Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Balancing Evangelism and Spiritual Growth with Teens

Teenagers are at a very bizarre stage in life. On the one hand you can talk to them about mature concepts, to which they can make intelligent--even brilliant--responses. Then 15 minutes later, they're wrestling on the floor, destroying furniture, throwing food at each other, or laughing hysterically at fart noises.

Above all, teens are impressionable. I'm convinced that campus ministries are some of the most important things happening for the future of Christianity. If people aren't reached while they're young, they'll probably be too busy and consumed with their lives later to think about following Christ. This all leads to a dilemma for me.

I see how vital it is that our teens be reaching out to their friends who are lost. We need to train our kids early to be missions-minded, believing that without Christ there is no hope for anyone. There are many lost teens whose parents might allow them to come and participate in church activities, providing us with an opportunity to share the gospel with them and hopefully to convert them. But there is a problem.

Monday we had our teen olympics at church, which were a lot of fun. We did all sorts of relays and games, and eventually drank a lot of Gatorade. But there was a boy riding his skateboard around, looking at us, though pretending not to be looking at us. I thought, "We need to be reaching out, even if he is slightly younger than the youth group aged kids." So I went over and told him to join us. I patted myself on the back for being evangelistically-minded, and hoped I'd just earned an extra star in my crown. The kid participated well and seemed to have fun. But the more comfortable he got, the more uncomfortable he started making everyone else. He started telling us lots of random things about his family, his hobbies, school stuff, etc. We managed to be friendly and to placate him.

Then we went inside for a meal, and some of the older teens made their way back outside to play some football. In the absence of the adult chaperones, this little guy proceeded to start using some very unsavory expressions and attitudes. One teen told me that when this boy started using foul language, an older teen of ours told him to quit, after which he started using more. Someone said, "Did he just drop the F-bomb?" To quote Corn Bread's response (a nicknamed teen of ours): "He didn't just drop the F-bomb; he threw it down." At that point, one of our older ones told him he'd have to leave if he was going to act that way, so he did.

When you invite in people from the world, you get people from the world. People who don't share our values, our teaching, or our personal accountability to God. This young guy is a very mild example of what can be found in the lives of those who don't know God. As someone responsible for guarding my teens' souls, I want to keep bad influences away from them. On the other hand, the worst thing I could do would be to teach them to avoid all people in the world because they have sin in their lives. If that were the case, the Church could never grow. Rabbit-hole Christians accomplish very little in helping to spread the Gospel.

I'm struggling with how to balance giving our teens the nourishment which they need for proper spiritual growth with the practical training they need to be missions-minded. When is a child ready to start reaching others with the gospel? What if I start pushing them to bring all their friends and we get so many problem kids that our youth group is unable to properly function? If I spend more time dealing with discipline than in teaching them, the whole thing becomes self-defeating. Yes, mission trips with focussed activities (door knocking) are good for them to do, but they need to be reaching out to the people they deal with in normal settings, too. They have so much to learn, and I don't want their growth stunted by a competing voice of darkness, but if they don't learn to rescue people from darkness, what good will they be? Not to mention, they're all in different stages of growth. Some can't handle what others can.

This is a tension I've been feeling lately, and I'm not quite sure what the solution is. I know for sure they need to be learning at home and not just from me. If the parents aren't setting the pace for their Christian development, I'll be much less effective. I guess it's all in God's hands. He's managed to keep his church alive and thriving for 20 centuries now despite similar--and even worse--problems. He can keep it going through these things as well. I would just like to know sometimes that I'm helping in the way that I ought to.


  1. Hey Mark, great post. We were discussing this in our Wednesday night class a couple of weeks ago. I can't remember how we got off on the subject or the passage we were discussing, but we were talking more about influencing family than just strangers on the street.

    Just from my experiences, I think we can only do so much pushing and pulling on people, but at some point, they have to want to give a little.

    I hope everything is going well for you guys. Our men's retreat is October 26th if you want to come down!

  2. Thanks, Heath. We had a lot of good discussions in those Wed. night classes. I think you're right. We need to work the hardest with people who show some willingness and openness.

    Since you personally were converted during your older teen years, you're probably a good example of how to approach this. It is a huge need, but we need to make sure everything is about God; not just having fun with other teens.

    I really really wanted to come over for that men's retreat, but I don't know if I'll get to. I will, however, be there the week before for Lesley's wedding.

    Hope you are all doing well.

    Mark <><

  3. Such a difficult balance to maintain. Above all else, keep bathing the situation in prayer. Ask the Lord to bring those He wants there, and ask Him also to put a hedge of protection around your youth. By the example you describe, it sounds like you've got a GREAT group of kids, and their response to this kid shows that you've trained them well so far... The fact that you're even thinking all of this out speaks volumes. Your church is blessed to have a youth pastor who is so attentive and concerned... not just for the kids, but for God's will for his youth. God bless you, Mark.