Austin* never came to our youth group, but he did attend one of our traveling, overnight events. Black skinny jeans with a hoodie-covered v-neck, topped with meticulously-placed-messy-hair: he was what the teens would label EMO. He hovered near the door with one earbud in place while I rattled off attendance before loading the bus. His discomfort was easily seen – something I hoped would wash away as the event continued. But as the night rolled on, he never relaxed. He never spoke. He never smiled. Eight hours later, progress still hadn’t been made. He had locked himself inside a social shell that nobody could crack. The event came to an end and Austin went his way. Follow-up contact was pursued, but never established. For all practical purposes, Austin had disappeared.
Two years later I learned that Austin became a self-proclaimed transgendered homosexual. He had embraced the lifestyle to its fullest with the look of RuPaul and a new feminine name. His change was so dramatic that when I received his friend request on Facebook, I didn’t recognize him. I had to ask the awkward question of “Where have we met?” He mentioned the youth event, but I still couldn’t place him. Eventually he told me his real name, at which point I nearly fell out of my chair. Beyond the makeup and eyeliner and under the long, bleached blond hair, I could see Austin’s face.
I couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t sure to end our recently renewed relationship. A thousand questions ran through my mind, but the only one that came out was, “Wow! How have you been?” I wondered what might have happened over the last two years in this young man’s life that would convince him to exchange his name and gender, escape his identity. I also wanted to know why he’d reached out to me – the awkward leader of the awkward youth event two years earlier. I quickly scanned his Facebook wall for clues and found that his boyfriend had just dumped him. He was in crisis, scraping for anything of consolation.
I’d never discussed a gay breakup before and didn’t know where to begin really. I have the same questions concerning a gay relationship as I do a foreign culture. I’ve just never been around it very much. But I decided to treat the gay broken heart the same way I’d treat a straight broken heart: with love. I told Austin that I’d been on the sore end of a breakup before and that I was aware of the pain and feelings of helplessness. I told him that I was sorry for him. I urged him not to let the breakup define who he was. “God has designed you and defined you. Don’t give others that ability.” I wasn’t ready for his reply. “I don’t want to hear anything about Him right now.”
His remark struck me. Not because of his attitude toward the Creator, but because of his faith in the Creator. Austin didn’t question God’s existence. He just made it clear that he didn’t want God near his existence. And though I tried not to read into his statement, I clearly sensed blame. My mind shifted from wondering what had happened over the past two years to why he’d blame God for his current life circumstance.
I later learned that Austin was raised in a Christian home – and I use that term loosely. He’d grown up attending church and was well aware of God’s existence. His father was even a deacon. So what happened? This type of story isn’t new. Many of the friends I grew up with in the church have wandered away from their faith. But I have noticed a common thread among those still searching for answers: they all attended church, youth group or some other type of Christian education, but never saw it played out day-to-day in their homes. Much like Austin, my friends had their teaching of Christianity outsourced by their parents.
Outsourcing is a business term. It refers to the model of obtaining goods or services by employing an outside or foreign supplier rather than producing those goods or services internally. This is normally done in order to cut either costs or corners, but can also be done for the sake of a better product. For example, Apple outsources its camera for the iPad because those cameras are the best available.
In the American family, outsourcing has become the best viable option for teaching children any number of skills. Though I play guitar, I may send my child to a certified guitar teacher so that they might learn the best technique possible. This is a great thing. It even exemplifies a bit of humility on my part. When it comes to education, parents often seek the best source of education for their children, and rightly so. This will afford their kids the brightest future possible. Outsourcing seems to provide innumerable options and benefits.
However, I believe the Christian family has begun to outsource the spiritual teaching of its children. With pure intention and the child’s best interest, parents seek to find the best youth ministry or Christian School that might provide the premier teaching of Scripture and moral living. While some parents may have a strong understanding of God’s Word, will, and character, they assume that it’s better taught by those who went to seminary. This could in fact be true. But a concept is not better learned simply because it is better taught.
Teenagers need to hear it from their parents. They need to see it in their parents. And they need to be challenged by their parents. The expert teaching can be a fantastic auxiliary, but it ought to remain just that – a supplement to the main course. Outsourcing is a great option until it includes responsibility.
*Austin is a fictitious name. Well, it’s a real name, but it’s not this kid’s real name.
© 2012 – Matthew Ouellette holds a Bachelors Degree in Biblical Studies and Education from Boston Baptist College. He is the youth pastor of Faith EFC in Waterville, Maine, and was recently awarded a publishing contract for his book titled, Thoughts that fell from a Taco Shell.