Middle School. They tore mine down a few years ago. In some ways I was sad to see it go. But as a monument to our shared pre-teen and early-pubescent vulnerabilities and insecurities, seeing that school reduced to rubble was a good reminder that the difficulties of those days was temporary, and we were able to move beyond the difficulties of development and into our adult lives.
But as I watched the school buses head down my street for the first days of school earlier this week, I had to wonder how today’s middle school experience serves to answer those most basic front-and-center questions of life during this stage: “Who am I?”, and “What do I believe?”
Yesterday morning I received an email that answered that question in a most disturbing manner. It was from a grandfather who had just spoken with his daughter. . . a young mom whose son was starting middle school in a district I know rather well. She had gone to the school’s administrative offices to check in on a matter with her son. On her way out of the office she noticed a bulletin board on the wall that had been populated as all bulletin boards are in school hallways and classrooms this time of year. This is what she saw. . .
And so, I imagine my middle school self walking the halls and interacting with peers as I unconsciously focus on developing my identity and my beliefs. I imagine walking those halls in a culture that is catechizing me 24/7. . . telling me who I need to be and what I need to believe. And I imagine that God’s voice has been silenced not only in the culture-at-large, but through the unintentional ignorance of my family, my church, and my youth group. And, I imagine graduating from middle school, then high school, and then into whatever comes next with those identity and worldview messages cemented into the very core of my being. . . informing both my beliefs and the resulting behaviors.
We say it all the time here at CPYU. . . “culture is both a map and a mirror.” The photo you see above is mirroring back to you and to me the map for life laid out for our kids. Are you answering it with the life-and-freedom-giving map of the Gospel? And, do you realize that whoever speaks first to our kids about these matters will set the bar for truth and own the conversation?
To youthworkers, parents, and all others I would humbly say this. . . this is an issue that we must study, reckon with, and address. So much hangs in the balance. Our kids need voices that will point them to – not away from – the life-giving freedom that comes with denying self, taking up one’s cross, and following Jesus. We want our kids to live in the redemptive narrative of the Gospel. . . Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. . . a narrative that clearly sets God’s agenda for matters of sexuality and gender. (If you are unfamiliar with this four-chapter way of looking at the redemptive flow of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, check out the David Arms’ “God’s Story” painting in the header at the top of this page, and read the narrative for the painting written by Scotty Smith. In addition, you can listen to three youthworkers discuss this story of Scripture and how they teach it on the latest edition of our The Word In Youth Ministry podcast, which I’ve posted at the bottom of this page.)
To get you started on your study and response to this cultural moment, I’ve written a brand new little book designed specifically for parents and youth workers to read with your kids: A Student’s Guide To Navigating Culture. In it, I lay out an overview of God’s Story and what it means to live into that story to God’s glory, offering specifics on matters of sexuality and gender. You can learn more and order copies here.
In addition, I invite you to revisit a very helpful and informative episode of our Youth Culture Matters podcast (embedded below) which features a conversation Duffy Robbins and I had with our friend Peter Lynas, who has put together some very helpful and theologically-sound resources on transgender for youth workers, parents, and pastors.
May the Lord bless you and our kids as we point them to the life-giving message of the Gospel. . . a Gospel that speaks to all of life, including sexuality and gender.