“Be brave for Christ!”
“Make a statement!”
Every week, I get about a dozen flyers for youth events that all feature these sorts of taglines. Looking at this material, it often seems that the main virtue stressed in contemporary American youth ministry is courage. After all, courage appears all over the Bible. Paul tells Timothy not to have a spirit of timidity (2 Timothy 1:7). John tells us to be fearless in our love (1 John 4:18). 1 Corinthians 16:13 tells us to be strong and courageous. But then you have to stop and think: these letters were originally written to people who faced imprisonment and execution for their beliefs, so how do these words apply to us?
The scary reality is that there are plenty of Christians in this world who are in mortal danger because of their faith. The recent attacks in Pakistan, Egypt, Kenya, and Syria have been a grim reminder that there are still many places where it is not safe to be a Christian. There are plenty of places where Scripture’s charge to be bold rings differently because these Christians’ lives are constantly on the line. And knowing this, seeing a slick printed ad for a conference on American youth ministry with a tagline about courage just feels cheap to me. What dire circumstance is there to be courageous against here?
In my more cynical moments, I wonder if our urge to psych our youth up for Christianity comes from knowing just how low risk it is here. We know that danger is attractive to young people, so we make Christianity into something that requires extreme courage. Let’s be real though: at worst, a Christian in America might lose a few friends, experience strain with non-Christian family members, or be the odd duck at a party. “Courage” isn’t exactly the word I’d use when facing those risks.
Rather, in a country where the consequences for Christianity are so few, where we can stand relatively confident that we won’t be imprisoned for our faith, could it be that the real challenge is simply avoiding complacency? Have we introduced an entire language of courage just to avoid the real challenge of American Christianity: staying faithful when it might not be glamorous and exciting all the time?
“Be courageous” might sound a lot better than “Maintain an active prayer life, talk to your friends about Jesus, worship God constantly, immerse yourself in Scripture, and make regular tithes and offerings”, but really, which of these is the more useful skillset for a Christian in America?
Being courageous is great, but maybe we’d be better off being faithful.
Grace and Peace,