When I do campus evangelism, I often start the conversation this way: “What are two reasons you stopped going to church?” I’ve asked hundreds of students that question, and the most common responses make me think that church youth groups have failed dramatically.
I understand that every human being is responsible for their own sin, and that even the best of youth groups will have students that fall between the cracks. But the fact of the matter is that too many pastors have believed the lie that teenagers cannot handle certain truths. They have accepted the culture’s belief that today’s teenagers’ attention span has shortened, and that their ability to comprehend deep truths has dissipated.
Whether you’re a parent or a youth pastor, you have to understand that adapting to the culture is something that pagans do. The Church is called to be counter-culture, and we must, despite what the world tells us and sadly what many fellow Christians tell us, stay faithful to Scripture and teach the whole counsel of God. So here are five truths that most teenagers (Christian or not) are not being taught, that we must teach, in order to have a Biblical youth group.
1. Teach them about their depravity
Most parents want the best for their children. They make it their mission to make sure their children live the best life possible. Their greatest desire is to have their children be healthy, successful and happy.
For some reason, what goes hand-in-hand with this, is difficulty assigning blame to their children for almost anything. Seeing dozens of feuds between students over the years has proven this to be the case. Parents generally if not always take their children’s side. Very rarely will they admit any fault. If their children do get in trouble, they end up blaming other influences. If there is no one else to blame, than they blame it on the brain or on some kind of neurological/chemical imbalance issue. Most kids have been trained to blame-shift.
The Bible doesn’t allow for this. Adam and Eve in the garden attempted to blame shift and God not only didn’t allow it but also punished them severely for their sin (Genesis 3:9-19). James in James 4:1-4 also blames our own hearts for our fights writhing the church.
We must teach them to own-up to their sin. Because ultimately, one day when they stand before God (Hebrews 9:27) they will not be able to blame their friends, they will not be able to blame their brains, they will not be able to blame their parents, but they will only be able to blame themselves for their sin. We must teach the greatest war they will face, will be within their own hearts because of their great sinfulness.
2. Teach them about death
No one ever thinks about death! It’s like the elephant in the room of every Gospel conversation. We have trained our minds to avoid the subject and to focus on this tiny, short life.
Most young people have never attended a funeral in their lives, and by the time they’re in college their hearts are so hardened that they could care less about their own death.
Solomon in Ecclesiastes is constantly reminding the reader about their death. It’s as if he is popping the bubble of every single millennial in the world today. Children are told, that they can be anything they want to be, that they can change the world, that they are special and unique. Solomon reminds us about two simple facts: you are going to die and in the big scheme of things no one will remember you.
I can almost picture what he is saying. Your funeral is around the corner, and 25-2000 people will gather to sing a few of your favorite songs and talk about you for an hour. On the drive home your grandson will shout, “I’m hungry!” After a pit stop at taco bell, and a couple arguments and fights, if people haven’t forgotten about you yet they will once they have to use the bathroom after eating the loaded burrito. Perhaps, you have a great family and they might remember you for a few decades, but let me ask you do you know anything about your great-grandparents?
7 Billion people on earth know nothing about their great-grandparents, and yet we tell our children how special they are and how they will change the world. We must be truthful with our kids. Only then will they see their need for Christ and live lives that actually matter and can make an eternal impact.
3. Teach them to love like Christ did
Love is validation. Love is being non-judgmental. Love is accepting people for who they are and never pointing out any flaw in your friends. Students everywhere are being told these things and are encouraged to surround themselves only with “positive people”. “Yes-men” and women who will never question anything they do.
In fact, many psychologists tell their patients to do away with negative people. To surround themselves with people who will develop their self-esteem. This in turn teaches teenagers to only be around people who accept them. Not only does it shun them from people who would speak truth to them, but also it teaches them to not love those who are different. It trains them to have a selfish mindset in relationships.
Jesus loved us despite the fact that he couldn’t get anything in return. We could not offer him anything, only our sin. And yet he humbled himself and took the form of a slave in order to serve his murderers. We must imitate Him. We must be counter-cultural in this and teach our youth groups to love the unlovable, to love the outcast. To include those who are rough around the edges. We must go out of our way to encourage others in the Church.
So many young people in our churches think that they are too smart, too wise and too cool to go out of their way to serve and to encourage other people. We must teach our youth to get out of their comfort zones and to love and reach out to others unlike them.
4. Teach them how to evangelize
What is obvious is the fact that none of these students have ever shared the Gospel before. My second question after finding out where they attended Church growing up is, “what is the Gospel?”
No one has been able to answer this question. Especially those who said they grew up in the Church. Some, even tell me that they used to be an evangelist like me but no longer believe, and yet are incapable of telling me what they would go around and say while “evangelizing”.
We must teach our youth groups the Gospel. They need to know that the holiness of God is part of the Gospel. They need to know that you haven’t shared the good news unless you’ve explained the bad news that man is depraved and is on their way to hell. You cannot share the Gospel unless you explain why Jesus had to be fully God and fully man, live a perfect life, died on the cross and rose from the dead. And they must know that the Gospel is not preached unless the person being preached to is called to repent and believe!
All these are essential components of the Gospel and we must teach our youth groups this fact. We must hire youth pastors that actually evangelize. We must take the students out and do evangelism with them. I have met too many college students who have never shared the Gospel before. Someone needs to train these students to give their life away and to have the Gospel on their lips at all times.
5. Teach them Doctrine through long, biblical sermons
Many youth groups have bought the seeker sensitive lie. They make their youth-groups into huge parties, they fill the room with unbelievers and after loads of games they sing a few man-centered songs and teach a feel-good message. While it does get non-Christians in the doors of the Church, the actual Christians who attend do not grow.
Most students I talk to on the various campuses have never heard a sermon longer than 20 minutes. When I tell them that we teach the Bible verse by verse, most say that they’ve never heard of such a thing before, and agree that if you believe the Bible to be God’s Word that it would be the wisest approach.
When you teach through all of Scripture you expose your teenagers to the whole counsel of God. And believe it or not they can handle it. Just last week I preached four, forty-five minute sermons to fifty high school students over the course of two days. You should have seen their notebooks. Filled with notes. I got to sit in on small group time following the sermon, and their retention level was amazing.
This would have been true no matter who the speaker was. Because of the fact that the Church has trained them so well. Students are capable of watching a movie once and quote pretty much the whole movie verbatim. If they can do that, they can handle sitting under God’s Word, which has the power to save them and change them for eternity.
After talking with hundreds of these college students who grew up in the Church going to youth group on a weekly basis, I can’t help but realize that the Church has failed. These students have never sat through a sermon longer than 20 minutes. They believe that the Bible teaches that human beings are inherently good. Rarely, if ever, do they think about death. Also they don’t know how to love, because after being referred to secular counseling and exposed to the world, they are taught to only love people who love them in return. And although they claim to have been evangelists and to have shared the Gospel they cannot explain even a basic presentation of the truth.
We have a great responsibility and opportunity with our youth, proverbs 22:6 reminds us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it”. I’m thankful for Immanuel and other faithful churches that despite the culture’s pressures doesn’t waver in these essential areas.