I recently read a book where the author criticized the church of her youth as seemingly only caring about her virginity. My friends who also have read the book read that critique and resonated with it. In fact almost any millennial upon reflection of their time in student ministry has the same critique.
I actually think that this is an unfair critique. This is because youth ministry five to 10 years ago was about maintaining a particular culture, a Christian culture. The problem is that virginity seemed to be the highest goal, rather than a discipline that was an indicator of much larger Christian virtues and culture.
Virginity was an indicator of deeper Christian character such as temperance, prudence, justice, courage humility, selflessness and self-control. These virtues, not virginity, used to be what marked Christians and is what built strong Christian culture, strong Christian families and strong Christian youth ministries that helped re-enforce these virtues.
To simply put it, virginity is an indicator of mature Christian culture. It is like calculus. In order to understand calculus you need to know and understand rudimentary math, algebra, geometry and trigonometry.
But in case you have not been paying attention, those days are long gone! Out kids don’t even know rudimentary math.
Not only has the church, and specifically those in student ministry, given up on the value of virginity, but we can’t even expect our students to even wrestle with the foundational Christian values and virtues. All of them seem so antiquated to this grouping of students.
This cohort of kids is truly amoral. They only know what is right in that particular moment, making decisions based on what is expedient and what will cause the least short term pain. There is no foundational principle or ethic other than avoiding pain in the moment.
You may say that this is how kids always have been, but I strongly disagree.
Our students are truly lost and are begging for some sort of boundary. You know this is true because with all the freedoms and lack of accountability and morality, you think they would be living the high life, but that is not what we see.
A generation ago kids who knew the rules but then rebelled against them relished the danger and excitement of breaking the rules. They understood the consequences and took their lumps. As they matured they left their childish ways behind them and were ready to enter the adult world. This is not the case with these current students.
Now, they don’t even know what rebellion is. They lie, cheat, steal, sleep around, use drugs and it doesn’t impact their sense of morality in the slightest. And the result is that internally, our students are crumbling. Every study is proving this to be true. If you use loneliness, anxiety and depression as an indicator, this generation has all three in spades.
What an incredible opportunity for those of us in student ministry.
We have to recalibrate our ministry and recognize our mission. We are no longer simply an extension of the church helping to assimilate young people into the values and culture of the adult Christian community. This means that simply trying to keep our kids on the straight and narrow and stay virgins until they are married is not going to cut it.
We need to open our eyes to where our students truly are, and that is they are lost, lost, lost. And when we finally get our head around this reality we can truly do the ministry that God has uniquely called us to. For Jesus is the antidote to this lostness and the church is where these students can get a larger picture of their true value, purpose and identity. And only when they understand this through the lens of Christ will they be able to slowly develop character and virtue that will lead to a life where that value, purpose and identity get lived out.
While I do think that virginity still matters, this is not the battle to fight with our students. May we have the eyes to truly see our students so that we walk with, care for and even disciple them starting with where they truly are, not with where we want them to be.
This article originally appeared here.