On a pleasant spring morning in 2001, I met several friends (with whom I served in a multi-church Youth Group) to caravan from San Rafael, CA to Sacramento, CA for a one-day Youth Specialties seminar. Sitting though a day of learning crazy games meant to somehow engage kids so that we could then speak to them about Christ slightly disturbed me, but I managed to convince myself that I was just middle-aged and needed to update my thinking.
The afternoon lecture, however, troubled me more seriously. The speaker referred to the standard model of “Facts, Faith, Feeling,” in which pastors and youth workers used to present the facts about the Gospel, encourage the kids to respond with faith and assure them that feelings would follow. In post-modern America, the speaker argued, that model no longer works. Post-modern kids rely on experience. Therefore, they need to feel God first.
Um…no. Remember Romans 10:17, which says that faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ. Feelings, judging from what I’ve seen in reading Scripture almost daily for 45 years, only appear now and then, with Christian joy and peace abiding in each believer regardless of emotional fluctuations.
I have growing concerns that most youth groups in 21st Century churches inadvertently teach kids that church is more about giving them a good time than about helping them know the Lord. A few weeks ago, for instance, a youth group leader from another church told me that their group only has actual Bible studies twice a month, and even on Bible study nights they reserve time for games and refreshments.
This youth leader felt frustrated that the kids in the youth group exhibit a growing disrespect towards the youth pastor when he tries to teach the Word. She can’t understand why the kids can’t sit quietly through a 15-minute Bible study.
I answered that an hour’s Bible study every week would probably be more productive. Teenagers appreciate being treated as adults, and they will usually rise to expectations when we ask them to do so. Admittedly, some wouldn’t attend if leaders focused on expounding the Bible. But I seriously doubt the ones who wouldn’t come for the Word have a genuine interest in the Lord anyway.
Games and fun activities have their place, and a monthly activity never hurt anyone. But when youth group emphasizes fun experiences with the goal of getting kids to connect God with euphoric feelings, a church has done them a terrible disservice. It has, in essence, obscured the Gospel.
Like anyone else, teens need to be confronted with God’s holiness and their innate sinfulness. From there, they need to hear that Jesus bore the punishment for their sins on the cross, and that He rose again to give them eternal life. They must be equipped to stand against the temptations of this present world by dying to themselves. Many times, obedience to the Lord will require them to go against their feelings. Youth group, instead of entertaining them, bears a sacred responsibility to prepare young men and women to live in ways that honor Christ.
In order to encourage teenagers toward maturity in Christ, youth groups absolutely must ground them in Scripture. Accordingly, Bible study has got to take center stage! As Christianity becomes less and less accepted in American culture, our young people will need to have a grasp, not on subjective feelings, but on objective truth. Only by building on the foundation of God’s Word can they withstand the storms of persecution that lie ahead.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” ~~Matthew 7:21-27 (ESV)
Leading young people (or anyone, for that matter) to use mere feelings rather than the historical facts taught in Scripture and verified by other sources does them an enormous disservice. Emotions that embrace Christ one moment may shun Him the next. Hormone-driven teens struggle even more than adults do to evaluate life without feelings affecting their judgement. Contrary to the teaching at the Youth Specialties seminar, kids must build their faith on the bedrock of biblical truth, not the shifting sands of how they feel. So must adults, actually.