For years now I have worked with primarily “unchurched” students. Honestly, I’ve gotten used to a group of students with no Biblical foundation or pre-conceived ideas about Christianity.Yet, I guess I always thought if more of my students had grown up in the church then it would be different.
Then in the last two years I have had more of an opportunity to actually flip the switch and spend time with students who have grown up in solid, Christ-centric churches, from all over the country through small groups, camps and running mission trips. In addition I have begun to meet with students who attend Christian school, some for their whole lives.
So to paint a clear picture these are students who have Christian parents, growing up in church, many going to Christian school.
I have been speaking on the similarities of “churched” and “unchurched” students for years, but it has been like I am living in my own research project proving my points across the board.
Here’s what I am learning: (Again remember: grown up in church, parent’s consider themselves Believers, some attend a Christian school.)
Students are experiencing these life circumstances:
- Growing up in households riddled with divorce.
- I’ve met students whose mother’s had been teens when they had them.
- Students who don’t feel like parents listen, or even have time for them.
- MANY student’s being bullied, harassed, and ridiculed.
- Students struggling with deep insecurities, who admit they pretend to have it all together.
- Students who are growing up in homes without fathers.
Then there is the Biblical knowledge. When interacting with students on “basics,” here are some of the responses:
- Blank stares over and over again.
- Students don’t know facts from their Bible or confuse one for the other. (Like David was in the lion’s den).
- When asked about different “Christian” words and phrases and what they meant like, “sin,” “temptation” or “living in the flesh,” they can not explain what they mean. They say something like, “I sort of know. I just can’t explain it.”
I hear these questions and answers often:
- “How do you know you belong to Jesus?” I get a verbatim answer like, “Jesus saved me from my sins.”
- “What does it mean Jesus saved you from your sins?” I get an answer like: “Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the grave.”
- “What sins can you say specifically you feel like Jesus saved YOU from?” I get: Blank stares.
- “If I were to ask you if Jesus is in charge of your life what would you say, honestly?” I get, “NO, I want to be able to make some decisions on my own.”
There is an interesting trend I am seeing from students growing up in the church. They fully understand the “stuff” you do to “act more Christian.” They go to church, serve, volunteer in the nursery, and go on trips to camp and missions. Some will even come and tell me they, “Want to go into ministry.”
Yet, when I say, “Tell me about your relationship with Jesus,” I hear a list of things they DO FOR Him.
I have tried rewording it and asking, “How well do you feel like you know the Lord?” Again a list of “stuff.” It is rare that I hear someone talk about love. They don’t tell me they are overwhelmed with the love Christ has for them or the love they have for Jesus.
Finally, here is what might be MOST fascinating. In encountering late High School and college students I hear this comment often, “People just assume that I don’t need anyone to talk to.” The ones who are growing up in great homes and serving on the front lines are often the ones who feel like all adults in their life are assuming someone else is “talking” to them. Youth pastors, teachers and coaches think it’s the parents, while the parents think it’s someone else. Parents are often just trying to juggle living with a teen and have a habit of dealing with facts and ignoring emotions. Why? Take it from a parent of teens: Emotions are exhausting. You can’t fix them and you feel like you are always saying the wrong thing anyway.
- Thinking the “churched kids” are fine.
- Assuming that “no behavioral issues” means they are close to Jesus.
- Believing because we talk about the Bible, they understand it (or even truly take the Word to heart).
The irony is that I talk to youth people all the time who are frustrated with the shallowness of their students’ faith. I am wondering if we can change it up a little?
Can we have true discussions about the deepest matters bothering our teens?
Can we see just because they have “heard it” for a “million times” doesn’t mean they KNOW HIM?
Can we stop trying to “get through” lessons and curriculum and take the time to allow students to wrestle with their faith?
Can we allow students to feel safe to share their deepest doubts, fears and emotions? What if they are angry at God for something or don’t know how to trust Him? Will we let them feel and direct them to the truth? Does this make us “nervous” because these are the kids who are “supposed to get it?”
I think for me I have been most convicted at how easy it is to walk into a group of students and wrongly compartmentalize their needs based on their background.
I spoke with a college student yesterday who said, “I was angry at God for years. I kept waiting for someone to notice. I guess when you are growing up in the church and know how to go through the motions, no on thinks to stop and really see if your relationship with the Lord is in a right place.”
This is worth thinking on. Can we stop thinking our churched kids are close to Jesus just because they can act like it?
When is the last time you stopped to ask them what they’re really feeling?
– Leneita / @leneitafix