I recently took a class from Dr. Michael Horton at Reformed Theological Seminary called “Ministry in the Post-Modern Context”. During the class, Dr. Horton told us of an interesting stat. He said that students who were raised up in an Evangelical church were very likely to abandon their faith by the time they are sophomores in college. Naturally, I was blown away by that stat because that doesn’t seem very logical. Why is that? What makes someone who went to church regularly and really enjoyed it abandon their faith and not feel that Christ isn’t important to them and that Church is worth going to anymore?
It was a fascinating class in which it made me ponder so much about how I am reaching students for Christ for the long haul. If this is the truly the case and Dr. Horton is right (which I have no reason to not believe him) that a growing number of believers are leaving the faith during their college years, we, as Youth Pastors have a huge problem on our hands. Of course this is not all our responsibility, but as overseers of the youth program, we have to play a part in transitioning these youth into adulthood. How can we bridge the gap between the teenage years and adulthood? I believe that it comes down to a simple change in focus.
What are we to do?
I believe that a critical step that we need to do in helping students stay strong in Christ for the long haul is to teach the Truth of who God is. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Duh Tom, I do that”. But, take a moment and think about your last meeting. What was the most memorable part of it? Was it the wild and crazy game you played, the creative and awesome video you showed, the funny skit guys who dressed up like cavemen OR was it the Truth of Christ? Unfortunately for me, I have an easier time remember the crazy thing we did during our time together rather than the Truth of Christ that was revealed.
Students are not dumb. They know that when they come to Church, people are going to talk about God and Christ. So why, then, do we feel the need to play so many games and feel that we need to entertain them so much? It is a very delicate balance because we want our group to be attractive to everyone while at the same time present the truth of Christ consistently. I struggle with it constantly as I so desperately want our students to know the Truth but how do I present the Truth to students who are inundated in an MTV world where images come at them so fast?
One thing that sticks out to me is that it appears that we can get so caught up with making Christ attractive that we lose the fact that the truth of Christ is attractive enough. It is almost like we have to come up with an angel to make Christ attractive to wild teenagers. When we do this, I believe we miss the point that Christ is already attractive enough, we just have to share about him. Does that mean we have to stop being creative? No, but the Truth should drive our creativeness, not vise-versa. Do not get so caught up with the presentation and miss the content of whom you are presenting.
Christ says in John 8:31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In this day and age, we can get so caught up with creative ways to share the gospel with our fancy PowerPoint slides, movie clips and dramatic performances (and believe me, I have done all those things). It almost seems that we are trying to copy what MTV and the rest of the world is doing, but in a “Christian” way. But, is that the right way? Shouldn’t Christ and the truth found in Him dictate how we teach? Do we have to go to such extremes if just knowing and understanding the truth will set us all free?
Effectively teaching students the Truth
Now, if you know me, you will know that I am not a Youth Pastor who gets up at the beginning of his meeting, opens my Bible and does an exegetical study. I appreciate those who do that, but that is not how I am wired. I love having fun with the youth and trying to find ways to create an exciting and attractive program. But, Dr. Horton’s stat and subsequent challenge got me thinking of different ways we can be presenting the Truth of Christ so that students can have a committed, long term relationship with Him.
- Use the different learning styles. In order to be effective in teaching the truth, we have to be aware of the different learning styles of youth. There are multiple learning styles: audio, visual, and kinesthetic. Don’t get tied into just presenting Christ in one way.
- Repetition. The Truth of Christ is unchanging, so teach on who he is. Andy Stanley has a great book, “The Seven Checkpoints” about this and gives some great insight on how repetition constantly reinforces important topics.
- Engage and help them Discover. Teaching the Truth about God doesn’t mean you stand up and preach until you are blue in the face and that their ears and minds are ready to explode. Engage them and discuss the subject with them. Throughout your message, ask questions so that they can discover the Truth rather be told what the Truth is.
- Strategically plan out our Meetings. What is it that we are teaching the students during our meetings together on Sunday? Are we teaching them that Christ is all fun and just a little scripture? Or, are we teaching that in all situations, Christ is present and relevant?
- Create a Educational Flow from Childhood to Adulthood. Coordinate with your Children’s Ministry, Christian Education and Adult Education Director(s) about the Truths of God you should communicated at each level/stage of their life.
- Follow up/through. Continue to earn the right and build relationships with students during the week. Help them process the information you all discuss on Sunday mornings or at small group by following up with them throughout the week.
- Involve Parents. This is especially helpful if you have Christian parents. Parents are the ultimate spiritual heads of their children. But, too often, parents believe it is the Church’s job to teach their children about God. The church is just a small part of presenting Christ. The bulk of the work has to come from the parents. So, let parents know what you are discussing so that they can know and follow up throughout the week with their children.
- Set up Mentorships. This is to integrate the generations in your Church. It is important to partner up the adults with youth so that the younger generation can learn from the older generation and their experiences.
As youth move into adulthood, like Dr. Horton said, I have had the unfortunate experience of seeing too many young people fade away from Christ and the Church. The comment, “church/Christ just isn’t for me anymore” is not an acceptable answer, especially for someone who was very committed to Christ as a teen. Sometimes I wonder, was it me? Did I turn him/her off from Christ with what we did in our program? I know that is not the right mindset to have, but it I still wonder. I believe that in order to engage someone long term for Christ, we have to begin to look at what and how we are teaching our youth. Christ never said he was just about fun and games. However, he did say that he was THE way, THE truth and THE life (John 14:6). Therefore, let us not do a disservice to our youth and present Christ in just a fun, comfortable way. Rather, let’s present him for exactly who he is and see how our youth step up and take hold of him.
TAKE A MINUTE and…
- Do this quick exercise. Your Senior Pastor just gave you the challenge to share about Prayer to your youth next week. Quickly, write down how you would organize your meeting? You have to prepare an hour time frame.
- Now, after you have prepared your mock meeting, answer these questions:
- What was your overall objective for the meeting?
- What was the 1st thing you prepared? Was it your game, mixer or social activity OR was it the truth about Christ you were going to present?
- Was your game tied into your teaching or was it completely separated and had no correlation?
For your next lesson, start with the Truth of Christ and then form the rest of your meeting around that. Let the Truth of Christ drive what and how we present.