"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3.28).
The gospel is revolutionary! By the gospel, Jesus is able to do what no other institution, leader, ideological system or government can do. He is able to unite seemingly un-unitable (had to coin a word!) people into one body, with one heart and mind (see Eph 4.4-6).
The world exploits our demographical categories (young/old, rich/poor, black/white, liberal/conservative, etc.). The world uses these distinctions to perpetuate division and hostility. In the church, however, Jesus is able to unite all these otherwise divisive categories into one people. Paul does not mean there is no gender, ethnicity or economy in the church. Men are still men, women still women, Greek still Greek. He means all those things that divide us in the world do not do so in the church. Whereas in the world we're able to see who's who and where we fit in the pecking order, in the church we don't exaggerate our differences but celebrate the Christ who has redeemed them for his glory.
Whereas in the world ethnicity, gender and class create racism, sexism and classism, in the church those same differences testify to Christ's ability to reconcile the irreconcilable. And eternity will be spent praising the One who, by one life of obedience, was able to unite every nation, tribe and tongue under one rule and reign.
This theological reality should inform how we gather as a local church. Our gathering should reflect, as much as possible, the reality of heaven. When we consistently segregate teenagers into their own "church," we're saying the God of adults is to be approached differently than the God of teenagers. Jesus saves but he doesn't unify. We might even treat them as the center of the church's life, gearing everything toward attracting and keeping teenagers.
Jesus is clearly the center of the church's life. This is the beauty of the gospel. Jesus is able to take self-absorbed teenagers, feeble senior citizens, career-driven middle managers, high school dropouts and PhDs and make them one people with one mission.
I'm not categorically rejecting all youth-specific events or Sunday school classes (not a biblical requirement, by the way). I'm stressing a shift in mindset that seeks to incorporate children/teenagers in church life as soon and as much as possible. It's a mindset that stops emphasizing our differences (youth, children, senior adult, cowboy, Gen-X, etc.), but emphasizes the Jesus who is able to reconcile what our sin has caused.
In other words, it's not necessarily a great testimony to Christ to have 100 teenagers go to summer camp on the beach (secular organizations do the same). It's a tremendous testimony to see four teenagers partner with three senior citizens on an evangelism project. It's no great testimony to have a room full of hyped-up teenagers shouting to the Lord (a football game can create the same adrenaline). It's a tremendous testimony to see teenagers sitting respectfully with their parents, Bibles in laps and attention staid to the sermon. Where else can we find that except in Christ's church?
So, have your midnight bowling trips and laser tag nights. But make sure your teenagers know that's not church (even if you mention Jesus at snack time). Make sure they can distinguish the fleeting excitement of pizza night and the eternal excitement of the church's worship.
The greatest threat to our children/teenagers is not boredom, for which entertainment is the remedy. Their greatest threat is their sin, for which the gospel is the remedy. They need rescue from their narcissim to life in community. They don't need a Christian alternative to the world's entertainment. They need the alternative to hell and where else will they find it but in Christ's church?
To be continued . . .
(Warp to Part 1 and/or Part 3)