(Pt. 3) The Teen Decade: Discipleship In Youth Ministry
Teens are under-challenged by the Church and it has placed a ceiling on the Church. Why?
Because the world challenges teenagers with greater expectations than the Church. I believe that the Church has under-challenged young people. We have given them games, videos, and food - instead of God, virtues, and faith. We have cheated them because we have not given teens theology. Attractive and comprehensive theology. The reason why young people do not SERVE God is because they do not KNOW God. We have failed to define God to them completely. Admitting, by our actions, that young people will be bored with God.
This is part-3 of the 5-part series on The Four Challenges for Youth Leaders in America. For 5 years now I have been calling youth leaders to "The Teen Decade". It is the one time in a century that we have the teen years (2013-2019). There are only two years left.
This is a great time to emphasize an Awakening in the teenagers of our country. America has seen probably four spiritual shifts in her history (The 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings of the mid 1700's and the mid 1800's with Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney and others, the Azusa Revival of the early 1900's with William Seymour and others, and the Jesus Movement of the mid 1900's with Billy Graham and others.) Unfortunately, the present teenage generation hasn't seen a spiritual awakening in their lifetime. They have heard about the past movements but have not experienced one themselves in the 21st century. In light of this spiritual history, I believe we are poised for another awakening in modern America in the coming decade.
And so, to start off 2018, here are the 4 challenges for youth leadership as we shape the young people who will lead The Next Great Awakening in America:
Week 1 - INTRODUCTION TO THE 4 CHALLENGES (2 weeks ago)
Week 2 - THE LIMITS OF PROGRAMMING AND EVENTS (last week)
Week 3 - MAJORING ON DISCIPLESHIP IN YOUTH MINSTRY (this week)
Week 4 - CULTURALISM AND CHRISTIANITY (next week)
Week 5 - SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE AND DESPERATION IN YOUTH MINISTRY (following week)
Let's deal with this weeks topic. Discipleship.
It Is Time To Major On Discipleship (theology)
In the last blog we dealt with the importance of attractional youth ministry. And the importance of relationship over programming. Remember, what you get them with, you have to keep them with. The latest program and event can become stale and expensive after time. Roller coasters do attract teens. But, students become familiar with these. And besides, it is very expensive to build a new roller coaster every year to attract teens. Just ask Disney or Great America, or Cedar Point. What we need is more programming and events that are biblically based. More biblical mentoring and coaching in this generation and not more games. That will require youth leaders to have a plan for the place of scripture in the youth ministry setting.
Here is a working definition of discipleship.
Discipleship is theology in relationship. And discipleship is relationship in theology. Theology is exciting because it is 'the study of God'. What could be more exciting than the study of God? The study of God in relationship with another person. Listen, it is the role of youth leaders to define God to a generation. Because to know God is to serve Him. The only reason teenagers do not serve God is because they do not know God. To know God is to serve Him. That is as clear a definition of discipleship as we can get. We are introducing students to the knowledge of God as the fuel to a relationship with God!
Are students really interested in discipleship and theology? I'll talk about that in a minute, but, you may never know the answer to this unless you try. For most youth ministry, there isn't even a 'try'. I have heard youth leaders talking about games, videos, and food more often than I have heard them talking about God, virtues, and faith.
I believe students are interested in God. It shows in their love of the supernatural. And if that is true they will love discipleship and theology! As I travel our nation, it gives me an advantage (or disadvantage) point. Well, maybe a vantage point. I get to see youth ministry in the Church in the urban, suburban, and rural setting. I get to see mainline denominational and Pentecostal settings. Weekly I am with churched and un-churched teenagers. And through all of this, there is a common thread that I have noticed in this generation. A hunger for God (theology). That's right. From my experience in the last 10 years across America, I believe students have a growing desire to know God - and not to simply know about Him. Let me back this up.
Something has happened in our culture over the past 10 years. With the increase of educational costs, students have had to excel in their academics in order to help pay for a college education with scholarships and grants. One of the traits of the Millennial generation (the older brothers and sisters of the present generation) is achievement and competitiveness. There are more Millennials than Gen X (or any other generational era) and they are the largest share of the American workforce, according to Pew Research Center analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau data. Almost every sociological model has included these traits of achievement and competitiveness in the Millennials and their younger siblings as well. On top of this, recognizing the potential of these young people, I believe the educational setting has challenged and driven this generation to greater success. Far more than the Church has done.
Teens Are Under-challenged By The Church
All of this places a shadow on the Church. Why? Because I believe that the Church has under-challenged young people. We have cheated them because we have not defined God to them completely. Admitting, by our actions, that young people will be bored with God. The Church has treated young people years younger than they actually are. Thinking that students want to play more than they want to pray. Thinking that students want games more than they want God. Thinking that students would rather create theatre and they cannot handle theology. This is all part of the reason why only 30% of Christian teens in America can only name half of the 10 Commandments! I believe that teenagers can handle more than most youth leaders think they can. More teaching, more worship, and more disciplines.
Here is some practical advice for increasing theology in teenagers:
1. Comprehensive teaching and preaching in youth ministry - teaching or preaching through an entire book of the bible once a year in the youth ministry (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, or James would only take about 4-5 weeks)
2. Creating a series with biblical theology in mind - 10 Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Fruit of the Spirit, or the Gifts of the Spirit
3. Break down the main youth series into small group discussion notes for weekly life group discussion
4. Use Social Media memes for scripture promotion weekly
5. Encourage teens to get the YouVersion Bible App for their phones - and create lessons in the 'notes' section for youth messages weekly
6. Read from a bible when you teach and preach - a visible hard copy of the bible will reinforce to students the importance of them reading it on their own
7. Break down the worship songs you sing - make sure that students understand what they are singing
8. Bring the 1st century to the 21st century and the 21st century to the 1st century - how does the bible and culture relate? (more about that next week)
We have been commanded to make disciples. That cannot be done without theology and the bible. I have often said to teenagers, "You can't be Christian without the definition." We must break the cycle of biblical illiteracy in American teenagers with a comprehensive and exciting move of God.
Kenda Dean, Professor of Youth and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary says, "Teenagers learn to articulate faith by hearing adults articulate theirs. This brings us back to our familiar problem: American adults may be no more religiously articulate than their children." And Duffy Robbins, Professor of Youth Ministry at Eastern University says, "Our young people have become incapable of theological thinking because they don't have any theology to think about."
The responsibility for this lies in the youth leaders of America. To discipline themselves and model to teenagers an exciting biblical plan in the youth ministry setting that is both attractive and comprehensive.