Learning my lines . . .
. . . discovering what it means to follow Jesus, seeing my story swept up into his . . .

Peanut Butter Armpits, Youth Ministry, And The Death Of A Son. . .

Earth’s groanings for release from the curse of sin into the freedom of final redemption screamed out loud and clear again yesterday. A link popped up in my feed informing me of the sudden and unexpected death of Tim Challies’ 20-year-old son. As a dad, grandfather, and lover of kids, it led to a pause in my day that felt like a punch in the gut. We’ve had quite a few of those this year, haven’t we?

If you’ve tracked with blogger Tim Challies you know how thoughtful and sharp he is. Here at CPYU we’ve been strong advocates of his book The Next Story: Faith, Friends, Family and the Digital World. It was one of the first books we found that looked seriously at the need to bring together theory and theology to inform our digital practices and habits. It was instrumental in shaping our online Digital Kids Initiative. Since then, I’ve been tracking with Tim as his blog is not only informative, but theologically-rich and personally challenging. He regularly forces me to step out of myself to look more objectively at my beliefs and the resulting behaviors. His words and oft-times provocative posts are motivated for a deep desire for the Kingdom to come into and to bleed out of human lives that are deeply broken yet made to flourish.

Yesterday’s blog post caught my eye because of the stinging words of the title: “My Son, My Dear Son, Has Gone To Be With The Lord.” He wrote, “In all the years I’ve been writing I have never had to type words more difficult, more devastating than these: Yesterday the Lord called my son to himself—my dear son, my sweet son, my kind son, my godly son, my only son. Nick was playing a game with his sister and fiancée and many other students when he suddenly collapsed, never regaining consciousness. Students, paramedics, and doctors battled valiantly, but could not save him. He’s with the Lord he loved, the Lord he longed to serve. We have no answers to the what or why questions. . . ” After speaking about the difficult resolve to plow through this with God’s strength, Tim Challies wrote these words: “Our son is home.”

Is there anything more pressing and important that we could desire for our kids? I think not.

Among the many thoughts that came to mind when reading this news was the suddenness of it all. That suddenness should motivate us, shouldn’t it? After the tragic death of a young person you often hear shocked onlookers telling each other, “When you go home, hug your son and daughter today.” As Christians, we realize that every day we’re given is a gift from God. . . and tomorrow is never promised. That’s why we should be joyfully nurturing our children in the faith with a never-ending sense of urgency. We should not put off Christian nurture until “tomorrow” or some day in the future.

The same holds true for those of us in youth ministry . . . and that’s where Tim Challies’ blog post from Monday, written and posted just hours before his son’s death, holds great weight. The title of that post grabbed my eye: “Peanut Butter Armpits and a Lost Generation.” Yes, embedded in the post is information on a new youth curriculum that looks really, really good. But the post is more than just an ad. It’s a challenge to those of us in youth ministry to stand-outside-of-yourself-and evaluate-what-you-are-doing-to-nurture-your-kids. And, are you nurturing them with urgency? I told you that Tim Challies is challenging. I encourage you to drop your defensiveness and listen to what he’s saying. . . something I wish I had done much earlier in my own youth ministry. Challies is provocative. . . “Is it any wonder our Evangelical youth are projected to ‘leave the faith’ to the tune of thirty-five million by the year 2050? . . . we do things to our kids that would rightly get a public school teacher fired or put in jail. Then we are shocked when they run off to university and an erudite professor treats them with respect, pumps them full of secular humanistic bilge, and they deny the faith. . . . It’s time to put an end to Evangelical youth group nonsense and fight for the souls of our kids.”

As an older guy, I’m not passing this on to my younger youth ministry peers as a scolding. If there’s a scolding in this, it’s a scolding of my younger youth ministry self. I’ve been there and done that. If anything, I want to encourage you to make your minutes that you have with kids really count. It’s not a call to flee from fun. God knows we need fun! Rather, it’s a call to realize that the days are short for all of us. . . our kids included. Invest your ministry time wisely. The flourishing of our kids depends on it.

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