Four out of five youth (80%) between the ages of 12 – 22 have no clear vision. They have no idea where they want to go or what they want to accomplish in life. They have no idea why they would want to have a vision to accomplish anything. 60% of those surveyed may have engaged in some potentially purposeful activities. They also may have developed some vague aspirations. However they do not have any real commitment to such activities. They also lack any realistic plans for pursuing their aspirations. Up to 25% of those interviewed expressed no aspirations at all. Many of these claim they see no point in acquiring aspirations.
SO, “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?”
As I walked into the juvenile detention center I looked at seventeen or so young people. They were sitting in the multipurpose room. I wondered, “What do all these young people really want?” Actually there's a simple answer to that question. Every one of these young people has only one purpose in life. That purpose: to get out of juvenile detention.
The facts listed above are based on research by William Damon found in his book, “the Path To Purpose (2008).” These facts are true for the overall youth culture in America. That is disturbing! But I can assure you these things are 100% true for a narrower group. This group is made up of all the higher risk youth I have worked with for over 35 years. They all have lacked purpose. They all have lacked aspirations. Each of them could not see any point in acquiring purpose or aspirations in life. I have coined a term for it: “Future-Less-Ness.”
This does not mean that most of these young people do not see a future for themselves. However the future they see, based on their past experience, is full of hurt, pain and failure. This is why they prefer not to deal with it at all. Instead they live for one thing and one thing only—to feel as good as they can today!
Here is the problem. With no purposeful future, consequences have very little meaning in their way of thinking. No meaningful consequences yields a “no holds barred” attitude to things that make them feel good. The only thing that bothers them is anything that stands in the way of “feeling good.” Thus there is that driving purpose to get out of juvenile detention.
Most of these youth face life with one motto: Today stinks--tomorrow will be worse. Think about it. If you had no purposeful future how would you act? What if you only saw a pain filled future with no hope? If you really believed that “today stinks and tomorrow will be worse” how would you approach life? What would be the most logical thing for you to do? That’s right. You would live to feel as good as you could today! You would be living the lifestyle of a high risk, disconnected youth.
All of this may be hard for the average adult to understand. It is especially hard to understand for adults who have avoided disconnected high risk youth. Yet this is reality for all of the highest risk youth among us.
However, today the average youth and young adult face a similar situation according to Damon’s research.
Most youth today spend more time in the swirling pool of indecision than in the reality of thinking through their situation. They are blinded by the hazy world of confusion rather than the pursuit of clear goals. Often today’s youth and young adults are mired in the slog of ambivalence rather than living a determined life. Doubt and self absorption often is the result in their directionless drift through the sea of reality. In his book, the Path to Purpose, William Damon puts it this way: “. . . [the facts above] creates the serious risk that the young person may give up altogether on the tasks of finding a positive direction, sustaining that direction, and acquiring the skills needed to achieve the directional goals." This is definitely true of all of the higher risk youth I work with today. They have just given up! That my friend is serious!
While all youth today may not have given up, many of them still find themselves in a similar situation. They find themselves in the lonely desert. In this desert, purpose is simply mounds of sand shifted by the winds of adult enforced purpose and aspiration. Then there comes the wind storm of pleasure. The sands of purpose stand little chance against such powerful gusts.
Damon also points to a remedy. “What is too often missing - not altogether absent but evident only in a minority of today's youth - is the kind of wholehearted dedication to activity or interest that stems from a serious purpose, a purpose that can give meaning and direction to life.”
It was not until I came to faith in Jesus that I found true purpose. So it is with many I have had the privilege of watching come to Christ. There is only one purpose to which one needs to wholeheartedly dedicate themselves. The ultimate interest area in life is none other than following Jesus Christ—being his disciple. This includes having him establish His Kingdom and Righteousness in your life. It includes being a part of his work of establishing His Kingdom and Righteousness in the lives of others.
But wake up! Here is the real KICK IN THE PANTS!
If future-less-ness is true for the average youth in our culture, it is also true for the average youth in your church. Most of them are swept along by the winds of adult imposed purpose and aspiration. Many are desperatly looking for real examples of active faith. Yet, sadly they only find conflict and focus on how many butts fill the pews and how many bucks are in the offering. They so desperately need adults who will come alongside of them. They need authentic deliberate care and concern from those who call themselves Christians. Yet all they get is a classroom experience or a night of fun and games. Oh and yes, they always receive a message. What is the result of that approach--they are headed out the door!
“Wow Jim now you have gone too far.”
Really? The Barna Group did extensive studies of young adults who were regular church goers in their teen years. Three out of every five disconnect from church either permanently or for an extended period of time. Obviously they are not finding purpose. Obviously they are not finding direction for their lives in the church. They may have prayed a prayer and are on their way to heaven, but they have not found purpose. They have not found discipleship that springs from lordship. According to Barna 40% may be finding purpose. What about the other 60%? The last time I was in school a grade of 40% was not a passing grade.
“Ok, Ok, Jim. What is the answer?”
Well frankly I’m not sure.
How does that sound for a so called expert? This one thing I do know. Over the past 60 years youth ministry has been based on the same formula as church. It is a formula based on events and message. I believe we have seen that that formula, in and of itself, is a failure. Oh some are turning to relational ministry. But anyone can be a friend.
So what should we do? Really what will you do? As I look at the answer it is very simple--YOU & ME!
Here is a suggestion. Click on the LINK below and check our page on Invested Ministry and Youth. Maybe that will spark some ideas for you.
Oh, and by the way, please let me know what you are thinking.
Jim Warren highly recommends these books to go along with this weeks blog. When you click on them and purchase them from Amazon a portion of the sales goes to help provide scholarships for the youth and young adults we serve. Thanks for considering this purchase.