“I’m not cool, but that’s okay, my God loves me anyway. I’m not cool, but that’s all right, I’m still precious in his sight.”
These were lyrics to a song I used to hear pretty frequently when I was in my early elementary years. I still don’t know who wrote it, nor do I know the full song, but this was the chorus and it always resonated with my six and seven year old heart. Now I’m not implying that we should go around blaring this or saying it necessarily, but I think it’s a good reminder that we as followers of Christ shouldn’t be caught up in trying to be cool or relevant.
The older I get, the more I have come to realize that you can’t make Christianity cool. You can make it appealing through communities of faith who live distinct from the world, but being a Christian will always make you weird.
Instead of devoting so much time and energy trying to convince others (especially students) that being a Christian makes you cool, we should teach them it makes you holy.
I know that I’m still new to serving in youth ministry, but I have a deep conviction that we are sending the wrong message when we implement programs, procedures, and plans that are all oriented around trying to make being a Christian seem cool to teenagers. I grew up in this type of environment, and I fight this proclivity in my current life. We make youth camps and weekly activities about being cool and relevant as a Christian. Yet the Bible nowhere talks about how following Jesus makes you cool or relevant. If anything the Bible has a pretty clear message of exactly the opposite. There is not really one passage that hits on this, but here’s a passage from the pen of Paul describing the way he and his comrades in mission were treated.
We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. – 1 Corinthians 4:10-13
Let’s just make a list. They were:
- seen as foolish
- seen as weak
- considered like the scum of the world
- considered like the refuse of all things
Okay, wow. Paul and those like him who were following Jesus were hated, despised, seen as the literal scum of the world and trash of the earth. Yet we try and tell teenagers that following Christ will make them cool.
This is a horrendous lie that does terrible damage.
Students who buy the lie of being Christian makes them cool will at some point realize just how untrue that is. What astounds me is what makes us think that this lie will work. When I was growing up, we were just on the cusp of being able to maybe make this argument since being a Christian was still being seen in a relatively positive light. Those days are no more.
So not only does telling students that being a Christian makes them cool lead to them drifting from Jesus the moment they’re first ostracized, it also is an inaccurate picture of what even Jesus Himself said regarding His followers.
You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. – Luke 21:17
That’s distinctly different from being cool.
Now I’m not saying that we try and bring students to church by telling them this right off the bat. The youth ministry I serve in does not have an ‘Everyone Will Hate You If You Come To Jesus” slogan. This is not a smart way to draw people to Jesus.
Here’s where I think the gospel can have an appealing factor. We should be telling students that when they follow Christ, they are holy. They are seen as righteous in the eyes of the Father. That they are made in His image and are seen as perfect in Christ if they submit to Him.
And just to clarify, this applies to all programming in the church. This is not just a teenager problem. There are plenty of times when we try and make church hip and cool for adults. We can use our God-given creativity, artistry, and passion in ways that make church compelling. I’m all for that. But if these attempts of creativity and artistry are for the sake of being accepted by the culture, I’m not all for that.
What makes a community of faith compelling in Scripture is their love for God, others, the community. It was their faith, love, hope, and joy, even in affliction. If we can show our communities that we are for them, that we truly love our neighbor and love the person in the pew next to us, then there will be a buzz about our church.
Christian community isn’t cool, but it is compelling.
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit. . . For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. – 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 9-10
Tell your students about the glory and majesty of Christ, not how they can be considered cool for following Jesus, because they never will be.
In His Name,