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Youth Leaders, Create or Die

This is a call to arms.

Mottos don’t come easy. The world’s best mottos have been hammered into remembrance out of the overflow of someone’s hard work and personal sacrifice. On the tail end of overwhelming odds and desperate situations, leaders find a way to flank the opposition and overcome the adversary. That’s what makes them survive.

And now, culture moves. On the back of technology and innovation the world has become smaller, accessible, and free. Stuck in the midst of the march to connectivity, our children face a superfluous amount of options. The world is a massive mixmaster with on ramps, off ramps, and overpasses that give kids a wide array of choices. They can be or pretend to be whatever they like and there are multiple amounts of interested people who call to them.

Constantly calling them…

The allure of belonging cause our youth to look anywhere, everywhere, and sometimes nowhere to find meaning and direction. Anything is possible and everything is worthy. No matter what our kids choose, this new world will give them access to support for their choice no matter how destructive or wayward it may be. They will find little condemnation and it will come to them through pluralistic positions that reinforce the idea that inclusion is the “new” religion. Outlying communities who dispense the notion that there is “one way, one life, one clear solution” will be perceived as outdated, intolerant, and exclusive. The church has already been branded as such. This is not Good News.

Spirituality. Religion. Community. Just choices.

We have to realize that youth group, club, community, they are just choices to culture; choices as inconsequential to our kids as working out, eating right, working hard, or not working at all. Options in a sea of options. 

The things that will cause kids to choose an option, among options, will come via alignment. They will choose alignment out of the voices of their friends, those they trust, and from bumpers that culture dictates. If you’ve noticed anything about what culture is communicating today, you’ll notice that it’s driving some basic messages.




Our kids are connecting on the cultural pulse of consumption, toleration, and greed. They want to look attractive, be viewed as accepting, and become wealthy in all facets of gain. We all know, as adults, that those are dead ends traveled on by compromising means that leave our kids feeling empty and unsatisfied with themselves and their purpose.

The Gospel.

The only thing that will make a difference and disrupt this cultural vacuum of be everything and nothing is Jesus. The Gospel. Inviting students to make what Jesus did on the cross count for them, as their only hope in life for meaning and redemption, is such a bold and polarizing call in today’s trajectory. It’s as if we have not focused on Jesus, as a church, for generations and they’ve moved on to a new language we no longer speak. Although that is not the case, the world looks at such claims as the Gospel, as mythology.

Mythology. Yes, that’s the worst of our situation.

We have to bear the blame as spiritual leaders. We’ve held methodology higher than adaptability by clinging to form and practice. Our strength has become our weakness to the world. In the midst of rapid growth and constant evolution, the world looks from the outside at what we do on the inside and sees our traditions as archaic. We meet as tribes who lift our gatherings as relics possessing narrow margins for autonomous art and creativity. 

We forget that the church formerly led the culture. Spirituality expressed itself in every facet of art, music, and word outside of the walls, on the breath of our brothers and sisters who moved outward with Jesus in their routines, vocations, and conversations. Our ancestors would have never imagined that our tribe could find comfort in attendance, flicking on and off the Gospel in their life in the same way that they would check an item off of their to do list. I can imagine that Paul himself would say, “Change. Create new movement, community, practice, direction, forms, and on ramps or die.” 

Missions forces conversation with culture.

If you’re not asking yourself, “what should I do differently, how can this become their alignment?” You’re in danger of checking out of mission. Missions is not an event. Missions places the church in culture. It seeks to create spaces, places, and conversation around Jesus being the only alignment. It brings sensibility and focus against the dead ends of consumption, human validation, and greed. If everything you offer serves in on itself, for the body of the church, you intentionally or unintentionally have chosen to exit culture.

Take inspection of what your community looks like. Are you fortifying walls to protect the relic of method over mission? Are you lifting archaic practices that call kids to nothing? Do the kids themselves, even consider Jesus as an alignment for their life against the cultural mixmaster of options? Knowing that Jesus is such, how is that truth not ripping through the fabric of choices that are kids are being served?

If we do not tap into the creation of new forms and practices for our faith, youth ministry will die. Or worse yet, it will not die but instead, feed in on itself as an internal dialogue for inbred remnants of a dying monument. 

Create or Die.

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Chad Swanzy has served in youth ministry for 15 years and currently works as the student ministry director at Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas. Learn more from Chad and ask him your questions at ChadSwanzy.com.