As a youth minister, I hear this phrase a lot “positive peer group.” Often it is when a parent, with good intentions, is saying that they would like for their teen to be around other teens who will be a positive influence on their own child. The hope is that by being around this “positive peer group” that their child will make better choices in life and be a “good” kid.
I totally understand this reasoning and in fact this isn’t a new thing. I have heard this all 11 yrs I have been in youth ministry and even heard it when I was a teen. This idea of who you are around influences who you become has been around for a long time, maybe forever, and it is true. Now, let me stop here and say that this in itself isn’t a terrible idea. Being around people who influence you in meaningful ways is great, but the problem is that when being a part of the Church ENDS at the goal of “positive peer group.” What has changed is that for at least 30 years, the focus has been on “positive peer group” not passionate disciple.
One of the reasons that we are seeing a huge decline in the American Church is because for too long, we have been a part of a church for the purpose of “positive peer group.” The way this has played out is that those who were told as teens that church is where you find a positive peer group are now parents of teens. As parents, they are able to find numerous ways for their teens to be part of positive peer groups through sports, clubs, interest groups, etc. Positive peers groups are no longer just found in church. When we made the point of Church to be the place we find positive peer groups, and people have found that elsewhere; the Church no longer is needed, and so people leave. And they are.
The church must be more than a positive peer group!
So then how do we reclaim the church as more than a place where we find positive peers? Let’s look at our lectionary passage from this past Sunday entitled: “Demand for genuine change”
“Some who were present on that occasion told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifices. He replied, “Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did. What about those eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”
Jesus told this parable: “A man owned a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He said to his gardener, ‘Look, I’ve come looking for fruit on this fig tree for the past three years, and I’ve never found any. Cut it down! Why should it continue depleting the soil’s nutrients?’ The gardener responded, ‘Lord, give it one more year, and I will dig around it and give it fertilizer. Maybe it will produce fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.’” - Luke 13:1-9 (CEB)
Here we find Jesus talking to a group of followers about Galileans who were killed almost for sport because they were living out their faith. We see that the group starts to ask questions to find out why this happened. They are trying to figure out if God had punished them for being bad people and that’s why they died. But Jesus turns the questions back on them, saying that their questions aren’t valid, and says if they don’t “change their hearts and lives” they will lose out on life too.
Then Jesus tells a story. This story is one of a tree who should be bearing fruit, but hasn’t and the owner says let’s cut it down it is useless; but the gardener says give it one more chance.
This is a great illustration of the American Church right now, we should be producing disciples who are changing the world, and some churches are, but as a whole we aren’t even worried about making disciples but rather we are spending all our time and effort to make “good and positive” people; and we are even failing at that.
If church is only for finding a positive peer group, then it is going to die; just like a fig tree that bears no fruit.
The church must be more than a positive peer group!
We must be willing to push beyond creating good, happy, and positive teens, and start trying to make disciples for the Kingdom of God.
Positive Peer Group Faith
-Follows the rules that are told to them
-Makes sure that they themselves have what they need and are comfortable
-Makes sure to follow what culture tells them is the path to success and the American dream
-Is driven by fear and worry
Passionate Disciples Faith
-Stands against the injustice of those in charge.
-Comforts those who are uncomfortable and challenges the comfortable.
-Puts God above grades, tests, friends, and resumes.
-Is driven by passion for the Kingdom of God
Just look at Jesus, I have heard too many people talk about “What Would Jesus Do” in regards of not doing drugs and making good choices. We like to think of Jesus as a goody goody, but rather he created such a disturbance in the status quo that they killed him.
I don’t know about you, but I get way more excited about a faith worth dying for more than I do about a positive peer group. And I would argue that so does every Millennial and everyone else who walked away from the Church because they were looking for more.
The church must be more than a positive peer group! If this doesn’t change, then we are no better than a fruitless tree that should be cut down.
Now, I could end it here, but then there seems to be no Good News. Hear the good news today:
We don’t have to make this change on our own, we can’t, but the gardener is here to help and will guide us and push us and challenge us, we just have to be willing to try. God believes in the Church, and so do I.
Who is with me?