Last summer I painted several rooms in our house. The job took much longer than I had hoped or expected (doesn’t it always?!?). Even though I’m a perfectionist when it comes to painting, my desire to just get done and get back to life led to a temptation to compromise my usual standards of neatness. My last painting project was our walk-in closet. Because nobody other than my family would be entering the closet and because it would be filled with all kinds of stuff once I was done, I caught myself thinking about painting faster, cutting corners, settling for only one coat, and being generally sloppy because, after all, it was only the closet and nobody would ever know. I wanted to get outside and enjoy the summer.
But my conscience got the better of me. I realized that if I had compromised my standards, each time I walked into that closet I would know that even though the rest of the job looked good, the walls hidden in that dark little space didn’t meet my standard. My painting job would have lacked integrity.
Integrity is an issue for all followers of Christ regardless of our age. The dictionary defines integrity as “firm adherence to a code of moral values” and “the quality of being complete or undivided.” For Christians in my generation, our compromise oftentimes takes the form of putting on a good show for others, while living with lower standards and cutting corners in “the closests” of our lives frequented only by our selves. . . those places that we think are never seen by others. However, as youthworkers, we can be sure that our kids’ watchful eyes see more than we know or imagine. I believe that the emerging generation of children and teens have learned well from our example. So much so, in fact, that they are now a generation where professing Christian kids are less prone to even try to hide their duplicity. They are marked by an increasing willingness to wear their lack of integrity on their sleeves with no cares about what anybody else thinks. For example, I can talk about being a follower of Christ, eagerly engage in corporate worship, sleep with my girlfriend, embrace a lifestyle of materialism that leaves me feeling entitled to everything, cheat in school, etc. . . . and do it all without even thinking there’s anything wrong or contradictory with any of it. It’s the same lack of integrity my generation has struggled with, but it’s now wearing a completely different face.
Charles Colson says, “The church’s singular failure in recent decades has been the failure to see Christianity as a life system, or worldview, that governs every area of existence.” In other words, we lack the integrity that Jesus calls for when he tells his followers to love the Lord your God with all you are, have, do, and ever will be (Mark 12:30) . . . consistently. Integrity describes a life that is united in a complete and consistent whole. An integrated life is one where words, thoughts and actions consistently reflect the will of God in our lives.
What can we do to counter the loss of integrity in today’s youth culture and the lives of our kids?
First, we need to take a long, hard look in the mirror to see what kind of example we are offering, both outside and inside our “closets.” Prayerfully take corrective action where necessary.
Second, we must map out a lifestyle of joyful integrity through our daily lives. The way we minister, play, work, worship, relate, and live all of life should model integrity to our kids.
Third, we must map out a life of integrity through our words. Never forget that your students are on the road to adulthood. Full of confusion and questions, they want and need your guidance. Speak up loudly and often, challenging commonly held cultural standards that steer them in the wrong direction. In addition, don’t be afraid to speak openly about the specific duplicity you see them adopting in their own lives. Spoken in the context of a loving relationship, your words have tremendous power.
May God grant us all the grace to live lives marked by an infectious integrity that fills every room and closet, both now and for generations to come!