a youth pastor’s impressions from the presidential inauguration

(this video was created for my class on Teen Spirituality for parents last spring, but it fits in every well. Listen to  Obama’s famous ‘yes we can” speech and also notice the written words)

Where were you when President Obama was sworn in?  I am sure that years from now we will all remember this moment. It truly marks an historic occasion for our nation and possibly the world, and perhaps is a sign of things to come for those of us in ministry.

Now, whether you woke up the day after the inauguration with hope and renewed enthusiasm, or if you woke up in complete disbelief and despair, may indicate whether you voted for Obama or not.

I am not much of a political analyst, but I do believe that no matter who you voted for or what your particular political beliefs may be, now is the time to support and pray for our new leader.

After listening to many of the debates over the past few months, watching the elections, and now taking a few hours on Tuesday to watch the inauguration of the first African American president, I have observed a few things that may or may not impact ministry in the future.

1. We are truly living in unprecedented and changing times.

During the presidential election, one of the CNN correspondents keenly observed that the face of American culture is transitioning to a much more moderate to liberal position.  Obama was able to sway the popular vote in many suburbs that have previously been Republican.

One political analyst remarked, “Barack Obama does not transcend race, rather we are living in a post-race America.”  In many ways America is becoming post-race, post-denominational, and post-Christian. The things that used to divide us are becoming fewer and fewer…and I am not so sure that is a bad thing.

Personally, I believe that over the next 5-15 years, the shift from red to blue will sweep across the nation. Some may argue against that and others may weep at America’s “moral degradation and ethical demise”.  However, it should be note the higher % of Catholics and evangelical Christians who voted for Obama and the growing shift toward the blue by the next generation of Christians.

Obama noted in inauguration speech that America is made up of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and even atheists. Yet, if we all strive for peace, we may be united as one.

Emergents reveal is this kind of talk, thinking that if we can just get by religions barriers, we could actually accomplish something good. Diversity is accepted and embraced in this new political regime and perhaps it should be in ministry as well…of course to a certain extent. But I am convince that for too long we have leaned much too far in the other direction. Those of other religions, lifestyles, and even political viewpoints have been shunned by many “Christian” and evangelical ministries and…yes youth pastors.

2. Barack is striving towards peace and prosperity…and so should our ministries.

I have heard two very contrasting views from members of seemingly opposite Christian views.

On the one hand, emergents view this as living out the words of Jesus and having God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. It is a prayer that God’s people would be a blessing to all nations and that together, the world would be healed and restored.  Obama’s rhetoric speaks with optimistic  hope and passion that this may become a reality..at least within America.

On the other hand, some fundamental Christians will say (and I am not joking) that the book of Revelation speaks of the an-Christ doing just these things by ushering in a reign of peace, unity, and prosperity. And then of course, things only go downhill from there.

So which is it?

3. Our nation is becoming more diverse and tolerant.

There does seem to be great diversity and tolerance now, certainly along racial lines (good) and across religious lines (we shall see)

I suppose that Christians need to act more like Jesus than the judgmental Pharisees.

But how united can Christians and Muslims actually be?

I do think it is time we Christians learned from our past mistakes (crusades!),

and started reaching out in love, hope, and faith to those not yet Christ followers.

Perhaps they never will be.

Perhaps they will always stay our bitter enemies

but you know what Jesus said about your enemies….

4. Our nation’s leadership is getting younger.

Barack is a very young president and though he lacks the experience of someone older, his charisma, passion, and enthusiastic zeal for change in contagious with the “emerging” generation.

Forever in this country (and in church leadership), youth has been largely ignored. But I have a feeling that is going to change. Hey even the Pittsburgh Steeler’s coach is now the youngest coach to ever make it to the Superbowl (and he also happens to be African American)

Companies, sports teams, and governmental offices are looking for younger and ambitious people hoping for change.  Sounds like your typical youth pastor!

Perhaps churches will get on board with these changing times and start actually valuing the opinion of their youth pastors, rather than just sticking them in some basement to babysit students.

Perhaps God is speaking through the next generation…before we grew too old.

Perhaps our time is now!

Our time to voice out for the emerging generation and have our opinions heard and matter.

What does this all mean for youth ministry?

For starters, I hope that youth ministries will be taken more seriously in the near future. As young ministers, God has given us a voice, ambition, and a vision for hope and change. All we need is the right platform.

And more than ever, we must start to realize that we are helping develop the future leaders of our nation and our world..and for some of them that could start fairly soon.  It will probably happen closer to their 30’s than their 60’s like in times past.

