be true that there are contradictions to be found- shouldn’t the evangelists rejoice in this teen worship to Christ?
After learning about all of the programs available for teenagers, and the number of teens whom participate in such programs and church groups, it becomes quite obvious that a vast majority of teenagers are strong in their faith. Teen worship in our society and is more evident the harder that a person looks for signs of faith in teens’ lives the more evident that worship becomes. One last specific example of a strong deep routed faith in God took place in a small town only a little over a year ago. In the summer of 1998 four classmates from Webster Groves High School died. The following September a loved counselor passed on as well; then only weeks later a former student known to many as Rico dies of a drug overdose. One of the many common characteristics in all of these tragedies is this- teens gathered in grief and prayed, they cried and they prayed. Many of the affected students would console one another with a set of what grew to be far too familiar words, “It was all in God’s time,” or, “There was a reason that he/she is gone, God needed them.” It is unfortunate that in a time of tragedy faith typically becomes more evident than ever, but it does prove a serious and most important fact. Despite tragedy, sorrow, and times of pure and utter grief faith will always remain evident in teenagers lives.
Works CitedGrace, Julie and Emily Mitchell. “Special Report: Troubled Kids.” Time. May 31 1999: 58+.
Kauffman, L.A. “Praise the Lord and Mammon.” The Nation. 26 September 1994: 306-310.
Lang, Jessi. Personal Interview. 13 February 2000.
“Light For All the World (Ministry for young adults).” America. February 22 1997: 3+.