rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution, According To Joel


We must not be satisfied with simply being better than the average teenager. Such a classification reinforces, rather than combats, the myth of adolescence. As the old saying goes, “The exception only proves the rule.”

~ From the recent post, “Rebelize Your Youth Group” ~

Joel posted the following excellent response to my above statement. I post it here in it’s entirety because he develops our thoughts in a wonderfully articulate way:

You have really hit the nail on the head. When I was a youth a great deal was often made about how well behaved I was, and how I never rebelled against my parents. It always disturbed me. One of the reasons for this is just what you’ve pointed out: by lifting me up as exceptional, the grown-ups were giving implicit acknowledgement of the “rule” my exception supposedly proved. The truth is that the question “will you or will you not rebel against your parents” is a remedial question to begin with. If you decide “I won’t get my eyebrows pierced and sell crack,” you’re then left with a bigger and better question: “what will you do then?”

The real danger for youths intent on rebelution is that these smarter-than-the-average-bear kudos can become the new (and easy) standard. Unfortunately we often get praise for things which weren’t particularly difficult to achieve. If we focus on the props and encouragement of those who have low expectations for us, we become mediocre.

It can be challenging to set our sights on excellence, particularly when we’re hearing that we’re already there. One of life’s greatest lessons, which we all must learn could be expressed in the phrase, “That was nothing. Watch this.”

Now on to the application: I think it is appropriate for excellence-focused rebelutionaries to call their youth leaders, pastors, teachers and parents on their faint praise for standing out. Challenge yourselves and others to call the normal things “normal”, and save that word “excellence” for things which really are.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • In the words of Jesus:

    Luk 17:7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?
    Luk 17:8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?
    Luk 17:9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?
    Luk 17:10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

  • Thank you for articulating that idea so well. I face this challenge at school, where my mediocre work is accepted as excellent, and I don’t feel any need to actually do excellent work.

  • I grew up with the exact same frustration as Joel mentions in this post. It’s so encouraging to read that God’s raising up people to fight this prolific lie that our teenage years are about having fun and shirking responsibility.

    As a teen, the adults, ministry leaders, and friends that I had in my life were constantly putting me on a higher level than other people my age, especially at church. I was constantly looked at as the perfect teenager, simply because I had no desire to do grossly sinful things (i.e. drugs, fornicate, drink) AND I was passionate about holiness, my relationship with God and my relationships with others (especially befriending and paying attention to those who were “forgotten”). I, however, knew that I was capable of MUCH more than what I was doing, and was constantly frustrated because besides my parents, almost everyone told me I was doing a great job at everything when I knew that considering my potential, I was not doing a great job at all. I was constantly wishing someone would expect more of me than what I was easily accomplishing already. This issue was exacerbated by the fact that my peers in church and in school already saw me as “above” them, which meant to reach for more would simply be ridiculous. This frustration subsequently caused me to focus on the problem, instead of solutions, and I spent most of high school upset with myself but paralyzed by countless self-made roadblocks, in addition to the praise of my church leaders. Both my parents had jobs that they worked 40+ hours at each week and we were heavily involved in community and church activities. This created an environment where my parents could not have a regular influence on the habits I formed because they were not available. Hence, I fell almost completely into the horrible habit of just doing “enough” to get praise and got comfortable with not living up to my potential. I felt alone in my efforts to be more and wasn’t willing to seek God for the strength and guidance I needed to change.

    Coming back to “The Rebelution”, I actually know very little about it, since I just found about it yesterday in an informal meeting at my church, lol. However, given my history, I am SO impressed to see, just in listening to Brett and Alex speak for an hour or so and through reading a few things on this website, what “The Rebelution” is accomplishing with teens. I praise God for how he’s using teens themselves to set the standard higher while the culture still does not demand it of them. I look forward to learning more about the practical solutions that “The Rebelution” can offer to help our youth and their parents combat this massive issue of not expecting enough from our teens. I can’t help but think that if someone were to challenge adults in this same way, we’d see the church as a whole accomplishing much more than it presently does. However, I wonder if it could even prove significantly harder to challenge adults with living up to their potential than it is to challenge teenagers…

    Thank you Lord for using Brett, Alex, Joel, everyone involved with Rebelution, AND their families!!! You’re changing the world through them…what an amazing blessing!

  • I feel there is a danger here of exalting men and not God. The Lord looks at the heart- not the outward action. Even the thought of sin is sin. Did you know the Lord judges our thoughts?

