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Being Before Doing

The youth ministry equivalent of “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” is  “Which comes first, basic Christian disciplines or a personal connection to Jesus?”

We treat the “basics” of the Christian life like they’re building blocks—prayer, Bible reading, Scripture memorization, service, and worship—but what happens when we emphasize those basics outside the context of a close, personal relationship?

Sometimes the basics lead to a personal attachment to Jesus, and sometimes the basics follow a personal connection. How can we prepare kids to crave the basics by immersing them first in the magnetic presence of Jesus?

1. Tell a story.

God is a storyteller at heart—the Bible is really more the epic story of His love for us than a “handbook for life.” That’s why we’re wired by God to understand our life, and the Kingdom of God, through the lens of narrative. So, what is your story of deepening attachment to Jesus, and how well do you know it? Find compelling ways to communicate your own story, then watch the Holy Spirit work through your narrative to draw students into His presence. I always frame my story as an “epic rescue,” and offer specific and personal details that illustrate how God was nudging me “into range” and “assembling my rescue team.”

2. Make your teaching times “touchable.”

We can get so accustomed to framing our teaching with funny videos, an introductory anecdote, three points and a challenge that we’ve forgotten that conversation and experience are the most powerful tools in our toolbox. Create relationally engaging moments in your teaching times—opportunities for kids to experience something in a tactile way,  meditate on something and talk about something. Recently we created a teaching time where teenagers used a replicated defibrillator to move a flat-line heartbeat on the screen to a beating pulse. It was powerfully auditory, visual, and corporeal.

3. Listen.

Teenagers are still moving from concrete thought to abstract thought. When you hear them boiling their life with Jesus down to a list of do’s and don’ts, push back. Remind them that a relationship is not defined by mere “doing”—just ask Martha. Ask them to describe their relationship with their best friend, then point out that Jesus wants the same rhythm in His relationship with us. We don’t quantify our close relationships with a list of “disciplines”: “My mom’s the best, and today I made my bed, took out the trash, watched a Netflix movie, and kissed her goodnight.” Match the “norms” of the Christian life to the norms of any close relationship (for a 12-week journey into this kind of discipleship, check out the Friends of God: A Discipleship Experience resource, just released in the last few months).

Which comes first—attachment to Jesus or spiritual disciplines? Like the chicken and the egg, the relationship between the two is fluid. But it’s worth considering how well we’re helping kids attach to Jesus before we ask them to do things on His behalf.

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Being Before Doing

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