Here’s another post from Pastor Matt that I think offers some more helpful insight into how we should approach young people with Christianity. The point of this post is that relationships matter.
When I was attending North Hollywood High in the fall of 1990, there was a kid in one of my classes who often followed me on my walk home to my apartment off of Magnolia Boulevard. He did the Four Spiritual Laws and Roman Road presentation. He spoke about he and his family’s faith in Jesus and wanted to know if I would come with them to church. But he never asked a single question about me personally. I always declined his invitations and eventually he moved on to someone else.
[...]Looking back, I had a very fuzzy understanding of the Gospel. I (and I think many people who call themselves Christians) are what theologians call “semi-Pelagians.” I believed anyone could come to the altar but if they wanted to continue to be welcomed in the pews, they had to clean up their act and do so almost overnight. The culture of Christianity at large appeared to me to be that if you came to faith and continued to struggle with lust, a foul mouth or whatnot then there was just something wrong with you. I felt the church was more about behavior modification than grace.
I needed someone who I knew loved me to sit down with me long before all of these problems arose, look me in the eye and tell me how easy and how difficult it is to be a Christian. I needed someone cared for me to unpack 2 Corinthians 5:21 and point out that by being “in Christ” I would be judged by Christ’s perfect life instead of my own. I needed to know that the faith is not about “keeping the rules” but about doing things and not doing certain things to show my love and gratitude to God for what He did for me. I needed to be able to read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, in a way that always pointed to Jesus Christ. I needed to understand that God has graciously given us the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, serving the poor, worship, etc. to help me grow. I needed to hear that all Christians struggle with sin and will, to a certain degree, until they go to be with the Lord or He returns to be with us.
I needed good theology, good spiritual practices, good apologetics and good relationships. I needed knowledge and it needed to come from someone who I knew loved me even though I was thoroughly unlovable. You can’t just leave this to the church staff because they do not have to time to meet with everyone and people with a chip on their shoulder about the church (like I had) feel like they are just doing it as part of their job. All young people in the church, especially the “troubled kids” need this. It is a lot of work but anyone’s eternity is worth it, isn’t it?
I think that I do my best work away from the blog when I take on atheists or new Christians or Christians who want to grow one on one and focus on them for long periods of time. Sometimes, it’s talking to them on Skype. Sometimes, it’s rewards for doing well in school or in their Christian lives. But all the best work is done one on one. That’s when you really get a chance to get to know people and to care about them.
I think the most important thing you can tell a young Christian is to focus less on mere following of the rules. I always ask them more about making a plan for their lives that achieves something amazing for God’s kingdom, while still not breaking any of the rules. The following the rules is not the key thing to focus on. The key thing here is your relationship with God. So you should find out what needs doing, and just do it. If it’s intelligent design research, then do it. If it’s finding early NT manuscripts, then do it. If it’s working for the ADF defending religious liberty at the Supreme Court, then do it. If it’s becoming a Christian professor at a secular university, then do it. If it’s debating an atheist cosmologist, then do it. If it’s promoting the free market system which alleviates poverty, then do it. If it’s protecting democratic countries from aggression by being a soldier, then do it. Stop making Christianity a dull prison, and start making it a blank canvas for a masterpiece.