by Jojo Ruba
I remember my first day at grade one. My brother and I woke up expecting another relaxing day around the house. But around breakfast, my dad checked the school schedule and realized that school had started two days earlier!
We quickly drove the few minutes to my elementary school, where all the students were already in class. My dad brought me to a classroom where all the students looked up at me in my old house shirt and pants. I think I tried to hide behind him. But the teacher pulled me away from him and made me sit at a table near the back. As my dad left me for the day, I felt completely lost. I even had to borrow a pencil, because we still hadn’t gotten our school supplies.
I can’t help but remember that day as I think about all the church kids going back to school this month. I watch my friends with kids do everything they can to prepare them with the right school supplies, the right lunches, and even the right attitude, to survive the next year.
But I worry that many of these young people aren’t spiritually prepared to face a culture hostile to their faith. My colleague Jennifer wrote a great piece already on this, from her perspective as a parent.
As a youth pastor and as someone who speaks across Canada regularly, I meet young people all the time who are hungry for leaders who are willing to be the following:
1. Leaders who teach them how to think, not just what to think about.
Access to information has always been a way to save lives. For example, it’s hard to imagine what happened to George Price could happen today. Price was a Canadian soldier in World War I. He was part of a small patrol looking for a sniper who had been shooting at them. After searching some abandoned buildings, Price stepped onto the sidewalk, only to be fatally shot—two minutes before the war officially ended. Price became the last Commonwealth soldier to die in that war. 
Of course, if he had had a smartphone. he would have known that the Germans had already surrendered days before, and were supposed to lay down their arms within minutes of their search.
The problem youth workers have today is not the lack of information, but the volume of information. Young people are bombarded with messages from all kinds of worldviews. You can find testimonies of former Christians who are now atheists, Muslims, or abortion advocates, doing everything they can to convince Christians that our worldview is wrong.
In other words, we can’t equip our young people to answer every question out there. But what youth leaders can do is train their youth to think about the claims they are hearing, and evaluate them. There are three simple questions that can help.
First, I encourage my youth whenever they hear an idea, to ask if that view is true. In other words, does it match the reality that they live in?
Second, I teach them how to discern false and true ideas. For example, for my youth group, I take out a supermarket gossip tabloid and a geography textbook and ask them what the difference is between the two. Each provides answers, but only one is trying to say something about the real world.
Finally, it’s not enough today to know what is true and how to determine what is true. Youth also need to be taught why it matters if something is true. It’s too easy to say that one’s view of Jesus or the Bible “works for you”—meaning it helps you cope with life or makes you feel better. It’s a lot harder to say that my belief in Jesus as the only Son of God compels me to behave in ways that are painful or unpopular.
In the same way that knowing the truth of when the ceasefire took place would have likely changed George Price’s behaviour, knowing the truth of who God is and what He wants from us, should change our behaviour too. Youth need to know it matters if something is true, because their feelings or experience don’t change the truth—rather, the truth changes their feelings or experience.
2. Leaders that tackle everything with a biblical worldview.
When I was a speaker for a pro-life group, I often met resistance from youth leaders. They didn’t want their teens to look at abortion, or even talk about the topic. One of the first questions I asked resistant leaders was, “Have you already talked about it with your group?” More often than not the answer was “No.” Worse, when I asked, “When will you talk about the issue?” very few could give me any kind of idea when it would fit into their teaching schedule.
The problem is that issues like abortion and homosexuality are no longer reserved for adult conversations in child-free establishments. Our teens will be talking about those topics with someone. The question I ask these leaders is, “Would you prefer to have that person be someone who shares your values, or someone who is trying to destroy them?”
Some argue that these aren’t “gospel” issues, but the problem is that these very issues often prevent people from coming to faith. When I meet with youth, even Christian youth, their first complaint against the church is a variant of, “Why are we against gay people?” These issues are preventing the gospel from being understood.
Of course, as Jennifer pointed out, parents are key to providing this kind of integrated learning. But as youth pastors, we have to be there to support those parents and, sometimes, provide a model of how they can talk about these issues with their children.
3. Leaders that integrate the biblical worldview into their worldview.
My first year as a youth pastor, I didn’t open the Bible with my youth. Instead, I taught them how to think about the Bible as something that is part of their reality.
I taught them how to discern truth, how to read a text in context, and then how to understand that spiritual truths are just as true as those found in our physical universe. Only then did we begin to study the Bible, and we always did it using real-world illustrations. We flew kites to learn about the power of the Holy Spirit and ate Neapolitan ice cream and talked about the Trinity. I even made the youth go around our neighbourhood on a hot summer day without water or a break to illustrate what we mean by “hell”—to this day, it is a lesson they remember!
But each of these lessons helped show something important about the Christian worldview: The Bible’s claims are testable. It isn’t just a book based on wishful thinking. Rather, it can be tested and shown to be relevant to their lives.
4. Leaders that show Jesus really does change everything.
A friend recently commented that many articles that talk about why youth leave the church miss the most important reason: because they have never been transformed by the gospel—they aren’t Christians!
But the same challenge should be for us who lead those youth groups. Do we really live a life transformed by Christ? As youth pastors, do we act as if there is a God who is in charge of every situation? Do we obey Him, believing that He knows best for us? Because if we can’t model that change in our lives when facing personal tragedy, financial ruin, or slander, then how can we expect our youth to face them?
This means we go out of our way to help the poor, but it also means we go out of our way to help our enemy. It also means we say things about marriage that aren’t popular. Why? Because God’s love compels us to always point them back to the truth of who Jesus is and how much He cares for our everyday lives. And in doing so, we remind our youth that the good news about Jesus is not good because we like it; the good news is good because it is true.
[i] “George Lawrence Price,” Wikipedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Lawrence_Price>, accessed 3 September 2014.