Last week I had a really interesting conversation with a group of freshmen. It all started with this question from one girl:
“So in church they’re always talking about asking Jesus into your heart, I’m not even sure I know what that really means.”
The rest of the group nodded in agreement. These were not “unchurched” students leading the discussion. Instead, they were youth who go to church regularly and even attend a Christian School. My first thought was who I could blame for their confusion. Then I realized the issue was not if they were being told the story of Jesus, who He is or what Salvation is all about, they knew the answers to these questions. It got me thinking about the deeper issue.
Have you ever used any of these words in your talks or Bible Studies:
Temptation. Flesh. Righteousness. Justification. Sanctification. Identity. Fellowship. Witness. Testimony. Pride. Lust. Modesty.
The problem of course is that we have an entire language we speak in our Christiandom. We expect students who have never been to church to struggle to keep up, however, the ones who have grown up in Sunday School should know this stuff.
I would contend, we don’t often stop to EXPLAIN what we MEAN when we are building the foundations of the faith. The same students who didn’t understand really what “Jesus in their heart” meant, could give me all the facts of how to come into a relationship with Christ. They knew about the crucifixion, resurrection and the implications of it all. Too often we can set it up so our students can memorize the words, without really knowing the definitions. We think Bible Stories are merely about the details of who, what, when and how. Even if we might give a description of the concept, are we pushing to help them know the application? The older they get the more they think they should “know” and the more embarrassed they become to admit they don’t. So they keep up appearances until one day the words, crash into their doubts and we wonder why some (not all) are running from God.
This is not the first time I have had a conversation like this with students. It started years ago when I was passionately preaching about the need to put Jesus first in our lives. Instead of excitement, I got a bunch of blank stares when I made the statement, “We need to die to self.” I stopped and asked:
“Who knows what that means?”
There was a lot of clamoring. A couple of people made the obligatory statement, “I know I just can’t explain it.” The reality was they had no clue. I found they had heard this idea often while no one had stopped to make sure they were “getting it.” I realized, how often do I take it one step further and ask:
What does that mean to YOU for YOU and in YOUR life?
That was the day I adopted the above questions as a part of everything I do in all of our programming. Blank stares rarely are about boredom. More often than not they come from confusion. The issue isn’t in our language, it’s that we aren’t explaining it. The freshmen I spoke with understood the concept of salvation, but what it meant to belong to Jesus was something they had never taken the time to unpack completely.
I challenge you to dig this week with your own group. Ask them if there are some words or ideas in the church or in their faith that they are afraid to admit are baffling.
Would you be willing to change the way you teach?
Do you think this is an issue or not?