Hey guys, Jon here. I’m pleased to offer up a short piece by my good friend, Sam McCabe. We have known each other for years, and for as long as I have known Sam, he has had a heart for teaching and cultural transformation. He offers us a slice of his journey in removing the things which block us from the Way of Jesus. You can find his writing, and the writings of his wife, at www.samandsam.org. Enjoy!
Some of my earliest memories are of being in church. There wasn’t a VBS or church camp that I didn’t attend. I was never really that interested in being apart of curricular activities in school. Instead, I played in the youth group praise band. Sometimes I’d go up to the church just so I could hang out with the youth pastor and practice my instrument. I was as “Christian” as they come. However something was still missing…
I accepted Jesus into my heart when I was in the third grade, but honestly I had no idea what I was being saved from other than the flames of hell that burn for all eternity. I didn’t know what it meant to live in the Kingdom. Getting “saved” was more of a cultural thing kids did on the last night of an event– not an enlisting of hearts to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. I mean really, what did I, an eight year old kid who’d gone to church his whole life, need to repent for? From that point on, life happened pretty much as it always had. However, in junior high things began to change. My peers began to face issues that had never been on the radar before, such as sex, drugs, drinking etc. How was I to navigate through my teenage years amidst all these things pulling me in different directions with nothing more than a sinners prayer under my belt? Sure, I knew all the Sunday school, flannel graph answers, but those aren’t really helpful when real life comes knocking on your door.
You may think that I’m discounting my Christian upbringing, and you’re entitled to think that. But when a majority of the kids I grew up with in youth group fell away soon after graduation (if they even made it that far), I realized that this speaks to a wider problem. How, in all of our events, curriculum and services did we miss teaching kids how to actually listen to, and follow the Spirit? There’s a verse often quoted in relation to kids/youth ministry and it’s found in Proverbs 22:6. It says:
“Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (KJV)
How could this be true, when so many fall by the wayside after we “train” them? Does it mean they’ll return to their faith sooner or later if for some reason they’ve lost their way? I want to state that I don’t believe that is the intention of this verse. I think we’ve missed the point on what training up a child looks like. Before I continue, I want to say that I loved my time growing up in youth group. I still have fairly regular communication with my youth pastor. In fact, for a time I was a youth pastor. But in my experience, I think we as evangelicals have missed a vital component in ensuring that the next generation will be one that follows Jesus.
For instance, in the church I grew up in, there were many opportunities for a young person to be “trained up”. Every Sunday we had classes where we learned different tools for defending our faith. The class was about how to share your faith with a lost person. In this teaching (which some of you will know upon the description), we were instructed to share the gospel with people in the same way Jesus shared it with people; by walking them through the ten commandments. So you approach the person and ask them “have you ever stolen anything?”, they say yes, then you ask “have you every lusted after someone?”, again they reply “yes”, then you ask them if they’ve ever lied and it goes on and on. By the end of it you say “so by God’s standard you are a lying, thieving, adulterer at heart. What are you going to do about that when you stand before the judgement seat?” It’s to no surprise to that this method is hardly effective and looking back, it’s a little comical to be honest because Jesus never ever did that. The next course was on creationism. In it we learned about the literal six day creation, and about how evolution is a demonic theory that would ultimately lead to atheism, and communism. They confronted us with the slippery slope argument that if creation didn’t happen in a literal six days, then the whole bible can be called into question and our faith may as well be a sham.
I’ve been to many youth groups and most (not all) suffer from this same way of thinking. We think that in order for these kids to maintain their faith, we need to drill them with apologetics (why I’m right) and polemics (why you’re wrong) until they are completely shielded from the temptation of the world and are able to defend themselves while evangelizing (an oxymoron). The only problem with this method is that it never works. Why? Because those things don’t transform people. Only the Spirit of God does. We’ve been deceived into thinking that information will bring transformation. We’ve gone from training a child in the WAY they should go, to just giving them WHAT we think they should know. What this produces is burnout not only for the students, but the youth pastors who bear the burden of the kids lives.
So what’s the answer? How can we break the cycle that we are stuck in? What can we do that will really impact the lives of the next generation to the point where they won’t leave the faith once they get into college or sooner? I believe that the answer lies in one word: encounter. Only the Holy Spirit can bring about the transformation that we so desperately desire to see. Only He can protect the hearts of those we shepherd from being led astray. Our job is a simple one. We must teach and lead the next generation in what it means to walk in and with the Spirit, so that they would hear His voice for themselves and to follow Him. After all, the more they hear HIs voice, the less they’ll have to hear ours. Maybe we’ve tried too hard to be the Holy Spirit. It is His job to lead them into all truth, not ours. What we have to do is lead them to Him. After all, the early church members were known as “followers of the Way”, not “followers of the WHAT”. So let’s repent (change our mind). Let’s move away from just the informative, and move into the transformative.
Finally, you may have just read this entire post and thought “I’m not a youth pastor, what does this have to do with me?” Well, I believe we teach that way, because we ourselves think that way. It is so easy to get consumed with Christian knowledge that we never actually meet Him. How often do we get caught up doing spiritual things without ever encountering the Spirit? I could keep typing thoughts about this matter but instead I will just end it like this. If you feel a burning in your heart to encounter Jesus, don’t put it off or suppress it with other lesser things. Stop reading this and talk to Him. Spend time with Him. Get lost in communion. That’s what it’s all about!
Grace and Peace,