Teenagers can seem notoriously non-empathetic, but I would argue they are often the opposite – highly sensitive to the suffering of themselves and others, but ill-equipped to channel it into something positive.
Youth ministry is vital for this reason. Christ-like behavior can be a guiding force to help young adults learn how to compassionately engage the world in the face of their growing awareness of things they can (and cannot) influence.
This is just one of many reasons why this news story about a PA church kidnapping its youth group at gun point is so disturbing.
“Church officials said it was intended to teach students about some of the things people of faith go through in other countries on a daily basis and that it was meant to have shock value.”
How horribly misguided to believe the message of caring for the suffering of others is best illustrated with fear. One cannot strong arm empathy and hope to accomplish anything beyond empty guilt or shame.
This made the news because they neglected to vet their victim pool and one of the children was not a church member. Turns out she and her parents were not “okay” with the event.
In defense of what was done, the youth pastor said, “I’m pretty sure she was laughing at some point and having fun with the other students.”
Of course the children were eventually laughing; a strong condemnation of such tactics. Anyone incredibly uncomfortable and self-conscious will either laugh to hide it or cry to show it.
There’s a lot of horrible suffering in the world and American Christian teenagers can not do much about it, but there is also a lot of suffering down the street or in their school that American Christian teenagers can influence. Better to empower teenagers by engaging them directly with those in need and guiding their empathy and other emotions toward Christ-like behavior.
Teach them to stand up for bullied children while understanding that the bully also suffers. Teach them that you can love lonely neighbors by engaging them and showing kindness in simple ways. Encourage them to volunteer at local soup kitchens and homeless shelters and low-cost day cares to increase empathy as they ease their own town’s suffering and become a beacon of generosity.
Meanwhile, get this youth pastor a WWJD bracelet stat. Because a quick glance to the wrist should reveal that kidnapping teens at gun point, to make a point, is not a Christ-like activity.