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More Than Just a Good Church Kid
Three paradigm shifts for student ministry.
More Than Just a Good Church Kid
Image: Flickr

I want to introduce you to a teenager I know.

He’s 16. He doesn’t drink alcohol. He doesn’t do drugs. He doesn’t have premarital sex. He’s kind and respectful to adults. He’s an excellent student with exceptional SAT scores. And he wants to do something with his life that will make a difference in the world.

He’s also an atheist.

Before you learned that he was an atheist, how many of you thought, “This is the ideal Christian teenager”?

And therein lies our problem. Jesus did not come to earth on a rescue mission to make bad people good. He came to give spiritually dead people his eternal-kind-of-life (Eph 2:4–5).

Jesus did not come to earth on a rescue mission to make bad people good. He came to give spiritually dead people his eternal-kind-of-life

I propose that there are ministry models in place that create systemic problems that hinder our student’s faith. We need to create environments that produce more than just “good church kids.”

As my friend and renowned youth culture expert, Chap Clark, PhD points out, Previous studies indicate that 40 percent to 50 percent of all youth group graduates fail to stick with their faith or connect with a faith community after high school

For your consideration, here are three shifts in thinking to incorporate into student ministry

1) From Jesus as Life Coach to Jesus as God and King.

“Life Coach Jesus” doesn’t inspire students to live lives worthy of their callings. “Life Coach Jesus” is not worshiped. He’s used or consulted. He’s a “how-to” app that has no real power.

This is at the root of what is called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism by authors Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

They wrote, “God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”

By comparison, take a moment and marinate on how the apostle Paul describes Jesus:

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross” (Col. 1:15–20, NLT).

King Jesus is worth following. Teach students a high and lofty view of Jesus.

2) From Moralizing to Gospel-izing

Often we are so busy telling kids what they shouldn’t or can’t be or do that we miss telling them in whose image they are created to be. When we worship Jesus in all of life—because we see him for who he is and revel in his grace—we are transformed into his image and something more beautiful and life-giving than morality is realized: we live a gospel-empowered life. A gospel-empowered life produces the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23).

When students are exposed to the richness of the gospel, they have more opportunity to live a life worthy of their calling.

3) From Isolation to Inclusion

It’s time to include students into the life of the local church. If we isolate them from connecting with the richness of full-church worship, serving, and ministry, why are we shocked when they don’t connect to the local church in college? Students need to know that they matter to, and make an impact on, the life and wellness of the local church; that it’s their church, too.

At Transformation Church, teenagers (and some preteenagers) worship and serve on ministry teams with adults. More than 18 percent of our servant-leaders, or volunteers, are teenagers. Do whatever you need to do to include students in the life of the local church.

Clark says, “Rather than only attending their own Sunday school classes, worship services, small groups, and service activities, young people appear to benefit from intergenerational activities and venues that remove the walls (whether literal or metaphorical) separating the generations. Churches and families wanting to instill deep faith in youth should help them build a web of relationships with committed and caring adults, some of whom may serve as intentional mentors.”

Teenagers and preteenagers are not the church of tomorrow. They are the church of today—right here, right now. The more we incorporate them into the local church, the stronger and more personal their faith will be.

Marinate on that.

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January 08, 2015 at 5:00 AM
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