The Return of Adult Relationships: A Simple but Revolutionary Resolution

Published in Connections Magazine (Jan/Feb 2013)

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The Return of Adult Relationships: A Simple but Revolutionary Resolution

by Marcus J. Carlson

I have always struggled with New Year’s resolutions. My struggle is not so much the decision to make a resolution for the New Year, nor is it a struggle to keep the resolutions I have made (I think it goes without saying that all struggle with this). My frustration with making resolutions on January 1 each year is not rooted in how crowded the health club is every January and February. It is not an issue of the superficial and selfish nature of many of the resolutions we make. It lies in the nature of discipleship and what it means to be a follow of Jesus Christ.

As followers of Christ, we recognize that until we come face to face with Jesus, we have not yet arrived. Our journey of growth is not finished; God has more for us than can be found in our present reality. To be a disciple means to be one who learns and follows, and requires a willingness to grow and to change. It is my belief that as disciples we should be a people who make resolutions to change, rooted in Christ and not our own desires. If there is something in our lives we believe God is calling us to change, then we should begin our work right away—and not be dictated by the calendar.

Though I recognize that resolutions can have their place in our lives as we seek redemption and transformation in Jesus Christ, I also believe resolutions can be a communal act not limited to individuals. Communities, churches and families can make resolutions to be more like Christ as well. In 2013, I would like to offer a suggestion for a resolution you can begin right now.

The world around us continues to experience dramatic change. The world is perhaps more complex than it has ever been—and in many ways, everything is different. Yet some things have not changed since the beginning of time. While the problems of the world are complicated, I would argue that most of the solutions to these new problems are not new at all, nor are they complicated. However, they certainly are difficult in application.

Recently I was asked to identify the most significant problem our children and youth are facing today. Without hesitation, I said, “the lack of significant, invested, authentic, Christ- following adults in their lives.” The greatest challenge facing our children and youth today is not any of the hot buttons we target to solve our problems and address our fears, such as the economy, the media, the national debt, the lack of prayer in school, divorce, video games, social media, or gay marriage. Yes, the world has changed—and in many ways our children live in a significantly more broken world than those before them.

While the world is a very different place today than it even was in 2000, there is something that has not and will not ever change: the Gospel. In a time where everything is new, nothing has changed. Since the beginning of the world we were created to be in relationship with God, with each other and with the world. The Great Commandment still applies: our greatest call is to love God, love others and love ourselves. This one simple yet difficult call covers every problem, challenge, culture and generation.

Our children and youth do not need a culture war. They do not need more technology. The solution to their (and our) brokenness is not found in government, political parties, personal freedom, capitalism or consumerism. What our children and youth need are more adults in their lives. Not just any adults either, but adults who love them, accept them and seek the needs of the children and youth above their own.

As adults, we have abdicated our responsibility to the children and youth in our homes, churches and communities. The only reason our culture is raising our children is that we have allowed it. We do not have to be more entertaining, relevant or attractive than popular culture. We already have access to a much better story—the Gospel—than the story the world is telling our children and youth. As human beings we are always attracted to the better story, and so the great news is we do not have to tell a new story. Rather we need to get back to telling the oldest and best story that has and ever will exist: God’s story.

The biggest difference between American culture now (as opposed to the past) is that adults are no longer invested in the lives of the children and youth in our homes, churches and communities. At a time when our children and youth are exposed to more harmful realities—and during an age where the world expects more, offers less and crushes our children and youth—we as adults have walked away from our responsibility to care for, walk with and be in relationship with the children and youth around us.

My doctoral supervisor, Dr. Chap Clark, states we need to reverse the ratio of youth to adults. For many years, youth ministries have utilized a ratio of one adult for every five youth in our youth ministries. Chap suggests we need to reverse this and every youth (and child) needs to have at least five Christ-following adults in their lives besides their parents.

In fact, there are even intentional movements and ideas to put this structure into place. The church I currently serve has decided to engage with this initiative. We are working on casting the vision, supporting parents in this endeavor and thinking about how best to live in this vision in our church and community. Perhaps now more than ever, our children and youth need adults in their lives who love them in the name of Jesus.

Rather than set another New Year’s resolution to lose weight that we will abandon before Valentineʼs Day, let us make a resolution to commit to rise up and be the church God has called us to be. Let us see that every child and every youth in our families, our churches and our communities has at least five adults besides their parents investing in their lives. What would our families, our churches and our communities begin to look like if this were a reality? Instead of embracing a new ministry or church program or finding the best new Christian book for a great new sermon series, why don’t we commit once again to facilitating Christ-centered relationships?

Perhaps instead of leaving the ministry to children and youth to parents, young adults and those who can help our children “behave,” why don’t we as the church commit to investing in the lives of children and youth? Doing so would not only change the lives of our children and youth, it would change our lives, the church and the world.

It is a simple resolution to understand, and yet very difficult to live. If we want things to be different in this world, if we want our children and youth to have the abundant life that God has promised them, then we must be different. May we choose this year—and every year after— to return to investing our adult lives in the children and youth around us so that we may live out this simple and revolutionary resolution that will change the world.

Marcus J. Carlson

is a pastor and spiritual director who has worked in youth and children’s ministry for over 13 years. He serves as Associate Pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church, Colorado Springs, CO. Marcus and his wife, Jessica, have two children.

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