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Exilic Faith in a Babylonian World

What if Christian youth are more willing to be challenged than the church is willing to challenge them?

Lately I’ve been reading the book Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon. Co-authors David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock spend quite a bit of time describing the “digital Babylon” we currently live in. In a nutshell, they say, our new reality is one in which transformative person-to-person experiences have been replaced with digital “brand experiences.”

In this world, algorithms often define the faith of our youth, versus the reality not long ago where experiences like rallies and conventions provided potential for faith-forming transformation,

One line from the book has been especially percolating in my head and heart:

The church has responded to the identity pressures of our culture by offering young people a Jesus “brand experience” rather than facilitating a transformational experience to find their identity in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

That leads me to wonder whether the church has defaulted to expecting too little of Christian believers. The church can be one of the least demanding environments for young people especially. We are happy if they just show up to the Sunday service or youth group. But what if Christian youth are more willing to be challenged than the church is willing to challenge them?

Here are two important questions we should be asking.

Question 1: How might we as a church embody vocational discipleship?

I’m not talking about offering career advice to help people get lucrative jobs. The church is not called to preach career success, but we are called to connect with the next generations to help them develop godly imaginations for how they might use their gifts in service to God and their neighbour. What an opportunity that is! Imagine if we could help awaken in all God’s children a resilient faith that says

“I can see how my work and faith are inseparable.”

“My work is a vehicle for glorifying God, rather than myself.”

“I know how to help others discover who God made them to be.”

This feels like a Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 139, and 1 John 3:1-3 “moment” that can help us better understand our purpose here on earth, doesn’t it?

Question 2: How might we as a church embody mission?
Today’s Christian teens and young adults are eager about mission. About rightness. About justice. About wanting others to see Jesus reflected in their words and actions. Our convictions as Christ-centered communities must reflect a heart for mission. That mission may be local, meaning in our neighborhoods, but it is specifically about being outside the walls of the institutional building of the church. We must be a church on fire for the redemptive action of Christ in our local and global communities of God’s creation.

I am reminded of the incredible moment in our baptism liturgy when we as a congregation are asked, “Do you promise to love, encourage, and support these brothers and sisters, by teaching the gospel of God’s love, by being an example of Christian faith and character, and by giving the strong support of God’s family in fellowship, prayer, and service?” to which we reply. “We do.”

But do we? In this digital Babylon, it is more important than ever

This article was made possible through a partnership with CRC Ministries within Canada.

  • Ron serves with Faith Formation Ministries as the Youth Ministry Catalyzer for the Christian Reformed Church in North America and Ambassador for Youth Unlimited

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