Over the last few weeks I have felt a stirring in my heart about my small group of Junior High girls. All of the girls in my little posse of ten have grown up not only in church, but in addition they have either been homeschooled or attended a Christian school their whole lives. They are sweet girls with the regular fears of early teens who try to avoid Middle School drama. Then a couple of weeks ago I asked them about their faith in the Lord. They could quote scripture and talk about the Lord’s redemption from sin. It led me to wondering if they understood the true nature of a relationship with Jesus.
This week I asked the question: “How do you know you belong to Christ?” Each had an answer on the tip of their tongue. They quoted memory verses and shared the scenario of Jesus’ death and resurrection. What they did not realize was they did not answer my question. I tried to rephrase it, I attempted to reapproach it, but I was not looking for the answer they have learned in class, Awana or Sunday School. I wanted to know what a relationship with Jesus meant to them.
Only one could really tell me.
Now I read an article once saying there is a danger in using the phrase, “Personal Relationship with Jesus.” These words are not mentioned in the Bible, yet we use them to help explain the nature of being close to Christ. The problem, the author said, is that we use the word “personal” as if it means as long as we alone are “good for eternity” then we don’t have to share the good news. In other words it unwittingly undermines our call to make disciples and share the Gospel. I agree. However, in my little band of sisters I am starting to see that while they can fill in the blanks on their church service notes, they can not tell me why THEY have a relationship with the Lord and what this means for them. They don’t understand the personal, one on one, nature of their relationship with Jesus and why this would give them a desire to tell others they can have the same.
You see there are certain answers every churched teen knows, but I am not sure if they truly grasp why this matters? This is not about learning the right answers to get a good grade. Are they compelled to not only talk the talk or walk a walk but draw close to Jesus and let this be transformational? In other words, they aren’t getting that as Beth Moore says, “Knowing Christ is different than knowing about HIm.”
I love the story of a preschooler who is sitting in Vacation Bible School. The teacher is showing the class some pictures. Holding up a flash card of a squirrel the leader asks, “What is this?” The child responds, “Well, it looks like a squirrel but this is church so the answer must be Jesus.”
This defines the nature of our churched kids. The answer to every question must be: Jesus, Holy Spirit, Father, Bible, prayer, church or a synonym to any of these. Specifially there are two questions we ask that are always answered the same way.
We Ask: How Do You Know You Have A Relationship With Jesus?
They Say: I have prayed to ask Jesus into my heart. I believe He was the perfect son of God who died on the cross to take all of my sin and came back to life on the third day this means I can live with Him forever in eternity.
This is not a relationship. This is a text book answer. You have not told me what a relationship looks like with Jesus. You have not shared your heart, your passion or how you know what it means to be close to the Lord. You have not even been honest with, “I don’t know.”
New question: What does it look like for you to belong to Jesus? How do you know Jesus is in charge of your life? What does that look like?
The point is to move away from asking the question they have heard a million times and find out how they know that they know Jesus (and He knows them.) Don’t settle for the “right” answer. Keep asking until they share their true heart. Let’s dig deeper, not being satisfied alone with students who are going to heaven. This is vital, but living stagnant until eternity hits is not what Christ asks of us. We need to press in and help them know what being a disciple looks like.
We Ask: How do you know you are living for the Lord? or What do you do to know you are following Jesus?
They Answer: Go to church, read my Bible, pray, live right The trouble here is our emphasis is on WHAT DO YOU DO in action to live for God.
This lets them set up a check list of “Do’s and Don’ts” on their Christian living list. I had a young woman tell me once, “I don’t listen to devil music.” This same girl caused a lot of issues with her gossip in our group. She may not have listened to the “wrong music” but it did not mean her heart was sold out for Jesus.
New Question: What does your relationship with Jesus look like on a daily basis? or How are you getting closer to the Lord? Are you His disciple?
In these questions we are shifting to who they are, rather than what they do. However you ask the question the point is to ensure they are getting closer to the Lord, and how this is happening. It’s great to say, “Jesus is my best friend.” Alright, so what does that mean? How do you know that? Are you willing to give it all to Jesus and let Him be in charge of your life? Usually when students tell me the pat answers, I follow up asking, “Can you honestly say Jesus is in charge of your life?” Most will answer, “No.”
Our churched kids have learned long ago how to illicit the correct response from their leaders. They know when we like what they are saying. Then they go out and live a different life all together. They become spiritually schizophrenic. Around church people and Christians they are one way and around others they are something different. It’s like when we find out our student leaders secretly have the mouth of a sailor, are addicted to porn or party like it’s 1999 every weekend. Should we be shocked?
My real question is not will we change the questions as much as will we press for meaningful answers? Can we be brave enough to say, “Stop giving me the answer you think I want to hear, tell me your heart even if there is doubt, confusion or a mess involved.”
We forget that many of our church kids basically came out of the womb hearing about Christ. They prayed the infamous prayer at 5 or 6. They were baptized somewhere befween infanthood and eight years old. Perhaps they are in a tradition that involves a confirmation around these Junior High years. They have been to church, MOPS, Sunday School, Awana, Upward sports, and VBS as long as they can remember. They are learning all the foundational pieces of their faith and this is a good thing. Those memory verses serve as landing points when they forget who Christ is. Yet, it is their faith they need to come to understand. It is that our God has a love that draws us near and changes us. It is that He wants us close and when we can grab hold of what belonging to Him means we can do nothing else than tell others about how magnificent His love is. They will be compelled to be His and go make disciples of all the nations. Their relationship with Jesus will become extremely intimate as they clamor to share the good news that others can have the same thing.
Isn’t that what we are really looking for?
What do you think?