October 25th, 2012 at 1:46 pm
ARLINGTON – It’s time for the church to connect with students in a different way, said leaders at Texas Baptists Youth Ministry Conclave in Arlington Oct. 15-17.
This way is through authenticity, making churches places where students can express doubt, wrestle through hard answers about God and understand that God likes and delights in them, said Kara Powell, co-author of Sticky Faith and executive director of the Youth Institute at Fuller Seminary.
“Part of what we get to be for each other and with our students is to be a safe place where we can say, ‘I don’t get this about God, but will you talk with me about it and wrestle with me?’” Powell said.
Much of Powell’s research and efforts have been on helping churches create ministries for students that are much more inter generational. But more is needed for faith to stick with students past their school days.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with you about Sticky Faith, and you’ve said how you’re trying to get your churches to be more inter generational, and how you’re trying to partner with parents. Those are awesome, and those are things about Sticky Faith that have really spread far and wide. But something that is equally important is this whole role of doubt,” Powell said.
Through her research, Powell found that students’ doubts about faith were directly related to a more mature and constant faith.
“When students felt the freedom and had the opportunity to explore and express their doubts, that was actually related to more mature faith in high school and college,” Powell said.
This is important when at least 75 percent of students who grew up in the church leave once they enter college.
When a church isn’t willing to talk about their difficult questions, students begin falsely to sense that God isn’t big enough for their problems, Powell said.
“What our young people are learning is not only the church isn’t big enough to handle their tough questions about God, but God isn’t big enough to handle their tough questions about Him,” Powell said.
Powell found students wrestle with four main questions about faith: Does God exist? Is Christianity the only way to God? Does God love me? And am I living the life that God wants?
The first two are classic apologetic questions, while the last two are quite personal, dealing with a foundational belief about self and God.
“If Jesus isn’t bigger than our mistakes, than we need a new Jesus. But He is bigger than our mistakes,” Powell said.
And when students and ministers alike believe this at the heart of their being, they will begin to obey the Lord out of gratitude rather than an obligation to a list of dos and don’ts.
“Friends, God is not distant from us. God delights in us, so much that He sent His son to save us by grace. So yes, we obey, but the moment we slip to make behavior the center of our faith, we not longer have Jesus the center of our faith,” Powell said.
Moving away from this list of dos and don’ts also can come from a vibrant example of a relationship with Christ from multiple generations within the church. For the past year, this has been a focus for Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston.
Jerome Smith, the church’s student minister and coordinator of the Devoted Hearts and Homes effort, realized that reaching students must start with the parents and other adults in their lives. If they live out a devoted life to Christ, then much of this will trickle down to their students.
“The crisis is that parents are not living out their faith at home, if they have a faith,” Smith said. “There is a disconnect with parents who take their kids to church, go to a Sunday school class but the rest of the week there is no conversation about the Lord – just ones about good grades and getting into college.”
Smith shared about the church’s Devoted Hearts and Homes effort during a Conclave breakout session. He stated that the campaign is based on Deuteronomy 6:4-9 where the Israelites were called to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.
“We are doing our best just to be conscious of the thought to live our faith at home,” Smith said. “We have had a couple of campaigns we’ve focused on – pray at home and God’s Word at home.”
Families were challenged to prayer seven times a week personally, five times a week as a family and once a week with a spouse or best friend. Though everyone in the church didn’t follow the effort exactly as prescribed, the church began to pray more and spend more time in the Word.
The effort also focuses on all adults in the church taking a role in the students’ lives. The congregation must see the children and students as their own and be willing to invest in them. These adults also need to be modeling a passionate relationship with Christ, Smith said.
“Youth need to see that Jesus is real and alive in people’s lives, and if they don’t see that, what is the draw?” Smith said. “… If we have spiritually lethargic adults and youth camp leaders, we will produce [the same].”
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