Shepherding Sheep

One of the “perks” of working in a high school is that I am kept up to speed on popular euphemisms and phrases that students use. Much of what’s being said comes from the social media world of hashtags and abbreviations, especially Twitter. Maybe you’ve seen or heard the term “YOLO.” I have to admit, it took me a while to figure out that “YOLO” stood for You Only Live Once. It’s usually said just before the one who speaks it does something unwise, such as turning the roof of his home into a slip-n-slide or doing a triple flip off of a trampoline. If you only live once, you better make the most of it, even if it means putting yourself in risky or unsafe situations (SMH – shaking my head).

While YOLO is being used in some irresponsible ways, it would be wise to consider that we do only live once. Since we only have one life to live, it would be a tremendous benefit for all, especially overseers, to be aware of some of the dangers our Google generation faces, and to prayerfully seek prevention and solutions. In my experience as a professional school counselor, I have concluded that, of the many dangers facing our young people, there are three that generally rise above the others.

The first danger is cultural pressure. This comes as no surprise, as you likely faced pressures yourself in school. The recent movie God’s Not Dead is based on a true story where a Christian college student is challenged by his atheist professor to a series of debates on the existence of God. They must be performed in front of his peers and with very little preparation. Unless you’re Ravi Zacharias or Josh McDowell, the prospect of this would likely send you running for the door. A 2014 graduate recently shared that her school participated in a gay appreciation day in which all students were asked to wear T-shirts that supported the cause. In their English classes, they were encouraged to take a stand regarding gay rights. She expressed how difficult it was to submit a paper that opposed the movement to a teacher who endorsed it.

While those two examples represent the pressure young men and women face, the testing they face from their peers is just as daunting. A male student discussed how an older female student literally pressured him to curse as she sat next to him on the bus. “Let me hear you do it, just once. You never do it, come on!” she said. “You’ve never had a girlfriend – it’s so weird!” Sometimes the content of the conversations that are overheard are enough to send the Christian mind into a tailspin.

Tips for Young Christians (TFYC): Be proactive – rehearse responses; practice how you will respond when pressured (1Peter 3:15). Be preventive as much as you can. Don’t put yourself in situations where the odds of being pressured are increased (Eph 4:27). Be strong and courageous (Josh 1:9).

(TFOC): Be a mentor for younger Christians – meet with them and develop real relationships that will foster open and honest dialogue about these pressures (Titus 2:3-5; Psa 71:18).

The second danger facing our future generation is isolation. This sounds like a contradiction in a world where we have 300+ friends on Facebook and follow 150 on Twitter and Instagram. In past generations, television was a stage for the entertainment industry to promote immoral behaviors. Today we have the Internet, which takes immorality to a whole new level. Smartphones in our pockets and tablets in our houses have a greater potential to influence the mind, as information is available anywhere, anyplace, anytime. There are very real dangers if parents and accountability partners do not monitor activity on phones, tablets, computers, and video games.

Isolation results because many of these potential problems are secretive and private. No one knows where you go on your smartphone unless you tell them, or they monitor or filter it. Pornography is incredibly dangerous and addictive, but do not minimize the impact of inappropriate images that may not technically be pornography. Topics like this are difficult to write about because of their candid and carnal nature. It is with humility and prayer that they are addressed. Satan’s desire is to isolate us. He attacks most often, and most effectively, when people feel alone.

Social media can be a useful tool to keep in touch with friends and family. However, it can also easily become a platform for people to create the “me” they want everyone to see. They may appear to be doing wonderfully, yet they feel isolated, and are dealing with struggles about which others know nothing. Some don’t bother to dig deeper because their Facebook page makes them seem just fine.

TFYC: Be proactive – find accountability partners that will ask you about the content of your online activity (James 5:16). Be preventive – find balance. Monitor how much time you spend online in comparison to time spent in face-to-face interaction. Love your neighbor more than yourself (Mark 12:31). And don’t be “ignorant of his devices” (2Cor 2:11).

TFOC: Continue to develop relationships while showing care by asking challenging questions. Realize that pornography is a real epidemic, which needs to be handled with appropriate transparency (Prov 27:17; Prov 9:9).

There are many other dangers facing our younger generation, but the last one I’d like to identify is low self-respect. Part of this problem has to do with being young and inexperienced. Countless times poor decisions are made socially, financially, and spiritually, because a young man or woman does not have a proper self-image. Depression, anxiety, and insecurity often stem from feelings of inferiority. Ignored or unacknowledged, these feelings can develop into long-term issues such as cutting or other self-defeating actions.

Even young Christians who are doing well may suffer from failure to respect the person God has made them. They may choose to do the right things for the wrong reasons. I’m thinking of many who were raised in homes where shame and guilt were used as motivators. They study, take part, and live right because of “should” and “ought to” instead of out of devotion to God. This is subtle, but needs to be addressed so that we serve out of devotion instead of duty.

TFYC: Be proactive – ask for help if you are struggling. You are not alone. (Gal 6:1-5). Be preventive – study passages that deal with ways God sees you as a believer (2Cor 5:21). Recognize the conferred worth He has given you.

TFOC: Consider the tone and attitude of your encouragement and teaching. Remember that motivation for young believers should come from devotion rather than guilt and/or shame (1Cor 13:1; Titus 2:2).

These dangers are real, and will generate questions, if you have a relationship with young people. I want to encourage those questions and I hope to deal with some in the next article.