Followers of Jesus are called to radical non-conformity to the culture around us. Romans 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Notice that little phrase, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.” The Message version of the Bible puts it this way: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” The Phillips translation says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” The Passion translation says, “Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you…”
This applies to both parents and children. In contrast to our culture's pressure, adults ought not to be dominated by fear, and kids’ lives ought not to be characterized by anxiety. Because we’re called to this radical non-conformity we don’t allow the world to squeeze us into its mold regarding entertainment choices, identity issues, the definition of success or anything else. Instead, we parents and grandparents and coaches and teachers and youth pastors who relate to kids and young adults have the ability to train them to resist the world’s conforming pressure.
Teaching Young People to R.E.S.I.S.T.
If Gen Z is to rise above the pressures they face in our fear-driven culture today, they need the following:
Resilience is the opposite of fragility. Kids can’t keep being wrapped in bubble wrap because we’re afraid they will break. It’s good for your child to experience some failures when the stakes are low so that in the future the world doesn’t give them greater pain. Let your child work out their problems with a coach without you running interference or work out their problems with a friend without you running interference. Let them work on their school projects by themselves. Let them go without lunch for a day because they forgot their lunch again; they won’t starve to death if they miss lunch. Don’t always argue your child’s case with the teacher. Don’t always run interference or take over so that they succeed.
It is OK for our children to be bored without us having to entertain them. It’s okay for our children to be sad on occasion; this is part of the human experience. The father in the story of the Prodigal did not over-function--he let his son go. It’s a hard thing to do, to release control of our kids.
There are few things in life more important than building resilience or grit into a child. What we want to do is raise kids so that when they fall – and they will – they’re able to get back up and keep going. We want children who can absorb a shock, who are able to push back and fight back. If we want our kids to resist the pressure of this world, they have to be resilient. They also need empathy.
Everything in our selfie-saturated culture (phone companies estimate that kids will take 25,000 selfies over the course of their lives) teaches our kids to be entirely self-absorbed, me-centered, my needs always come before anyone else. If we’re going to teach our kids to resist this incredible pressure to be self-focused, we’ve got to put them in situations to teach them empathy. One way to learn empathy is to be around suffering.
If your kids are being raised in the suburbs they need to be exposed to people who are struggling in life. This might look like taking your children or your teenagers to serve at a food pantry. And not just once, multiple times. Have them pack a bag of groceries and give it to someone who has a need. Have your kids pray for people who have less than them. If you have the financial means, take your child with you on a short-term mission trip to a place in the world where people have less. Visit grandma in assisted living with your child even though it’s boring or it smells bad or there’s nothing to do there. Life isn’t always about us and our happiness.
Kids today are over-scheduled, over-supervised, and over-stimulated. They have no time to be or to think or play or use their imaginations. What if, parents, we decided that our kids were going to play only one sport at a time? Or engage in only one school activity? I know how to read the cultural map. I know that you may, like me, feel like your child is falling behind on the college admission merry-go-round. But we can resist. It’s OK if your child plays just one sport or just one instrument. It’s okay. They don’t have to play in the multi-state select league because that’s the feeder to the high school team because that’s the feeder to the D1 scholarship and on and on and on.
You and your family need space to eat dinner together most nights. What if you had a rule – no phones or devices at the table for kids or adults? We need space. To talk. To laugh. To love. To breathe.
The culture around us teaches our kids that their primary identity is about their gender or sexual orientation or how many likes they get on social media or their looks or their grades. What if a kid’s or young adult’s primary identity – the way they thought about who they were – was first and foremost who I am to God? “I am a child of God. I have God as my Father. I am a personal friend of Jesus Christ. I have the Holy Spirit living within me. I’m infinitely loved by God.”
The most important thing in your life is not the likes you have on social media, but the love you have from God your Father. If the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in your life, you’re empowered to resist the pressure of the world. You’re a new creation. You have a new relationship with God. A new power to overcome sin in your life. How are we teaching children and young adults to answer the question: Who am I? We want them to say, “I am a child of God. I am loved by my Father in Heaven.”
Sacrifice (your body)
Looking at Romans 12:1 again, we read, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (emphasis added)
If the Lord doesn’t have your body, He doesn’t have you. If He doesn’t have your mouth and what you say, He doesn’t have you. If He doesn’t have your eyes and what you look at, He doesn’t have you. If He doesn’t have your ears and what you listen to, or your sexual organs or the rest of your body, He doesn’t have you.
What if we taught kids and young adults and what if we as older adults gave our bodies to God every day?
I’ve often practiced this little discipline before I get out of bed. Before I step foot on the floor, while I am still lying in bed, I name all the parts of my body and I give them to him. Lord, I give you my eyes today. Let me see what you want me to see and not look at what you don’t want me to look at. I give you my ears, help me to not listen to gossip, to things that aren’t true, help me hear people’s pain. Help me to really listen. I give you my mouth, what goes into my mouth and what comes out – help me to speak kind and gentle words. I go down my body parts and I surrender them to the Lord.
Part of teaching our kids to resist the pressure of this world includes sacrificing their bodies to God. It also includes teaching them to give their minds to God.
Looking at Romans 12:2 again we read, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (emphasis added)
The battleground is always in our minds. That’s what the scripture teaches us. I was thinking about this the other day while I was reading history. During the Second World War, there were some battles taking place in North Africa, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia. But the battles were peripheral. They weren’t the main front. Our generals knew they wouldn’t win until they got to Germany and to Japan because that’s where the ultimate fight was. Until we as adults change our thinking – about our lives and our identities and especially about God – and we teach kids to change their thinking about these things, we won’t win the main battle of resisting the pressures of the world.
To resist the culture, kids and young adults, just like older adults, need to have their minds filled with truth – truth about God, truth about the world, truth about themselves, truth about money and sex and success and relationships and what makes for a good life. If we’re going to raise a generation of young people who are resistance fighters, who refuse to just go along with the opinions of the world, they need to be filled with the truth of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Do not fear! Instead, practice resistance!
[Editor's Note: This blog post was adapted from a recent sermon by Rich Nathan at Vineyard Columbus as the first in a series entitled "Raising Healthy Kids." Make sure to check out the blog post "Is Fear Shaping Our Kids?" that features the first part of this sermon. If you'd like to watch the sermon in its entirety, you can find it here. You can also check the Vineyard Columbus website each week to hear the rest of this series.]