Being on the “front line” of youth work as well as working with parents, I, like other youth workers, have the unique task of ministering to both teenagers and adults. What makes this most interesting is that I am stuck somewhere between the world of teenagers and the grown up world, never really finding my place.
To be sure, I am an adult. I’m in my early 30’s, I’m married with two great kids, and I have somehow managed to stay employed but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. My other life is engulfed in teenage drama where a solitary zit is a national tragedy and not finding a date to the prom is the end of the world.
My unique experience in youth ministry and ministry to parents has shown me that this generation of teenagers is probably the most vain generation in history and, at the same time, the most insecure. Music, fashion, politics, and even the church have all been juvenilized, because youth culture is the dominate culture today.
So why do I feel the need the write something about an entire generation of people? I love teenagers and I’ve seen many of them love and serve the Lord but I’ve also seen the dark side of teenage life. I’ve seen how they can have everything they want and still not be satisfied. Teenagers have access to the internet, hundreds of channels on television, and every video game system imaginable and still complain about being bored. They’re unsatisfied even with so much of the world devoted specifically for them.
Teenagers are being told how good they are at everything they try (see the parents of tone deaf singers on American Idol) and, at the same time, they are being medicated and sent to secular psychologists at an alarming rate. How in the world can this be? Why are so many teenagers who have been given everything they want and praised for doing almost nothing struggling with self-image and their place in the world?
I believe everything falls on two very important truths that must be hammered into Christian teenagers: God is good and we are not. It sounds far too simple to be profound but understanding these two things changes everything in our lives. When we’re given everything without failure along the way or we’re told by those around us that we’re great when we’re not, reality becomes skewed. Teenagers, who are still trying to figure who they are, are left with unrealistic expectations of their own greatness and are shattered when they finally come to the realization that they’re not as good as they thought they were. To some, this brings on severe depression or anxiety that is extremely difficult to process in a mind that is still developing.
When teenagers understand that only God is good and that all humans have sinned and are deserving of the wrath of God, they will see that, contrary to what they’re seeing and hearing, they do not measure up. They don’t measure up because the only person we can compare ourselves to is God, and that always brings failure.
So, in a strange way to our human reasoning, the best way to answer self-doubt and narcissism from unrealistic expectations is to show them how bad they are and how good God is. This is why the gospel must be constantly taught, even to Christian teenagers. They need to be reminded that it is not their gifts, talents, or abilities that pleases God but rather Christ taking the punishment for our sin on the cross and his righteousness imputed to us.
The gospel is not just valuable for evangelism nor is it important only for the unregenerate. The gospel is the answer to the problem of self-doubt and narcissism because it shows us that our focus cannot be ourselves if we are to follow Christ. Our focus must instead be completely set on the glory of God found in Jesus Christ and we cannot do that if we’re stuck in the sinful cycle of our own fulfillment. Only when we understand the far reaching implications of the gospel can we see a solution to both self-doubt and self-obsession.