I've recently moved to a position in Melbourne's west - doing my favourite thing in the world - showing and telling young people that Jesus is the most important dude they could ever meet.
Yet I have spent all of last week looking at a series of photo's hanging up in my office that have haunted me. The photo that haunted me the most is of my last year in Youth Group as a gangly 18 year old with dreadlocks. That photo, filled with friends and people that I grew up with tells the tale of much ministry to youth. In that photo, more than 60% of the kids who believed in God - no longer do.
These are my friends, it's not just statistics - they are my mates.
What the hell has happened here?
Over the last little while, that has been the question on my heart. Has Youth Ministry stuffed up? What is the best way to reach young people?
I've done a lot of soul-searching, a lot of introspection – I've read the bible a lot and here's the perspective that I've gained. The greatest commandment in the bible is Luke 10 verse 27 - "Love the Lord your God, with all your heart and soul and might". That was given to parents way back in Deuteronomy 6 though. It was specifically mentioned in a way that put the main responsibility of teaching and disciplining a young person onto the parents.
Youth Ministry is more like Titus 2 - Older men and women teaching younger men and women in faith, love and sound doctrine. Mentoring, bible study, instruction – this is all really important, but it's secondary and supplementary.
That main responsibility has to come from the parents though. Fuller Youth Institute writers sum it up perfectly in their book Sticky Faith: "Youth pastors, mentors, leaders and other people God brings into their life may be who they talk about when they share about their faith ... but the legacy you leave will forever imprint upon your child the importance and centrality of faith"
So what are some ideas to start leading and telling your kids about faith?
1. Talk about the story of scripture in your home.
The bible is often seen as hard to remember and tough to take in, especially by young people. The language gets them all caught up, the stories are long-winded and Jesus keeps talking about stuff that doesn't make sense. I get it!
My pastor often says they are really only four chapters in the bible:
Creation: God created the world.
Fall: The relationship between God and the world was broken because of sin.
Redemption: Jesus Christ died to buy humanity and the world back.
Restoration: Everyone who believes in him will be restored.
If you can talk about that story - four chapters - in your home, you will be giving your kid's the foundation of strong, solid faith.
2. Pass on your stories.
Instead of lecturing your kids about God, tell them your stories! Share how you became a Christian, how you see God moving in the world, what you're reading in your bible, what songs excite you about worshipping! You've got a heap of time during the week; don't be so focused on your work or your kid's education that you miss the most important thing you could be talking about - God.
3. Let them know that doubts are alright.
I talk to so many kids who think they have to have the perfect faith, no doubts never. It's good for parents to show them that there is a difference between doubting your beliefs and believing in your doubts. God is a big God, he can handle people asking questions of him – but when those questions are internalised they become toxic. Model to your kids how to wrestle with tough faith questions.
4. Connect your sons and daughters to at least five caring adults.
One thing that parents often say is that their kids never listen to them. Sound familiar? Kids will take their cues from you, but will talk to others. Try using existing friendships in the church to recruit people – friends, family and leaders – to help them build a support network of people who believe in God and believe in your kid.
Other adults are often able to speak to your son or daughter in ways that you can't.
James Young moved to the west of Melbourne to follow God's call on his life to tell young people about the greatest message they could ever hear – the gospel. On his days off, he seeks pain on a road bike, blissful beats by listening to Beautiful Eulogy and Trip Lee and relaxing with his beautiful wife Sarah.
James Young previous articles may be viewed www.pressserviceinternational.org/james-young.html