In the first Matrix movie, a pivotal moment occurs when Cypher (a member of the protagonist team of good guys) is having dinner with the main antagonist in the film (Agent Smith). In this climactic moment, it’s revealed Cypher is a mole. He’s plotting against his leader and virtually all of humanity.
Cypher, staring at a piece of steak, muses about existence in The Matrix:
“I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”
He goes on to tell Agent Smith how he wants to live once he’s back in the Matrix.
“I don’t want to remember nothing. Nothing. You understand? And I want to be rich. You know, someone important, like an actor.”
Evaluating our Motives
The scene is designed to make viewers cringe; watching a traitor in action. He betrays those he is closest to for his comfort, his pride. How often do we redefine the boundaries of what Christ has asked of us? How often do we trade truth for convenience, to cradle our pride? As a youth worker, I find myself doing so more often than I’d like to admit. I sometimes choose to focus on a distortion of reality because it’s easier, more comfortable, and/or more appealing.
I’m talking about the Youth Ministry Matrix. For example:
I spend more time with students than what makes me comfortable. I can relate better to them and can reason I have a more significant impact on them as a result. The reality: I’m uncomfortable with teens I don’t relate to easily. I minimize past occurrences when I’ve had fruitful experiences with teens who were very different from me.
Growth Requires Structure and Change
I see a need for a shift in the ministry structure to support growth. But, I’m not willing to make a change because “now isn’t the time” to incorporate a change. The reality: Most change is uncomfortable, but is often necessary for more significant growth and maturity in the students, leaders, and myself.
I “don’t have enough time” to meet with students at lunch because it’s pretty hectic in the office. The reality: After 20 years in ministry, I still find it somewhat intimidating. This ministry calling isn’t about me being comfortable in schools.
I sometimes observe other church’s youth workers and notice they appear to be very effective in the lives of their students. I decide they’re probably compromising the gospel or not as effective as I’m estimating. The reality: I’m jealous because they’re trying/doing things I either don’t have the guts to try/do or don’t want to explore.
I’m convicted by how many times I’ve done or said something, just because I am happier in the false reality. In a very real way, I’m too willing to trade temporary sin for the glory of God (Romans 7:14-20). I’d rather have things my way, and be temporarily comfortable, than surrender to God’s way. How often though, when “I do the very thing I hate” do I think about how I have hurt the heart of God? Have I stopped to think about how I have grieved the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30)? What have I sacrificed by being selfish, proud, and unwilling to face reality?
Fight the Urge to Go Backwards
Paul asked the church at Galatia something similar. At the beginning of Galatians 4, Paul emphasizes that Christians are no longer slaves to sin! We don’t need to be swayed by, motivated by, or ruled by sin. Distorted reality can numb us to the work of Christ on the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. I am no longer a slave!
Paul asks in Galatians 4:9, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slave you want to be once more?” Paul is asking how we, like Cypher, can turn back to what we know to be evil and false since we’ve been freed.
As a youth worker, I often talk with students about making proper choices and avoiding sin. Am I as quick to share (appropriately) about how Christ has freed me from sin? Am I modeling a life of humility, being honest about fear and discomfort in obedience? Do I talk about the daily struggle? And, am I talking about the relational rupture that happens with God when we sin? Doing so challenges students to awaken an active dimension of their living relationship with Jesus Christ.
So where do we go from here? I’ve found answering the following questions to be a starting point when I know I’m living in the false reality of the youth ministry matrix:
Am I living a life that demonstrates knowing Christ’s freedom?
Do students see and hear from me that breaking the heart of God breaks my heart?
Jon has been a youth pastor for 20 years. When he graduated from Moody Bible Institute, Aerosmith and Shania Twain were at the top of the charts. Times have changed, but his passion for teaching the Bible to students, developing youth leaders, and supporting parents continue to grow. Jon finds great excitement challenging teenagers to see the Bible as living and active, an integral part of their daily lives. He loves coming alongside teenagers as they seek to know Christ in new ways. He’s served in Pennsylvania and New York. He now resides and serves in central Kansas with his wife, two children, two goofy dogs, and two neurotic cats.