Guest post by Alex McElroy
I was standing to the side, near the audio and sound equipment. As I cued the PowerPoint for the Youth Pastor, I listened intently as he finished another powerful sermon and began to make an altar call. He asked if there was anyone present who had never confessed Christ as their Lord and savior. He urged those who had not yet done so to come forward. He emphasized to the youth there that night that accepting Christ was not an emotional decision, that only by confessing our faith in Christ who died on the cross for our sins can we be saved. This was my cue to come to the front in order to usher the newly saved teens to the back room for prayer. But as I made my way to the front, I was more perplexed than anything else. I noticed that some teens making their way to the front had made the same walk at last week’s altar call. As I began to think about it there were several teens who made this walk every week to “get saved”…again. It was then that we realized that something in the message had been lost in translation.
I’ve been in youth ministry for over 10 years and I’ve seen many methods of engaging youth including teaching, preaching, small groups, and activities. Time and time again I’ve seen the common ploy of a pizza party utilized to get the kids in the building only to give them a brief word about Jesus before letting them eat and hang with friends. I’ve seen dance parties, prayer nights, open forum discussions (be careful with these) and passionate sermons. In and of themselves none of these are bad and each of them has the potential to be good. However, no matter what method we choose to employ, we can’t confuse attendance with belief and understanding.
I have explained and diagrammed God’s plan of salvation for His people to numerous young men and women. I’ve taught them Romans road. I made sure they understood that we have all fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). I made sure that they grasped that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). I made sure they knew that through our confession of Christ as Lord coupled with the belief that He rose from the dead (Romans 10:9-10), we shall be saved.
After all of that teaching, testing and reviewing I’ve also watched them come back with questions that I felt we had already answered. Their questions emanated from something their teacher said in religious studies class or from something their non-believing friend posed to them. In addition to challenges against their faith from unbelievers in their lives, they also have to filter through innumerable viewpoints, opinions, and “facts” on the internet via their smartphones (with which they have more interactions than any human).
Building our youth’s faith and understanding in this environment is a daunting task. But we have to make sure that they don’t grow up with a shaky foundation or we will lose them to the alternatives they are being presented with each and every day. If a building has a busted window, it can be repaired. If some shingles go missing on the roof, it can be replaced if not patched. But if there is a crack in the foundation, the building will be condemned. This is how vitally important a strong foundation is! The key to fortifying the foundation to young people’s faith is something I almost never see taught to our youth – Apologetics.
For example, it is a true statement that Jesus died and rose again after 3 days. However, why do we so seldom provide our youth with the evidence of the resurrection? Their faith will be emboldened with strong evidence in what we are telling them to believe. They will be more likely to share their faith and stand firm when challenged. They need to know that the early disciples willingly died brutal deaths because they were convinced that they had seen a risen Christ. Peter was crucified upside down in Rome. Bartholomew (Nathaniel) was martyred for his preaching in Armenia, where he was flayed to death by a whip. James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, was thrown off the Temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, they beat him to death with clubs. Paul, originally a self-proclaimed enemy of Christ, was so convinced that Christ was the Messiah that he dedicated his life to preaching about the Kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus until he was beheaded in Rome. These facts are important because no one gives their life for a liar. Jesus told his disciples that he would raise from the dead. Had he not, they would have presumed him a liar and certainly would not have sacrificed their lives for a fraud.
If life were a test, the world has made it seem as if picking a worldview is a case of ‘choose the answer that best fits’ when in reality it is a multiple choice test with only one correct answer. With the right tools, such as the Blueprint for Bible Basics, our youth can gain an understanding of the foundational concepts of our faith so that they aren’t rooted on a shaky foundation.
Alex is Pastor of Education at New Life Covenant Southeast Church in Chicago. He is husband to Kasie and father to Michaela and Grace.