Spider-Man is legit. Teenagers love him. Parents giggle at him. Youth workers recognize him.
He’s a bumbling, awkward 16-year-old named Peter Parker trying to have an ordinary life though he’s been given extraordinary gifts and responsibilities. Kind of like the tension our teenagers often feel.
As Peter Parker puts it in Spider-Man: Homecoming: “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.”
In the next iteration of the Spider-Man story—Far From Home—the story amplifies Parker’s tension of guilt as he and his classmates try to re-enter normalcy after the events of Avengers: Endgame. As world-shaking threats emerge and a new hero appears, our favorite science-nerd-turned-web-slinger must decide if he should take a much-needed break from being a hero to fully enjoy a class trip to Europe or step up and face down new threats in a world that’s been changed forever.
I watched this film in a full theater opening night, surrounded by three rows of students and leaders from our ministry. We cheered as a multi-generational crowd rooted for Parker to not only defeat the villains but find the courage to actually speak to his secret crush. I grew up a comic book fan, and the enduring popularity of Spider-Man has transcended every decade since his introduction in 1962.
Did you catch that? Spider-man is technically almost 60 years old.
None of that matters, though, especially in light of actor Tom Holland’s portrayal of the character. He nails that special blend of angst that is unique to teenagers. And that’s why Spider-Man: Far From Home is a perfect film to watch, then talk about, with your kids: (SPOILERS AHEAD)
- The unfair burden we put on teenagers: On the other side of Thanos’ snap, Peter Parker and his friends have to navigate the consequences this “epic blip.” Nick Fury demands that Spider-Man step up and try to fill the shoes left behind by Iron Man as if Tony Stark was the model for what heroes are all supposed to be like. Only Tony Stark wasn’t. As another character points out, despite the clarity of heroism in Stark’s final moments, the man was generally a mess who regularly second-guessed himself while attempting to protect the world. Do we remember this when we expect teenagers to make fully-functioning decisions despite not having fully-functioning brains? When we cast vision for what their lives could be, do we ever pause to take stock of where their life currently is? If we pitch the Jesus-following life to teenagers as something like superhero expectations, instead of a life formed by our desperate need for grace, they’ll never learn how to bounce back from setbacks.
There is a growing gap between what God says is reality versus what the world claims.Click to tweet
- The fair burden teenagers need to embrace: On the other hand, there is a definite need for this next generation to step up. Real threats really do need to be addressed. There is a growing gap between what God says is reality versus what the world claims. Their peers (and others above and below them) are spiritually dead. It’s why Paul dared Timothy: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” This is why Tony Stark chooses Peter Parker to take up his mission on Earth, just as Moses hands leadership of God’s people in the Promised Land off to Joshua, or Elijah puts his cloak around Elisha. These transitional biblical leaders were not clones of their mentors. How often do we forget this when we expect our students to respond to things as we would? That’s our challenge as we lead teenagers to embrace their fair burden as fully-devoted followers of Jesus. We do need to challenge them to take up the mission of Jesus in their lives—to join Him in “setting captives free.”
Our focus must be on the person of Jesus, not the try-harder-to-be-better shadow mission the church has often handed to teenagers. Only Jesus changes lives—hype can’t carry that load.