Equipping Students for Ministry in a Post-Christian Age
Facebook may not seem like a discipleship tool to most pastors, but when I served my congregation in northern Illinois, this social networking site provided me with an unexpected assist in discerning the spiritual lives of my parishioners, particularly the students. Facebook provides a platform for young people to share what they really think, liberating them to communicate their thoughts in ways they might be uncomfortable with in front of parents or other influencers.
One night I was scrolling my timeline, and I came across a shocking post from a kid I thought I knew. She had regularly attended youth group and church. But what she posted—about a major cultural issue—was in direct opposition to the gospel truth she heard on Sundays. It reminded me of how important my job was as a pastor. I couldn’t assume the young people in my circle of influence knew and understood how to apply the gospel to their daily lives.
Pastors and church leaders must be intentional about addressing issues kids are already confronted with. And there is nothing more controversial, more up for discussion in our culture, than the issue of marriage and sexuality. But we have to get beyond an old-school, top-down model of engagement. Instead, we should initiate discussions with young people, helping them to wrestle with the deep questions of life and faith. I believe there are three important values we should endeavor to pass on:
Leaders should be intentional about engaging their students on the questions of sexuality, marriage, and religious liberty. Good pastors do this with a pastoral heart, unselfishly seeking to equip the next generation to fulfill the mission of God in their day.
We do this two ways, I believe. First, we ensure they own their faith. We have a tendency to assume our kids know what they believe and why simply because they are our kids and are going to church with us. But this is a failing paradigm. Instead, we should creatively and proactively teach spiritual truths to every generation as if these things are new to them. Secondly, we do this by demonstrating to them the importance of loving their cities and their neighbors enough to help shape the culture. It’s impossible to say we want, as Christians, to shape our cities while ignoring the policies and politics that affect human lives. Every Christian, from pastors to students, has a responsibility to steward their God-given influence.
We should teach students the value and definition of courage. Courage is not the stubborn willingness to do what we want to do. It’s not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to obey the voice of God, even if it costs us something.
Jesus told his disciples that following Him would bring a high cost. Sometimes this involves taking a stand against the social pressure to conform to prevailing trends. Christians shouldn’t seek persecution, but we shouldn’t avoid conflict either. The sooner we equip students to bear up under unpopularity, the sooner they will be ready to face a world that may not agree with the demands of the gospel.
Lastly, but perhaps most important, we should both model and teach the value of kindheartedness. It is easy to get so caught up in raising awareness of an issue that we forget Jesus’ call to love those with whom we disagree. We teach our kids this important value by first resisting the kind of fear-based, apocalyptic messaging that so often accompanies activism. If Christ is risen from the grave and is in the process of renewing all things, we should not be gripped by fear, but motivated by love.
Adults teach this well by first modeling it in their own activism. We should love those with whom we disagree; we should not consider them enemies to be vanquished, but precious creatures made in the image of God. We should remember that we, too, were once alienated from God and now are redeemed by His grace.
When we model kindness, we show the next generation how to joyfully engage the world. Christians are called to speak with truth and grace, courage and civility.
This is why I’m so excited about Focus on the Family’s Day of Dialogue—a nationwide, free speech initiative for high school and college students. This is an opportunity to equip our youth with the confidence that the gospel of Christ has the power to speak with hope to even the most sensitive cultural issues.
On April 10, this year’s Day of Dialogue, thousands of students will exercise their religious freedoms to share in a loving and respectful manner their deeply held biblical beliefs about God’s design for marriage and sexuality.
As explained on the website—DayofDialogue.com—the initiative challenges students to reflect the model presented by Jesus Christ in the Bible—who didn’t back away from speaking truth, but neither held back in pouring out his compassionate love on hurting and vulnerable people.
For the event, Focus on the Family makes available free speech tools for students—including T-shirt and poster designs and a Conversation Card they can distribute before and after class—in addition to a free, downloadable guide for pastors who want to engage with teens in their church on these issues.
Among other resources, the pastor guide includes:
* Free, downloadable PowerPoint presentations. Lead dynamic discussions using biblical examples of redemptive dialogue, as demonstrated by Jesus Christ and His followers. Presentations also include activities that allow students to develop and discuss responses to real-life situations faced by other students. And, each presentation comes with printable notes!
* Fun videos. These provide useful “do’s and don’ts” tips and information to help students think through how to handle situations in advance.
* A colorful, “Conversation Starter” infographic. This infographic has links to student-friendly discussion questions and articles on hot-button topics.
* A primer on students’ legal rights. The primer also includes an online free speech quiz students can share on Facebook®.
* An overview and how-to guide for participating in the Day of Dialogue.
If you have teens in your church who have a heart for sharing God’s truth and Christ’s love, you’ll definitely want to share these resources with them.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). For five years, Dan served as Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and is the author of several books, including Teen People of the Bible, Crash Course, iFaith, Real, and his latest, Activist Faith.
The above article, “Equipping Students for Ministry in a Post-Christian Age” is written by Daniel Darling. The article was excerpted from DayofDialogue.com website.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.