When you walk into a Christian bookstore, you’ve probably noticed all of the “Christian” merchandise the store offers. Perhaps you were even surprised at what all they did offer. As you make your way up and down the aisles, you will notice a variety of t-shirts, CDs, books, bumper stickers, or even some “testamints.” It’s really the Christian hub for any good Christian who wants to separate himself from the world and demonstrate to his lost friends that he is a “real” or “sold out” follower of Christ. Or is it?
Many of the things I’ve listed above contribute to what is termed the “Christian Subculture.” While these things are not inherently bad, I often wonder what kind of witness they are to the outside world. I would even argue that many of these things are attractive only to Christians, and confusing or even repelling to others regarding what it means to be a follower of Christ. Let’s be honest: The Christian subculture is a bubble. And Jesus calls those who follow Him to live among those in the culture, not to create a subculture to protect ourselves from the outside world. One area the church must fight against this sub-culture mindset the strongest is its ministry to students. Here’s a few practical ways to fight against the current of the Christian sub-culture in your student ministry:
- Do What is Best, As Opposed to What Will Keep You Busy
We often mistake busyness for godliness. However, this is rarely an accurate assessment. We have become great at keeping our student ministries busy in hopes that it will “keep them away from the world.” Yet, this philosophy focuses on the external actions, as opposed to the internal desires of the heart. This strategy also neglects the command of Jesus to “Go” (Matt. 28:19). A student’s heart will not be changed just because he attended every youth event the church hosted this year. Instead of simply trying to make our students busy, we need to focus on the best way to teach our students the gospel, and how they can in turn live out the gospel in their sphere of influence outside of the church.
- Equipping Students to be on Mission
Another danger of the Christian subculture is the focus upon simply keeping students “safe” and doesn’t actually teach them to engage the world with the gospel. If a student in our ministry knows Christ personally, he has the ability to share this message with others. Instead we often short change our students by simply taking them to Christian concerts, taking them to the latest Christian movie, or hosting fun events at the church. Now I’m not opposed to any of the examples just listed, but if that’s all we’re doing, we are doing our students a huge disservice. How tragic it would be for a student to come through our ministry and never engage in the mission of Jesus? Challenge your students by teaching them, and then showing them how to fulfill God’s mission for the world outside the church walls, and outside of the Christian subculture.
- Smashing the Idols of Culture Idolatry
An idol is anything that takes the place of God. It’s not limited to the wooden statues we saw people bowing down to in the Old Testament, but anything that is esteemed in the place of God through our affections and desires can be labeled an idol. Alvin Reid has properly termed the Christian subculture as “idolatry.” Our culture of Jesus has become more important than the actual Jesus we are called to worship and obey. Reid says, “We are not to be like the world. But our [Christian] subculture is definitely not making us more like Jesus.” We can’t assume effective disciple-making is a result of Christian music, cliché slogans, or youth group events. We must recognize the culture we have created for ourselves has become idolatrous, and we need to smash the idols we have created. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s a process that begins with a desire for students to know Jesus in an authentic way. Truly knowing Jesus results in a life that is transformed (cf. Rom. 12:2), which means living a life on mission outside of the cultural idols of the Christian subculture.
With these principles, I hope it will help you think through how you can smash the idols of the Christian subculture in your own life, and in the lives of those in your student ministry. I’m obviously not saying you need to go out and burn all of your Christian t-shirts (although it may not be a bad idea to burn some of them). But understanding and then implementing changes strategically into your ministry to align with the mission of Jesus is the goal. As mentioned earlier, the Christian subculture is a bubble. But it only takes a small pin to burst a bubble. Be that pin. Burst the bubble, and by the power of Gods’ Spirit, let your students live out what God has created them for.
Mark Etheridge currently serves as Youth Pastor at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Pittsboro, NC. He is also enrolled at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in their Master of Divinity program in Christian ministry. You can connect with Mark on both Twitter and Facebook.