by Jad Tabet
In a 1981 sermon titled “Choices” where he talks about the importance of choosing to worship God despite our weaknesses, Billy Graham makes the apt observation that “young people today want a challenge”. He says choosing to follow Christ provides a challenge that is engaging to people, both young and old. Today, as I look back at my Christian upbringing, I wonder why I and many of my friends from both inside and outside the Church did not make this choice. I do not know if Graham meant to diagnose the lack of engagement that the Church provided the youth in its community back then, but today in Lebanon, forty years later, as we move towards an already tumultuous and violent parliamentary elections, these words seem as relevant as ever. I say this because in retrospect, I see how many of my friends and I were looking for identity but could not find it in Christ. Rather, we found it in worldly pleasures and in corrupt politics.
In The Denial of Death, secular author Ernest Becker states that the modern individual “edged himself into an impossible situation. He still needed to know that his life mattered in the scheme of things… He still had to merge himself with some higher, self-absorbing meaning… If he no longer had God, how was he to do this?” This statement says a lot about the mode of life of the post-modern individual and the power we give to ideology. One way to fill the unfillable void in the absence of a relationship with the ever-loving Christ is the pursuit of a romantic partner. Fleeting pleasures, including alcohol, sex, and drugs also fit the bill. All of these allow us to subscribe to a man-made ideology that can dictate for us our values in life. But for us Lebanese who have inherited the collective trauma of fifteen years of Civil War from our parents and then thirty years of internal cold war, sectarian political ideology is a stronger and more accessible metanarrative to subscribe to. It also gives us a cause to fight for and a place to channel our aggressive energies. Living in a shame and honor society, political parties give Lebanese youths easy access to social acceptance – and thus meaning and identity – while the Church sits back, content in becoming a social club.
I spent most of my teenage years in the youth groups of evangelical churches, and I am saddened to say that it was my time with these youth groups that pushed me away from the evangelical community. While Christ’s redemptive love brought me to a better place in faith, there are many mistakes that I could have avoided making had I had the proper Christian discipleship and engagement that the Bible calls us to. But this was not available to me, and to many like me, because our talents were not engaged in our churches. Most of what we did in youth meetings was just getting through rituals so we could go out to eat! Though fellowship is important, it falls flat if it is not a consequence of developing a strong and loving personal relationships with Christ. Speaking to my friends in the evangelical community, I see how this turned many youth groups into comfort zones where members live life cloistered away from the world that Christ repeatedly calls us to serve. And so, over the course of years, as the default focus of many churches fell on adult populations, Christ became more of a scary warden to be rebelled against than a living, loving God that wants the best for us. Furthermore, with the lack of engagement, it was difficult for us to deal with meaningful matters internally. We could not subscribe to whatever narrative our churches were attempting to create, but we still needed to find meaning for our lives.
But the situation is not hopeless. The 2019 October protest movement created an opportunity for the Lebanese Church to reconnect with the youths, and many churches had pop-up stations or outreach teams that were active in main gathering areas around Beirut. During the pandemic, most churches transitioned to online ministries, and the change in medium allowed more Lebanese youths to be exposed to the Good News of the gospel. The active role churches took in supporting those impacted by the August 4 Beirut port blast also helped youths learn about Christ. Furthermore, some churches have been holding fellowship meetings that they encourage their youth to bring friends and family from outside the Church to. Online ministries like ShiBiFeed have responded to the emerging needs among Lebanese youths by creating Christ-centric content that meets these needs. Even before the multiple crises Lebanon has seen over the past couple of years, ministries like Youth for Christ and the Baptist Children and Youth Ministry have been reaching out intentionally and repeatedly to youths and young adults in Lebanon indiscriminately and across all socio-economic statuses. More and more, teens and young adults are looking for hope and are finding it in Jesus.
As we begin to see the movement of more young people to the Church, we have a responsibility before God to be faithful over the new souls He is bringing to the Body. We cannot allow things to continue as they are, with Church youth sidelined until they are deemed ready. We cannot allow young talents to waste away in moldy church pews because we do not see them fit for ministry yet. The most influential Christian history has ever known, Christ Himself, was a youth minister and began his ministry at the young age of thirty. His disciples, who He sent out in pairs, and who banished demons, healed the sick, and shared the gospel were all under the age of thirty. John, who took care of Mary after Christ had fulfilled His mission, was around twenty when Christ was crucified. And Scripture abounds with the stories of youth fulfilling His calling and growing His Kingdom. We need to take a page out of His book and empower our youth so that they can reach out to their friends who are lost in the vices of the world, in the narratives of othering and violence, and in the futile search for identity that is not Christ-centric, so that they can have the chance to come to know the redemptive love of Christ.
On April 16, my sister and I went to an Easter concert with a church youth group. During the concert, between sets of worship songs, the entire hall would erupt with chants of “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!”. Our slow hearts and addiction to the status quo have made us callous and towards this enthusiasm for Christ. But my sister cried that night. And I cried as well. We have spent too long outside of His worship halls. It is time for us to enter the Holy of Holies.
It is easy for us, because of our human nature, to find safety and pleasure in an undisturbed status quo. But that is not the way God works. God is not safe, and He constantly challenges us to push for change, because only He is everlasting. So, my prayer for myself – because we all must start with ourselves – is that I am able to be a faithful steward over all the resources and responsibilities that He has honored me with. I pray that He teaches me to be generous, kind, and understanding in my ministry. And I pray that He uses me to empower others, just like others have empowered me.
Jad is the youngest member of the Department of Partner Relations at ABTS. He holds a Master of Arts in English Literature, has a passion for music, fellowship, and ministry, and likes to think that people are too complex to be summed up in a three-line post-note at the bottom of blog posts.