Two recent incidents got me thinking more about the challenges that we all face when it comes to dealing with peer pressure. The first one is during our church’s mission trip to South Thailand. In one of my conversations with the local Thai pastor, he shared that over the past few years, he observed that the students whom our mission team has been seeking to reach out to tended to be more open to the Gospel message and attending church service after they graduated from school.
In his opinion, one of the reasons for the students’ positive response is that after a student has graduated, he or she has less to contend with when it comes to conforming to peer pressure. Even though there is nothing explicitly negative associated with being a Christian, it is understandable that within a predominantly Buddhist community, few young people would readily express interest in another religion or be prepared to be different from their peers. This also means that in our mission endeavour, we need not lose heart but should continue to pray that God will preserve the seeds sown and trust that there will be fruitfulness in God’s sovereign timing.
The second incident is during our bowling game at SAFRA Mount Faber with some Secondary 3 Normal (Academic) students who have signed up for a government-initiated mentoring program. Our team of mentors were pleasantly surprised by how our mentees behaved much better in our midst than when they were in the classroom with their peers. We even commended a girl for trying her best to restrain herself from her usual “colourful” language. This is because we noticed that every time her bowling ball wandered off into the gutters, she would just cover her mouth with her palm and scream instead of sprouting some expletives.
Although it was somewhat amusing seeing her do so, the mentors were glad to have discovered this sensible side of her as well as the rest of our mentees. Given that the mentors did not set out any ground rules with them for this outing, it was heartening to know that our mentees are generally thoughtful youths. Indeed, it was a timely reminder for the mentors that as we seek to connect with our students and build a good rapport with them, there can be much good that will come forth from this mentoring relationship.
As much as the two incidents involve teenagers, we know that adults are not spared from peer pressure. In a toxic work-environment, there is always this unspoken expectation of leaving only after the boss has left his office or needing to appear busy behind your laptop even after your work is done. Sometimes we do not speak up or act as we should, caring more about other’s opinion of us than what we ourselves know is right. Likewise, church leaders may also struggle with the demands and displeasure of church-goers whenever they seek to teach and apply biblical principles in the life of the church.
Given that we can be so easily influenced by the people around us, it will certainly help when one learns to surround himself with like-minded godly people who can help him on his path toward Christian discipleship. Although there is much we can learn from inspiring sermons on the internet, every Christian needs the local church. Unless we are in a unique situation where there is no available church, we need to understand that God has intended the community of believers to be the primary place where one can be nurtured and admonished in the Lord.
To be sure, the church is not called to try and turn worshippers into conformist, exerting social pressure to make everyone think and behave the same way. Otherwise, the church will end up functioning more like a cult. Instead, the goal is to be cultivating integrity where even though we are different parts of the body, we are united by one Spirit and all submit to Christ who is the Head (1 Cor 12:12-20).
As Christians, we do what we do not because we fear men and are pressured to behave in certain way when we are amongst God’s people but because we fear God and love God’s people. It would be rather tragic and ironic if in a community which values truth, her members are merely modifying their behaviour in order to be accepted and loved instead of showing signs of being transformed by God as a result of being convicted by God’s Word and assured of God’s love.
Indeed, let us pray that here at True Way, we can be a nurturing community where as people come as they are, by God’s grace they will increasingly bear Christ-likeness as they become part of God’s family. In a globalised digital world, the pressure to conform to a different image can easily multiply manifold with a click of a button or swipe of a finger. But we take heart that the church can be a safe refuge against the unceasing onslaught of images and values that can so easily entangle us and lead our focus away from God. Since Christ who is the perfect image of the invisible God has come to “reconcile to himself all things … making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20), we know that ultimately God’s people will be bearing forth Christ’s image too (2 Cor 3:17-18)!
Rev Edwin Wong
June 30, 2019