Sikander Hashmi: Youths must have coping mechanisms to deal with situations that go against their choices and preferences. This, of course, will help them throughout their lives. In the case of young Muslims, I have seen youth getting together, finding fun activities, exploring their faith and getting involved in social justice causes. There is a certain emptiness one feels when one feels excluded. The key is to fill that void with what the individual is desiring (for example, acceptance, excitement, purpose etc.) with positive alternatives.
Lorna Dueck: The best evidence of helping youths cope with dissatisfaction appears to be coming from authenticity from parents. A close second is the input that comes from alternative messages and pressures peers and media provide. For Christian families, that begins in the church. Having experienced and watched church youth groups and Christian education programs for a few decades now, it always comes down to relationships of the teacher to student, of peer to peer, and accuracy to source material, the Bible. Ancient truths, spiritual insights reflected into pressures, temptations and identity issues.
Matt Wilkinson: I would add that for young people, coping with dissatisfaction provides the opportunity to make an impact. Today’s youths are much more concerned with issues of justice, collaboration and making this world a better place than they are with climbing a corporate ladder, stepping on whomever in order to get there. Many I’ve worked with as a youth pastor have pointed to having an adult believe in them, listen to them and give them opportunity – this was one of the most effective ways to navigate challenges the culture was throwing at them.
Guy Nicholson: Lorna has raised the issue of these alternative messages. What are the limits to what religious teaching can do to influence young people? What critical factors are beyond the realm of the church or mosque? I’m talking about combating extremism, but also the day-to-day battle to guide and assist.
Matt Wilkinson: There clearly are issues surrounding sex, alcohol and materialism in other communities, definitely within the Christian community, and it’s simply because we are all broken people, messed up and trying to find our way in this world. However, when I see these issues and some of the negative things that come from such abuses, it becomes so easy to focus on behaviour modification instead of spiritual transformation. This is one of the key reasons young people are abandoning institutionalized religion, because they are not looking “TO DO”; they are looking to “TO BE.” If we merely change behaviour, we are merely perpetuating the “good look” of religion, but when we shift our focus to the much longer journey of walking with young people toward spiritual transformation, not through judgment and rejection, but through correction, love, and grace, we see a young person who changes from the inside out.
Lorna Dueck: I think limits of Christian influence seem to be reached when it comes to politics, and some very real issues of international injustice. We’ve got persecuted Christians in China, the Middle East, children still not going to school in African countries, human trafficking, all these issues live large on youth idealism. As a result, there’s been a great upsurge in “mission trips” over the past 10 years of Christian youth ministry, where youths raise their own funds to travel to “the other” – to poverty, to injustice. They head out to a radical act of kindness, led by missionaries or youth pastors. We’re documenting this now in Love Is Moving, or you can see it in We Day – practical day-to-day battles that youth have a power to engage in positive change.
Matt Wilkinson: I think as faith leaders, one of the important thing is not just teaching and living out the values of our faith to the next generation, but being conscious about some of the messaging that young people are getting about other faiths through acts of extremism and the media portrayal of it. We must walk with our young people in seeing what it is to live at peace with each other, what it is to find points where amid differences we can connect, and help them navigate through their own perception of people in light of extremism and then ultimately offer a different reality – point them to opportunities to serve others, to live out love, to listen to others, to care for the planet – to be positive witnesses of their faith to their world and be an influencer instead of the influenced.