Do Chinese parents and pastors need to rethink how they raise their youth in the faith? In this article, originally posted on at Gospel Times, a pastor encourages believers to challenge traditional views of ministry to youth. The pastor sketches modern challenges to youth ministry and then offers practical recommendations for ministry workers.
A Probe into the Loss of Young Believers
Over years of ministry, I have seen many young people who participated in church and youth group distance themselves from the church after they leave for college or work. They lose the passion they once had. Among other reasons, some think the main reason involves young people's pressure to work and the changing environment around them.
However, I believe that the work of Christian education is based on the needs of individual circumstances. It is aimed at training believers to have the ability to respond to external changes and challenges. To simply chalk up the loss of young believers to outside factors lets the church off from her responsibility. On the contrary, the loss of young believers ought to remind pastors to examine the church's pastoral strategy and make new plans about how to teach young believers.
A Different World
Student-centered education isn’t a new theory any longer. And there is an important principle within it: Teaching is meaningful when the teaching content is relevant to students' needs and goals. If you use this perspective to examine the church's teachings, you will find that in many cases the church is concerned with whether the believers understand a set of doctrines rather than how to connect a believer's life to faith and doctrine.
The free sharing of information in the internet era demonstrates a diverse ethnic landscape. People in the church should be able to appreciate such huge disparities in how people think, what people care about, what struggles they face on account of their notable differences in age, background, and occupation. Youth are very different from other groups. What they need is not the extra "weight" of a belief apart from the various pressures on them. So, if faith cannot solve their problems in their world, inevitably they will gradually pull away from the church.
The Walls of Their Hearts
What is the most difficult problem in parenting children today? Presumably, for a lot of people it is communication. You love your child, are concerned about his situation, earnestly instructing him, watching the child sitting quietly in front of you. But, you do not know whether he takes to your teaching or not.
Young people admire freedom and are in the habit of independent thinking. Influenced by post-modern beliefs, they question tradition and choose to abandon any restrictions they find worthless. But, in the face of many challenges in life, they really need a life of faith.
Unfortunately, many young people in the church are not willing to express their true thoughts because of existing arguments in the church and the atmosphere that demands absolute obedience. So, even though they are present, there is a high wall built around their hearts. You think that because he went to church and finished a training class he should have a solid foundation of faith. In fact, this faith has not taken root in his heart.
The Possible Ways Out
Based on the above observations, I've made a few suggestions for ministry workers to consider.
1. Build an "N-generation culture zone"
I often say, "youth ministry is cross-cultural ministry." If the basic idea of the church is that young people follow the pattern of the elderly and adapt to the culture of the elders, then the failure of their faith formation is predictable. The church should give young people enough space and create a culture suitable for them. We should build the church into a family where they feel safe and independent and trusting. When young people open their hearts, you can understand their needs and shepherd them appropriately.
2. Explore new models of relationship building
The danger of separation between church communities reminds us of the importance of building relationships. With passing time, models of interpersonal interaction change. The pulpit does not have authority by itself and the preaching is not the best mode of education. It is the example of the shepherd and the relationship between him and the believers that makes shepherding successful. The relationship between the shepherd and believers determines the success or failure of shepherding. So, the church's shepherds need to explore different models of building relationships. They need to develop the ability to dialogue with young people, and get close to young people. Through companionship and empathetic care, they can build relationships in order to succeed in shepherding the youth.
3. From theory to experience
The traditional teaching model in the church is less interactive and more lecture-like. Dull classroom and stiff writing becomes a barrier for people to reflect on and deepen their faith in the new era. We need to change from a simple static model of belief to a more interactive model. A model in which young people can participate more and can develop faith based on real life experience through observation and reflection in line with their personality. We need to help them to be sensitive to real problems in different situations and to explore the meaning and impact of faith on life.
Having written this, I recalled these words from the apostle Paul: "To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22). The successful pastor whose life bears abundant fruit reminds us that successful shepherding must cross interpersonal barriers, that is, build relationships with people.
The author is a preacher in Christian Church of Ningde, Fujian Province.
Image credit: by V.T. Polywoda, via Flickr.
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