Are the kids in your youth group the first to grow up in a “post-Christian” world?
The research says they are… Post-Christian describes a cultural dynamic marked by the absence of Christianity as the foundation—or hub—of the broader society. One writer also refers to this time in history as the “post-truth” era. In other words, all foundations for life are subjective, including truth. It’s not hard to spot this reality—“What is true for me may not be true for you.”
This shift in our fundamental beliefs has left a generation of teenagers trying to find their footing on a slippery slope of shifting morality. They’re not only leaving the church, but they’re also leaving behind their belief in God.
What’s to blame for this retreat?
Well, there are many potential culprits, but I believe our best way forward is to re-focus the way we think about and practice apologetics. One report I ran across suggested that youth today are not looking to read books that show proof of Christ’s existence or even the case for Christianity over other religions. They can do that sort of research on their own. Instead, they want to know why they should choose Jesus, and then need help in learning how to follow Him.
The teenagers in my ministry tell me they want Jesus—they’re not angry with him or repelled by him, they just don’t know what it looks like practically to follow him. They know it takes grit to live a life centered on Jesus, they just don’t know how to do that. So the question becomes, how do we help them move from acquaintance to disciple? Three critical questions help us get at this.
1. Will I trust Jesus’ love for me?
The real question here is often not whether Jesus loves us, but whether or not we trust his love for us. It would be great if we could simply answer: “Just do it.” But this question requires a little work. Recently, I was talking with a young woman about some friend issues she was having that were affecting her self-esteem. I mentioned the first place we had to go was to the Lord. She broke down as she shared that she didn’t even believe he would love her as she was. I told her that sometimes it all comes down to trust. We may not feel it or know it, but we have to jump into the unknown. The process, lived out in conversation, was slow—but we reached a tipping point, when she was ready to give Jesus a chance in her life, to trust him more deeply than she had before. That’s when her heart started to change.
2. Can I trust Jesus wants what is best for me?
I run a leadership program at a local Christian high school, and this year I’ve spent a lot of time with seniors. Most of them are single-focused on their future. Which college should I attend? Or should I even go to college? What about a gap year? And the biggest question of all: What if none of it works out the way I want it to? My default response is simple: “Well, have you talked to the Lord about it?” Followed by: “Will you trust that Jesus wants what’s best for you, so no matter what, it will work out?” That’s hard. We want things our way and trusting someone we can’t have a face-to-face conversation with in person can be hard. But trusting Jesus is not a transaction—I give you what you want, you give me what I want.
Instead, the deeper trust Jesus is calling us to means we trust in the goodness of his heart, no matter what our circumstances. I often tell teenagers that we can’t trust someone we don’t know, so suggest they focus on one of the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Ask them to read, always, with a focus on the heart of Jesus. Challenge them to ask why Jesus said and did the things he did, not merely what he did. Jesus told us that if we see him, we’ve seen his father. So the path forward is to see him well.
3. Can I trust enough to follow Jesus wherever and whatever he asks?
When we see and embrace the heart of Jesus, our trust will need to extend into action—to follow him wherever he wants us to go, and do whatever He asks. It means our love for him leads to willing obedience. But I often hear young people ask: “How do I know it’s God and not me speaking?” Well, relationships are an art, not a science. More often than not our struggle is really a result of facing hard choices, not with following where Jesus is taking us. If we are willing to submit our hopes and dreams to him—to move into them, with the expectation that Jesus will either fuel our momentum or impede it—he will put bumpers around them to keep us close to him.
The “how” of following Jesus takes a lifetime to figure out. But I know that if I don’t learn to follow him, my life feels hollow and without purpose. The sooner your kids experience what it’s like to trust Jesus—in word and deed—the better prepared they’ll be for a life of impact.