Don't Tell Me What to Do

A student asked me this morning, “Do we ‘tell people what to believe’ when they come to youth group?” 

Interesting question.

“What do you mean?,” I asked.

“You know, do we tell people what to believe.  Like, do we hope that people will just do as their told if they come to you group and church?”

“Well,” I responded, “I guess in some ways, yes.  But why are you asking?”

“I have some friends I invited to youth group who said they wouldn’t come because the church would just tell them what they’re supposed to believe.”

Turns out these kids went to a youth group once and this is what happened.  They were told what to believe and why they should believe it.  And, believe it or not, this doesn’t sit well with today’s youth.

Why?  What’s going on?  Has something changed?  Is there some reason that teens today aren’t interested in hearing what they are supposed to believe, or in receiving the 7 steps to a better life as defined in Scripture?

Here’s what I think is really going on.  Kids today believe in experience, feeling, and story.  You can’t deny someone’s experience, or someone’s story.  If they said it, it must be true - at least for them.  If you hear someone say something happened and you don’t believe them, well…that’s messed up.  You can’t do that.  Again, this is all according to kids today.

Well, guess what?  We have an opportunity to speak into youth culture using these same tactics if we can do something very simple:  Get back to telling the Gospel as a STORY with an invitation to participate.

Currently, over at Internet Monk, there is a series going called “First Things First,” and it’s all about this very thing:  putting the Gospel story first.

The problem:  for too long we’ve been teaching, preaching, running spiritual formation in churches based primarily on Paul’s teachings and other Epistles.  We teach behavior modification before we teach the Gospel.  Some are beginning to note that we have abandoned the story in favor of explanation or application.  This is a modernist approach.  In doing so, we are losing postmodern thinkers, or the next generation, who tend largely to identify not with a black and white, do-this and do-that, don’t do this and don’t do that mentality, but instead identify with story, experience, and feelings. 

The answer:  get back to telling the biblical story, specifically the story proclaimed in the Gospels/Acts.

Given this argument, here are my questions for youth ministers, and even for myself:  
What is the role of Scripture in your ministry?  If you're honest, do you tend toward using “proof texting” to tell kids what to do or not to do?  When was the last time you simply told a story about Jesus for the sake of talking about Jesus and not to of ask kids to change their behavior or attitudes?  
 As I said before, I believe we have an opportunity and the tools necessary to speak to the current generation about faith and salvation in Jesus Christ if we are willing to change our tactics.  And, I believe that this change in tactic does not ask us to compromise anything; instead, it asks us to focus on Jesus, and he is someone worth focusing our attention on.

Anyone had luck with this approach?  Anyone struggled to teach the Gospel story to youth?


Debbie Willer said...

I love the idea of introducing teens to Jesus first, before explicating Scripture.We are called to tell the Story. Not just of what happened, but what continues to happen as Jesus works in the world today.

Here's some quotes from better minds than mine:

As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene....No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life. --Albert Einstein

Christianity is not a doctrine, not truth as truth, but the knowledge of a Person; it is knowing the Lord Jesus. You cannot be educated into being a Christian. --T. Austin-Sparks

Cheek.HM said...

Thanks so much for sharing this today. It had nothing to do directly with what God has been laying on my heart, but fit just perfectly indirectly.

Know that God is using your faithful writing to speak to others.
Many Blessings!

Mike Langer said...

Thanks, Chad. In his famous debates with Hans Frei, evangelical theologian Carl Henry stated that even the narrative material of Scripture must be translated into propositions if we are to understand them. Sadly, that statement is representative of a significant part of the American evangelical church.

I recently revisited an article that Jean Lambert wrote for the Covenant Quarterly entitled "Befriending in God's Name." The beauty of the Mission Friends (and the Covenant Church) is that they were defined first and foremost by a relationship which God initiated in Christ: God befriends us. Any doctrine that attends the life of faith after that relational identity is secondary. I wonder if, in addition to reclaiming the gospel story, beginning with the relational identity rather than the set of rational beliefs is another point of reconnection with our beloved youth.

Thanks for what you do...because I could never do it! Grace and Peace. Mike

Steve Martin said...

In our faith tradition (well, some of us anyway), we never use God's law as behavior modification. We use it to kill.

To kill off any notion that we are up to the kind of life and righteousness demanded by God.

Then we hand over Christ Jesus...with NO STRINGS attached to Him (the gospel).

Then, the Spirit will do what he will do.

That's how we do it.


Chad McDaniel said...

thanks for the comments everyone! this is very helpful as i continue to wrestle through the role of Scripture, specifically the Gospels, in youth ministry!