Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Truth about Church Youth

                      In Christ alone my worth is found, all other ground is sinking sand. 

I just got back from my church's annual youth retreat, which means I'm spiritually energized, a little mentally and emotionally spent, and in desperate need of a nap and some green vegetables.

For the past two years I've led a homegroup through my church for a group of girls at a local high school. I started with these girls when they were juniors, and this year I get to watch them graduate and go off to college.

Recently I read a statistic that 70% of church-going youth will walk away from their faith during their first year of college. Some studies show that number as higher. That means, statistically speaking, only five of the approximately fifteen girls who come each week will still claim to be Christian by this time next year. That number breaks my heart, but it doesn't surprise me.

I've talked to students who've praised with their hands in the air, followed along in their Bibles, and even dropped a Facebook status here and there about how God is their "main man," but when asked if they know Jesus and are confident in their salvation, respond with a hesitant, "I'm not sure" or "I really just want to experience life before I make that decision." They know how to play the game, not grasping that winning this particular game means losing your soul.

In the effort to make Christianity "attractive" to teens, churches have left out the most alluring component: Jesus Christ Himself. We've told them things not to do, taught them how to make good choices, and failed to mention that apart from Christ, all of these things are like filthy rags.

I'm blessed to be at a church who realizes this, and is more interested in discipling students than entertaining them. I love my church for that.

"Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12

I think we underestimate youth. They are capable of dealing with hard truths way more than we give them credit. For the past few years I've met weekly with one of my teens to simply read and study the Bible. While reading through Romans, we got stuck discussing the difficulty of Romans 9. Go read that chapter for yourself. It's a tough one. After reading and me attempting to explain, she looked me straight in the face and said, "knowing this makes me not want to believe."

In that moment, I wished we'd picked a different book. We kept reading, praying, and discussing. At the end of Romans (which brought up many more challenging and deep conversations) I asked her if she still believed. She did.

In fact, I've seen this young lady's faith grow and in turn, she is now discipling younger students. Over the past 18 months we've read at least half a dozen books of the Bible together, and our little group of two has grown and a few other girls join us before school one morning a week to read and discuss the Bible. Getting to witness these girl's growth has truly been one of the most amazing experiences in my life. They still voice doubts and questions, but they love the Lord and with each doubt addressed they grow in faith and knowledge.

"So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace." Romans 11:5

Teenagers come to Christ the same way adults do: through the movement of the Holy Spirit and knowing what Jesus did for them on the cross. Teens are saved in small town, no-frills baptist churches. Teens are saved through high-octane youth retreats. Teens are saved sitting next to random strangers on long airplane rides. Grace is the common denominator behind every conversion.

God doesn't need our laser shows, our trendy music, or hip youth group names. God can, and does, absolutely use those tools. But they are just that: Tools. I do not have the power to change anyone's heart. I can only speak the truth, love and disciple them as best I can, and pray (and sometimes beg) that God will be mighty to save.

And on that Hope, young and old, we stand. Because all other ground truly is sinking sand.