Equipping Students for Ministry in a Post-Christian Age
Facebook may not seem like a discipleship tool to most pastors. But when I served my congregation in northern Illinois, this social networking tool provided me with an unexpected assist in discerning the spiritual lives of my parishioners, particularly the students. Facebook provides a platform for young people to share what they really think, liberating them in ways they may not feel comfortable with in front of parents or other influencers.
One night I was scrolling my timeline and I came across a shocking post from a kid I thought I knew. This was a young person I thought I knew. She had regularly attended youth group and church. But what she posted—about a major cultural issue—was in direct opposition to the gospel truth she heard on Sundays. It reminded me of how important my job was as a pastor. I couldn’t assume the young people in my circle of influence knew and understood how to apply the gospel to their daily lives.
Pastors and church leaders must be intentional about addressing issues kids are already addressing. And there is nothing more controversial, more up for discussion in our culture, than the issue of marriage and sexuality. But we have to get beyond the old-school, top-down type of teaching we might be used to. Instead, we must engage our students and equip them to both answer their own questions and to champion biblical values in their often-secular environments. I believe there are three important values we should endeavor to pass on:
Leaders should be intentional about engaging their students on the questions of sexuality, marriage, and religious liberty. Good pastors do this with a pastoral heart, unselfishly seeking to equip the next generation to fulfill the mission of God in their day.
We do this two ways, I believe. First, we ensure they own their faith. We have a tendency to assume our kids know what they believe and why, simply because they are our kids and are going to church with us. But this paradigm is a failing one. Instead, we should creatively and proactively train them as if they don’t know much about Christianity. Secondly, we do this by demonstrating to them the importance of loving their cities and their neighbors enough to help shape the culture. It’s impossible to say we want, as Christians, to shape our cities while ignoring the policies and politics that affect human lives. Every Christian, from pastors to students, has a responsibility to steward their God-given influence.
We should teach students the value and definition of courage. Courage is not the stubborn willingness to do what we want to do. It’s not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to obey the voice of God, even if it costs us something.
Jesus told his disciples that following Him would bring a high cost. Sometimes this involves social pressure to conform to the prevailing trends. Christians shouldn’t seek persecution, but we shouldn’t avoid conflict either. The sooner we equip students to bear up under unpopularity, the sooner they will be ready to face a world that may not agree with the demands of the gospel.
Lastly, but perhaps most important, we should both model and teach the value of kindheartedness. It is easy to get so caught up in raising awareness of an issue and forget Jesus call to love those with whom we disagree. We teach our kids this important value by first resisting the kind of fear-based, apocalyptic messaging that so often accompanies activism. If Christ is risen from the grave and is in the process of renewing all things, we should not be gripped by fear, but motivated by love.
Adults teach this well by first modeling it in their own activism. We should love those who disagree, we should not consider them enemies to be vanquished, but precious creatures made in the image of God. And we should consider ourselves, who were once alienated from God and now redeemed by His grace.
When we model kindness, we show the next generation how to joyfully engage the world. Christians are called to speak with truth and grace, courage and civility.
This post was originally published at Focus on the Family.