This is a story of a man named Jose and a woman named Carmen. Jose and Carmen got married at a young age somewhere in Madrid. They soon started their own family and Carmen gave birth to a beautiful little son named Francisco. Now, Jose and Carmen took Francisco to church every Sunday. Jose and Carmen loved Jesus and raised Francisco going to church and reading the bible, even praying that he would grow up loving Jesus too. Francisco grew up and somewhere in his twenties simply stopped going to church. Francisco eventually married a young woman named Isabella and they soon had two boys of their own – Sergio and Juan. But Sergio and Juan weren’t raised going to church. Every so often they Francisco and Isabella would take their family to church on Easter because their grandparents wanted them to, but that was it. Sergio and Juan eventually grew up, married and had children of their own – both Sergio and Juan and their spouses raised their children outside of the church, and in turn those children did the same. And their children’s children did the same. Now 4 or even 5 generations removed from Jose and Carmen – how much do you think those kids grew up knowing about Jesus?
I think it’s safe to say they’d know nothing, absolutely nothing about Jesus…
And that’s the spiritual climate in Spain today. They are now 4-5 generations removed from families faithfully even going to church – that’s not even to say that they were faithful Jesus followers – just faithful church goers. The numbers for Spain aren’t great. In fact, they’re pretty grim. 1% of Spain is Evangelical Christian. 1%. And only 3% of all Spain even considers religion to be an important part of their lives. Among those 30 and under in Spain – the church has zero influence. ZERO. Add to that the staggering unemployment rate for those 30 and under that fluctuates somewhere between 55% and 60% and you have a recipe for hopelessness.
Talk to almost any young person (30 and under) for a period of time and the same things tend to crop up in conversation. Who am I? What am I supposed to do with my life? Where am I going? What am I here for? Questions of meaning and purpose tend to permeate so so many of those conversations that I have with young people everywhere I go. While we were in Spain this past year on our visioning trip we had the opportunity to sit down with young a man named Jorge. Jorge was one of the few who actually grew up in the church. His family actually took him to church as a child. Jorge soon found himself in that awkward transitionary period between high school and university. As he left “youth ministry,” he soon found himself hitting the proverbial “glass ceiling.” His desire to serve and invest in the church was met with a firm – “there’s no place for you” response. This response led him down a long journey of: “well, if there’s no place for me here, perhaps there’s no place for me in the church, and maybe there’s not even place for me in Christianity.” At such a crucial point of his life, a time of searching and trying to discover who he was and who God’s made him to be – he found the church to be a closed and even cold place to engage this season of discovery. As he shared his journey with us you could feel the heartbreak in his voice. He began to look for answers to these life shaping questions everywhere except the church. In fact, he left the church entirely, and still hasn’t really returned.
People like Jorge are the people our hearts break for. The reality is that young people in their twenties are asking questions of faith, value, calling, and of life meaning and are doing it everywhere else – except the church. As we prepare to transition over to ministry in a context devoid of Jesus we are thankful for the opportunity we’ve had to train and learn how to create safe places for young leaders like Jorge to wrestle with those questions and engage those questions at deep and meaningful levels with Jesus always being the aim. We want to see young leaders learn how to do the same with their peers, with their neighbors, with their communities. We desire to see lasting legacies of entire generations following after Jesus pointing those who are to come after them in the same direction.
The truth is that if we, as the Church, don’t provide those safe spaces for young people to ask those tough questions of faith and purpose we’ll continue see entire generations grow up with the same perspective as Jorge. “If there’s no place for me here, maybe there’s no place for me in Christianity.” So how can we provide that space?
Here’s a couple things we’ve learned over the course of this past year:
–Recognize that you don’t have to have all the answers – so often young people need a sounding board, a place to process. They don’t simply need the answer to the solution, but rather, need a safe place to process through whatever questions they have, which means I need to ask better questions. In fact most of their lives they’ve been told what to think and believe, helping them process things with the ability to reserve judgment will take you farther and deeper into a relationship than you could know.
–Be consistent – investing in young people takes a tremendous amount of patience and faithfulness. Though they are sometimes really flaky, they appreciate someone who is faithful and consistently there for them. Honestly, this takes a lot of humility and grace as it can sometimes be really frustrating when you’re set up for a meeting and they cancel for “that other thing that just came up.” But as I show grace and the ability to be flexible (within reason) it really goes a long way to build trust and a place of safety.
–Understand that I don’t have to beat them over the head with Jesus – this is sometimes the hardest thing for me to come to grips with. There’s a difference between pointing one to Jesus and punching them in the face with Jesus. When we’re dealing with life questions it’s important to point people to Jesus and what He says about given life circumstances, but I don’t always have to immediately go there, in fact often times I find it better to be patient and let them connect Jesus to said situation themselves. The reality is that people I engage with almost always already know my heart and passion for Jesus – when I’m patient and let the Spirit lead I find time and time again that Jesus bubbles out of whatever we are talking about, and God opens up the opportunities to engage those “Jesus moments.”
There’s a lot more that could be said on this…but just typing these things reminds me of how I need to be a better listener and my first response should be one of grace, love and truth, especially as I engage my neighbors…
Moving forward I am overwhelmed with excitement as we prepare to be people who provide space for young Spaniards to ask questions of faith, life, and how the two intersect and I pray they meet Jesus! It is our prayer that as we go, as invest ourselves in the lives of young Spaniards that a new generation of Jesus followers would come forth and birth fresh expressions of the Church in Spain that would leave a legacy of many many generations to come of faithful Jesus followers. The reality is that whether we are in Spain or anywhere else for that matter – as Christians our heart is for people to meet Jesus. That they would connect with the Creator of the Universe and understand why He matters to their life. If we can’t be a people who create safe spaces to help our neighbors explore those things we’ve missed a significant opportunity to be salt and light to our world.