Young people are asking for deep discipleship, not surface entertainment

Written by Caleb and Kristen Unrau

In the Bible, Babylon is used as a figurative representation of a place opposed to God. In Canada, many of us find ourselves in spaces where we’re outnumbered by non-Christians.

In schools, sports teams, or workplaces, young people have an opportunity to be different. To be lights on the hill, the faithful remnant. Witnesses to the coming kingdom and the gospel of Jesus Christ. But often, church leaders expect young people to succumb to fear instead. Our hope is not that they do something, but that they’ll stay out of trouble until they’re old enough to be serious about their faith.

What if we stopped waiting?

One of the most common responses we’ve heard from youth leaders is that young people don’t want to get deep and serious about their faith. One day they’ll be ready to take the faith seriously, but not right now.

Countless books and studies are telling us the opposite: Hemorrhaging Faith, a study commissioned by the EFC Youth and Young Adult Ministry Roundtable; You Lost Me by David Kinnaman, Sticky Faith by Kara Powell and Chap Clark, to name a few.  Students want to go deep, they want to learn, and they want a place where they can ask deep meaningful questions. 

Youth aren’t looking for mindless entertainment

In Presence-Centered Youth Ministry, Mike King writes, “The notion of youth workers as entertainers and program directors must give way to youth workers as authentic shepherds, spiritual guides with a holy anointing to lead youth into the presence of God.”

Students have enough entertainment throughout the week. They’re looking for something deeper from the Church. This doesn’t mean students never want to goof around or have a good time, nor does it mean we must try to bore them to death. But we can bring students closer to God by walking with them through their most pressing questions. We can point them beyond themselves to the sovereign God of the universe and His saving work through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. One of the ways to do this is to promote the Bible as the exciting book that it is!

The Bible doesn’t have to be boring

We tell students they must get through the Bible study in order to get to the fun game afterward. It’s the same way we tell kids they must eat their broccoli in order to have the delicious cake. Though the Bible may offer us healthy nutrition to our soul the same way broccoli does to our bodies, we don’t think we need to treat the Bible as that “gross vegetable” we must endure to get to the sweet part of the meal. The Bible is both nutritious and sweet. As the psalmist states “How sweet are your words to my taste, Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103, NASB).

Here are some practical ways you can help young people recognize the goodness in Scripture.

First, encourage students to come the next week by promoting what you’ll be learning about, rather than the next game you’ll be playing. “You do not want to miss next week because we’re learning about Jonah!” If you believe the story is exciting and tell your students how awesome it is going to be, your enthusiasm will be contagious.

Next, teach the Bible as a story. Our brains are attracted to narratives—there is something about a story that draws human beings in. Teaching students how to enter the biblical narrative of God working among His people is crucial, especially when we show youth how they are a continuation of this story.

Help students engage in the stories. This can be done in lots of creative ways, like getting the students to act out Bible stories. Or it can be done simply by asking them for their insight on the story or asking them questions about what they learned from it. Another fun way to engage students is to play a game that will act as an illustration for your Bible study. Try finding ways to recreate fun games to serve a purpose. For example, instead of playing a regular game of charades, why not play a different version where you get the students to guess what Bible story you will be going through next week? Every time I’ve run Bible charades it has been a hit, especially with junior high’s!

Be excited while teaching. In school, we found that when teachers showed little interest in the subject, their disengagement was contagious. The best learning environments are when professors burst with excitement. Little things like tonal changes and facial expressions make a big difference when trying to engage young people. We need to captivate them. The Bible isn’t what’s boring, it’s the way we’ve been presenting it.

Demonstrate Christianity’s relevance to everyday life

Finally, Scripture is most exciting when we recognize its relevance to our lives. Apply what you’re teaching to school, home, sports, clubs, or wherever your youth spend their time. This is how most of the letters of the New Testament work. First the theology, and then how to live it out. A perfect example is Paul in the letter to the Ephesians. After presenting the gospel in the first half of the letter he switches focus. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1, NASB). Throughout the rest of the letter, he expands and gives practical examples of how the church can do this in their context.

We believe we should re-evaluate whether our words, actions, or programming might give young people the message they aren’t ready to take their faith seriously. Instead, we should create environments that challenge and expect young people to develop real, passionate, strong faith. If we do this, the Church will see young people set on fire for Jesus and the world will have no option but to pay attention.