Also, perhaps we should have more students in our programs who are post-Christian and perhaps part of another religion. As our nation grows more diverse and (hopefully) united, maybe our communities could do the same. And what better place for that to start than in the church and our youth ministries!

True these “different” students may influence the group?

But couldn’t the group influence them?

I think youth ministries in the past have been known by what we are not and who we are not

rather than what we are becoming. A new community of humans changed by Jesus and living out the story of God in our day.

As President Obama exclaimed, we cannot stand for “anything goes” anymore.

We need accountability and we need to stand up for what is true and just.

But I am becoming more convinced that we must also stand up and work towards peace, reconciliation, and a hopeful and hope-filled eschatology.

*As the video portrayed (which you really should watch if you have not yet)

In this ever changing environment, the lines are getting fuzzy for adolescents.

right vs. wrong

who’s in and who’s out

spiritual vs. christian

religious vs. atheist

But maybe some of this is a good thing.

Maybe we as youth pastors need to start looking beyond the differences and start looking toward the similarities.

After all, we claim we believe the origins stories from Genesis.

God created all of his children is his image?

Yes the Fall did occur and we see that in every aspect of life.

But a hope-filled viewed is determined to look at people through the Designer’s eyes. Not what these students have become, but what they were intended to be and could yet become.

As the lines get fuzzier and come towards a center, perhaps a more accurate picture will be displayed…that of a human being, created in the image of a God who loves them and who desperately wants a relationship with them.

In final retrospect of the election…

Rather than trying to fight against the coming tide (which some may attempt to do), I believe we must acknowledge where we are heading in America.  Our nation is following in the footsteps of our birth parents…the European nations and is thrusting forward into postmodernity.

Take the North East for instance. If the general culture is moving away from certain ideologies, “modern” worldviews, and modes of thought, what shall become of the church if it holds ground?

Now, I am not advocating for compromise, but for a shift in the way the church sees itself and its place in society.

I hope that we can try to see what God is doing in our county and how He might be already at work to bring about some of these positive changes…and try to get on board.

Listen, if our faith is not strong enough to remain and grow within postmodernity, then how strong was it really? The amazing thing about our faith is that it has always been able to morph, adopt, and adapt to changing times.

So, as we enter into this new period of history, let us pray for wisdom, and seek to partner with God as he continues to bring restoration, redemption, justice, and reconciliation to our society and world.

If we advocate first for a change of worldview, principles, ideologies, beliefs, and practices, than that requires a  great deal of change before a student can even belong or fit in with a youth group!

If we stick to that philosophy, I am not sure there will be very many students left in the North East (and eventually America) who will actually fit in as they are.  Perhaps Belonging must come first and Belief will follow.

As the great songwriter Bob Dylan once sang, “The times…they are a-changing”

Will youth pastors embrace the changing times and partner with God or will we hold fast and fight against the evils of “liberalism” and postmodernity and wait until God does something about it?

Which option is more proactive?

Which is more hopeful?

Which will seek to bring the gospel of Jesus to more people?

In closing…

Now, I realize that our new president stands on some ethical principles that I personally do not agree with. Yet, many of his views and beliefs resonate with me and I believe are kingdom principles.  Reformed health care, taking care of the poor and needy, educating those in need, asking for accountability for our actions and decisions, being a good steward of our money, promoting equality and unity across all lines, not showing favoritism to the wealthy and elite, etc..

You will find these in the life and teachings of Christ and these also have been a trademark of churches (and mission trips) for a long time. If our nation is truly in a time of crisis, than we need God’s kingdom to reign here more than ever. American has truly become a “mission field”, so let’s join together (ideally churches and our government) to bring about much needed change.

I don’t know about you, but I watched the 2009 presidential inauguration with great excitement and hope. I don’t know what the future holds, but I choose to be optimistic and see how God may already be at work in our nation to bring about his purposes.

Looking at it the other way around (that our nation is slowly going to hell in a hand basket) is depressing to me. Now, it may very well be true, but if it is I am going to fight with every last breath to bring this place back to God’s original intent.

I want to see God’s handiwork and presence saturated all around me and even in the policies and structures of our newly elected government.

I will do my part, and who knows, maybe together will we truly see change.

With God’s help…yes we can!

And whether you are a Democratic or Republican, voted for Obama or not, I hope you choose like I have to now support our new President with prayer during this time of transition and new beginnings.

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