Apologetic teaching is a real need for young people but apologetic teaching alone has not revealed itself to be the whole answer for addressing the exodus of our young people from the church. Schadt reveals to us in his book, Going, Going, Gone, the truth that if we are experiencing a loss of students even while we attempt to teach apologetics from a modernist approach, then a component must be missing. This component, according to Schadt, is a need for “community, authenticity, and an experience in the community that validates the truth that we are teaching.”
Community is important because it mirrors the communal emphasis throughout Scripture. It is seen in the very nature of the Trinity as Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit experience a relationship that exemplifies the greatest intimacy possible. It was seen in the early church as they came together behind a joint purpose and sacrificed for one another. It was seen in the work of the early missionaries of the faith as they worked together to bring the message of Christ to the world. It is given to us as a challenge in Scripture… “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” Hebrews 10:25.
Superficial and artificial would be words to describe the ‘community’ many young people experience today. For being one of the most ‘connected’ generations technologically, they are also one of the loneliest. It is impossible to foster a truly healthy sense of community while typing away on your phone, hitting send and then waiting for a response. There is also but so much an emoticon can accomplish to relay accurate emotions. Nothing can replace those face to face moments around a nice dinner or cup of coffee. People respond differently to situations when they are not looking at one another. Young people are looking for more than this type of communication but the more they settle for the artificial the harder it is to engage in the real. I have personally experienced young people who love to sit down and just talk about the everyday as well as the tough issues of life. They enjoy just being with someone. If we want to keep our young people then we must help them connect to a community. This includes connecting with those of their own age as well as older mentor adults. They need to feel that they are a vital part of the church community. They need a place of ministry within the church. There have been studies that have indicated that multi-generational relationships greatly benefit young people.
Authenticity is important because young people dislike hypocrisy as much as any adult. They need to see the Christian worldview being lived out in the lives of those that they see as mentors. When they see fellow young people and the adults in their lives living out their Christianity it increases their faith that Christianity is more than just a nice way to live. They realize that it is the truth! It is not just something people do on Sunday and Wednesday and then live inconsistently the rest of the week.
I have had young people come into my office distraught and sometimes in tears over the inconsistencies that they see in those around them. They were not being judgmental. They were truly concerned. I have also had a young man come into my office professing atheism and then stating how the only thing that really caused him to think about the possibility of Christianity being true was a fellow Christian young lady who he said he thought truly believed and lived out her faith. That was a very eye opening day because it made me question my own witness before this young man. It should cause all of us to really evaluate our lives and the effectiveness of our witness.
A vibrant Christian experience has many facets to it. It involves worship, prayer, missions, devotion and all of the other aspects of a Christian life which enrich that life and allow for spiritual formation and growth. It is opportunities to express one’s faith in a comprehensive and meaningful way. Young people need spiritual experiences and milestones that help ground that person in their faith. These include mountain top as well as valley experiences. It means that we take the young person along with us as we live out our faith. We journey together and we help them see how to interpret the ups and down of the Christian life. Young people need relationships with adult mentors. We need to give them opportunities to serve and to praise as well. We need to help them feel free to experience God through the many avenues of life.
If we as Christian leaders to young people would focus on these things, I believe we could begin to turn the tide of the exodus of so many of our young people. So as much as we supply our young people with biblical training and apologetics, we need to provide for them a more comprehensive worldview which helps them see that the Christian life is one that concentrates not just on the bits and pieces but on the whole.