I am in the business of TRYING to understand and relate to why students are the way they are. Every fiber of my being (partnered with the HS, of course) wants to convey the message of Calvary and the Kingdom of God in a way that connects, lands, and hits home.
I am a firm believer that existentialism (endorsed by Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Heidegger, and Jaspers) has greatly invaded and persuaded the 21st century student culture. Existentialism is the answer to why students are the way they are and how they live their life.
As Walter Kaufman puts it:
Existentialism is the refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever, and especially of systems and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophies and theologies as superficial, academic, and remote from life.
Existentialism is influencing our students, which is a BIT problematic. Students are essentially gaining meaning from their experiences. Students have to experience it for themselves before they realize what is wrong or right. I will get drunk and not accept Jesus, until something bad happens. Right now, I am cool and there is no immediate need to change or accept Jesus. My life is just fine as it is.
In my perspective here are some of the many problems pressing students within an existential culture:
Students are…..more depressed than ever. Seriously who is not on PROZAC? We live in a world where those who have the highest percentage of human wealth have the highest concentration of people medicated for depression. Depression is unmet expectations. Things going on in your mind are not matching up to how you are living and feeling.
Students are…..Anti-Religious. I like Jesus, but I do not like the church. If religion can lead to God, than religion can lead people away from God. Religion means rules. If you are religious you are living according to a Holy and Sacred system.
Students are…..becoming more pluralistic and relativistic. Jesus is not the only way. Yes He is my way, but He cannot possibly be the way, truth, and the life for the people in India. Some students think that whatever god you find, is your truth. Some students have a hard time accepting that Jesus is the only way because that communicates a very egocentric and exclusive mentality.
Students have a deep sense of choice. Think about how many choices we have. America is the land of freedom. Choices are fine, but if given too many there is a higher risk one may not make the RIGHT decision. Because students have their own autonomy this implies their purpose is created from their experiences. If choosing to smoke Marijuana is not harming me, than it does not matter if it is illegal. Remember existentialism revolts against any system of government, rules, or policies. It becomes all about your propagative, your agenda, and your experience.
The challenge for youth pastors is not to reject the ideas of Existentialism but accept them. The notions of Existentialism are in the DNA of the students. It is imperative for the youth pastor to translate and remix and creatively interact with the Existential themes by pointing them towards the cross.
Does this mean we compromise the teachings of Jesus’?
No, not one bit.
You communicate how Jesus can intersect their experiences. You convey that the teachings of Jesus are the best way to live.
The question is can you trust the teachings of Jesus?
I rather the students experience every RELIGION and determine what RELIGION offers the best and holistic life. The problem is that Christianity is the ONLY religion that has a God pursuing you.
The goal of spirituality is not to extract from you all desire and passion. The call of Jesus is the exact opposite—delight in him and he will give you the desires of your heart.
I think we as youth pastors not be afraid of the existential rhetoric. We do not need to got all defensive and upset about it. We do not need to have a 5 week teaching series degrading and arguing against it. We accept it and offer a Jesus that essentially wrecks their existential world view.