    This is where sin comes from.

    So it is a disservice to any young believer to exalt them for not living a worldly life….and focuses on externals. It sets them up to be prideful and self -righteous. As I was- who was exalted in a similar way. I used to do a lot of public ministry when I was younger, including traveling music ministry to middle and high schools- while living in sin.

    Don’t seek to be a great man. Seek to be a man in whom a great God lives. His power is made perfect in weakness.

    I used to be that model teen ager. And I’m black too so I also got- “and she’s black.” I went to Yale and was a super high achiever on the outside.

    But on the inside I was full of ambition, lust for position, and much sin. Although a dedicated church goer- I was not “born from up above” until years later.

    So what’s the point? Jesus needs people who are weak in themselves- in order to show Himself strong. Then people know it is God who did the work and not a person’s natural talents or ability. This is why Paul called his natural education and accomplishments “dung.”

    What God wants for us is to reckon ourselves as dead and Christ alive so that he will manifest (shine forth) His life in us. we are to walk as He walked.

    The Gospel is much bigger than we have been taught:

    Also- we are forbidden in the Word to judge unbelievers who have not been given the grace of God to repent. We need to give them much grace and mercy- those poorly behaved youth, being all things to all men that we may win some.

  • I noticed the mention of Rebelution this morning on Lindy’s site where I participate in knitting dishcloths with her, and have spent the ensuing hours reading amazing things. I feel so encouraged by you all.

    I am 60 years old, so not your target age but the most important thing I have learned from the internet over the past 10 years is to think of each person as a soul and not confine or define them by age, gender and ethnicity.

    What Joel articulates so well could have been written by me as long as 45 years ago or, as recently as yesterday. It is such a frustration to be praised for being un-praiseworthy and it makes you disinclined to stretch yourself.

    This is a wonderful site and I am so proud of all who are willing to stick their necks out as, I have always been too afraid to. We can encourage and inspire each other so that we can stand up and be counted and we can expect more of ourselves because we know God expects more of us.

  • Totally true. I can really relate to that because I’ve never really had an opportunity to get involved with drugs or sex or any of that stuff, and people used to just think of me as the smart guy with good character. But really I was doing bare minimum. I started to lose my 4.0 GPA in fifth grade because I was unwilling to study, and often to do my homework. And even though I wasn’t doing the stuff I mentioned above, I really wasn’t doing anything to contribute either. I was just complacent and full of secret sin. But six months ago I decided to follow God’s calling, and you would be amazed at what He’s started doing with my life.

    To any of you who might not want to put in the extra effort in any area of life: DO HARD THINGS! Life is more exciting on the edge!


  • Comparing ourselves to the people around us is something we all fall into. What we need to do is only care what God thinks. Once we get to this point if we ever do, we won’t be held back by others expectations. We will be propelled forward by God’s expectations. We will be frustrated by our own inabilities, learning to rely on Gods wisdom and strength. Rather then saying wow look at the teens around me, I’m amazing! A prodigy! We will think wow I’m a sinner in desperate need of Gods guidance and help. Our lives should be all about him, not the world around us.

  • I would totally agree with this. One thing that really gets under my skin is when people talk to my mom about how well behaved I am and say,”I hope my child turns out that way, too.” HELLO, WAKE UP PEOPLE!!! Kids are not well behaved from the moment of birth. They are well behaved because their parents RAISED them that way. That is why it says in Proverbs,” Train up a child in the way he(or she) should go and when he(or she) is old, they will not turn from it.” That is whiy so many kids reject their faith in college and rebel as teens: they have not been given a reason WHY they should believe what they have been (sort-of) taught to believe.

  • What Joel said is so true. I grew up in church, and have never done any really bad things, but not any amazing things ethear, and even so adults look at me like I’m different which I am but some times I hate it when they look down or compare the other teens to me. They have never come right out and said they were doing it but I can feel the judgment. I think alot of adults judge on outward apperences and on the fact that their “teens” and don’t take the time to get to know them before judging. I do think that every audult should read Do Hard Things. and the Rebelution. I know of an adult who read it and it has changed the way she looks at teens. If adults stoped bying the mith of adolescence I think more kids would rise up and try to do amazing things for God.

  • As I’m growing up in the church, it’s hard sometimes because most adults seem to think I’m perfect because I’m almost 16 and haven’t “rebelled”. I just want the adults in my church to challange me & my peers more. I don’t want to be an underachiever.

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →