ReImagining the Church: Sticky Faith #2

Observations from the Sticky Faith Webcast: LINK

I am including this in my reImagining the Church series because I believe that the conversation coming out of the Sticky Faith research is born from the same Spirit that is moving through New Life Christian Fellowship, calling us to reImagine what it means to be the church in light of Jesus.

Observation #2: Teen discipleship must center around faith and inner transformation, not behavior modification.

I wonder if this won’t be the most difficult shift for the church to make as we consider how to cultivate sticky faith. Behavior modification is easy to see. Whether it means abstinence from sexual activity, a decision to study for a future life in ministry, or someone reading their bible more, the results are there to be seen by all. Youth pastors and churches alike can smile and say, “See, that’s what God (we) are doing here at our church.”

Likewise, when the there is a lack of evidence it’s easy to ask, “Where’s the fruit we were promised?” When students appear to remain the same, churches get nervous, and those of us in ministry wonder what we could do differently to get students to do things that good Christians do.

I get caught up in this mentality when I forget the reality of my own faith in Jesus. When I forget how easy it is to go on not trusting God, all the while living a life that people might consider good or even admirable. The outside of my cup is scrubbed clean, even when inside a rotten film of mold floats on the surface of week old coffee.

So what do we need to understand in order to make this shift?

The exterior must conform to the interior, not the other way around.

If we return to my post about our old processors, we find a way into understanding how spiritual disciplines and God’s Spirit works from the inside out. My PowerBook, which runs on a processor that Apple no longer supports, will never be upgradable so as to run in the new age of Apple computers. I can polish it up, organize the folders, and keep it running at its best, and at its core there it still contains that one fatal flaw.

My iMac, however, is a different story. It runs an Intel chip and can run all the latest software and programs Apple has to throw at it. Imagine, as unlikely as it might be, that it were to contract a virus. This virus would worm its way inside the file structure and make things disorganized. It would force the computer files and hardware to work against the processor and keep it from running the programs it was meant to run. While the computer would not run as it should, all hope would not be lost, the processor’s still there, able to run at full capacity.

This is the way we have to approach spiritual growth in teens if we want it to stick. We have to realize that God has made us new hearts, out of which we are able to live as new creatures of God’s Kingdom. We are loved and forgiven, and if our new hearts are right in Christ, then our efforts to study the Bible and pray are meant to conform our selves to the reality that exists in our hearts.

So how does that change our focus in ministry?

We must begin to encourage people to grow in their trust in Christ.

Rather than giving students a prescription for sin management, we have to begin to walk with them toward trusting more and more in Jesus, his life, kingdom, death, and resurrection. We have to help students understand that because of what Jesus has done, if they trust in that reality they are new people with new hearts and that can change the way they live.

Nothing I have read has been more convicting than the call to focusing on trusting Jesus. The question, “What decision shows that I trust Jesus?” is haunting in my own faith and as adults and teens wrestle with this question, I believe they will develop a faith that is far more sticky and real. The more we turn our lives to trusting Jesus, the more the exterior elements of our lives will take the shape of that trust–the shape of our new heart.

But why is this so difficult?

Because it takes time, and we feel that’s the one thing we don’t have.

We must be patient through the dormant months of fall and winter and prayerfully await the coming of spring in God’s time.

In our best moments, we are terrified that if we take too much time, someone in our group with make some decision that they will live to regret, or someone else will sneak in and steal them away. In our worst, we are afraid that if we take the time needed for deep, sticky faith to develop our youth group won’t look as impressive as the one down the street.

But real growth, in agriculture and in people, takes time, and during that time there may be no evidence of life. Things may look dead on the outside, even when things on the inside are growing and changing and taking shape. Even as it applies to my iMac, the process to clean up a diseased computer will take time, and during that time things may look worse before they get better.

We must, however, be patient when it comes to teens. As we teach them to trust in Jesus before we deal in issues of behavior, we must trust that God is working in them at the same time. We must be willing to wait for the right time for fruit development, remembering that God is a God who took 2 years to remember Joseph in prison, 80 years to send Moses to lead his people, and thousands of years, for just the right time, to burst onto the scene in Jesus and change everything.

Sticky faith relies on an inside-out, not an outside-in approach to discipleship. This is hard, this is ambiguous, but thankfully it’s also the work of the Holy Spirit for those who are willing to trust in Jesus and cling to him above anything else.

Q: Imagine a youth ministry that focuses on teaching teens to trust in Jesus rather than doing Christian things. How would that ministry look different than what we do right now? 

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2 Replies to “ReImagining the Church: Sticky Faith #2”

  1. It seems like this reality also highlights the importance of the ratio shift talked about in the last post. If adults in the whole church are cultivating real relationships with each teen in the church, the adults will be able to recognize those times when a teen’s life may look messy on the outside but real change and growth is occurring on the inside. And they would know the teen well enough to know how to minister to them and encourage that growth to continue. It is hard for one youth pastor and a few volunteers to have relationships with all of the kids in the group that work on that level, and seems like those kinds of relationships are very much needed.

    1. Right on! I can think of teens who have been in our ministry in whom I have witnessed growth while others are still concerned about their faith. How great if more people were close enough to see the smaller changes.

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