Do Your Christian Students Know The Christ They Are Following? Angie Franklin
We have set up many systems to keep our Christian students “Christian.” You know the model students I’m talking about: They have gone to church every Sunday since they can remember (if they are especially pious, they go on Wednesday nights, too). They don’t swear. They serve in leadership at school and in the youth ministry. These students do what they’re asked and they do it happily. If you need a volunteer, they are the first to sign up. If you ask them to bring a friend to an outreach event, they will bring two.
But what happens when this Christian structure disappears? When students move out on their own or begin college, their options expand. There’s no pressure to attend church on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights. There’s no prefab Christian community to rub shoulders with at least twice a week. No one asks them to pray before meals, and their responsible nature gets noticed by do-gooder organizations that are far from God.
These students begin to think that anyone who does good or serves counts as a Christian. They begin to create communities based on good morals and comfort. Soon they face that giant question looming at the end of college: “What am I supposed to do with my life?” It is such a stressful question that they are willing to take advice from anyone who seems good, interested, and confident. These students are in the danger zone because their “Christianity” was actually a set of scheduled events and activities, not a life-changing faith.
By all means, these events and activities are good! Church involvement and a Christian family are priceless, but they are not enough. Here are some signs that a student may not know the Christ they are supposedly following.
1. Their faith hasn’t cost anything. Not that we’re looking for martyrs in high school, but if you’re following Jesus closely, it will cost something. The lives of Jesus’ disciples were not comfortable or easy. Jesus told us to take up our crosses. In high school, it may cost a friendship, a dating relationship, or a bad grade from a curmudgeonly teacher. It may cost a sketchy part in a play or some social currency after avoiding certain parties. When we follow Christ with our whole lives, we face a cost. Thankfully, the cost is more than worth it!
2. They have never articulated their faith. Many churchgoers believe that outreach means getting someone through the doors of the church. Once they have crossed that threshold, the pastor can take over and we can take pride in a job well done. But that’s not true outreach. In this scenario, we never have to articulate our faith.
Any educator will tell you that teaching on a subject is the best way to truly understand it. Or consider a junior high girl with a crush on a boy. She can daydream about it all she wants, but until she tells her friend, it won’t take on a concrete reality. Students should know how to articulate their faith story, why they believe in Jesus, and how their own redemption story intersects with God’s redemption of the world.
3. They think “God is love” means there’s no hard truth. If you’ve been around the church, you’ve heard the message “God is love” over and over. For many, that’s come to represent a type of noncommittal tolerance: “God is love, so he doesn’t expect anything from us.” Or “God is love, so he would never judge us.” Or even “God is love, so he doesn’t care what we believe.”
But God’s love isn’t like our love. It’s better. God so loved us that he gave us a chance to be with him. He loved us enough to undo the consequences of a broken world and to reach across the grave to save us. He did not do this through some inventory system where, in a grand tally, the good things we’ve done must outweigh the bad (belief in self). He also didn’t do this through other prophets, angels, or supernatural beings (belief in other gods). He did this through his son, Jesus.
Students are often okay with this until someone they love believes in another god for salvation. Then it becomes really hard to say that Jesus is the only way (John 14:6). This soft conviction thought process soaks into every hard decision and conversation as students grow up and out of the church. If God is love, then he must be okay with fill-in-the-blank. And soon it’s not Christ that students are following. That’s why it’s so important that we teach students about the union of love and truth: God showed us his love in a true, tangible way, and we are called to share that truth with the love our Father first showed us.