A still deeper belief system beyond those we have so far examined is existentialism. This is essentially the belief that life has no inherent meaning and that there is no overarching plan to follow. The consequence of this in the lives of our young people is evident in three ways.
The first relates to intent or purpose. Either they live purposeless and directionless lives, or they create their own sense of purpose and pursue that, regardless of how artificial and inconsequential it may be. For example, the appeal of video games is not so much in the fun they offer but in the opportunity for purpose they provide. Achieving a high score and unlocking a new level perhaps provides young people with the sense of accomplishment they crave yet may lack in “real life”.
The second relates to immediacy and living in the moment. Since life has no overarching purpose, meaning is best found in the immediate, and so they seek thrills and excitement, even at the risk of personal harm, in order to get that adrenaline rush that makes them feel fully alive.
The third way in which we see existentialism in young people’s lives is in their unhealthy sense of independence. Meaning and purpose are sought within – not through interactions with others. They see themselves as an island, expecting nothing from anyone and owing nothing to anyone.
Existentialism values experience, and an effective youth ministry will be one in which young people are provided with opportunities to live their faith in real and immediate ways. It will not be faith taught from a book in a church lounge but faith experienced through the immediacy of God’s presence in the challenges of life.
Therefore we teach young people that life indeed does have meaning and that there is ultimately accountability to God for the way we live. When they orient their purposes with His they come to experience His reality, and no more powerfully than when they set aside their own independent priorities and step out in risky faith for the benefit of others.
One way to do this is through mission which strikes at the very heart of existentialism. Mission gives young people a sense of purpose that pushes them beyond their independent isolation to work with and for other people. In the process they have to rely upon God in a way that made His presence more real and immediate to them than it has previously been.