By J. Warner Wallace, Crosswalk.com
We’ve all seen it before. That inattentive expression in the eyes of our teens (or pre-teens) when someone starts talking about God or Christianity. Maybe it’s subtle, maybe it’s more pronounced, but we recognize it: our kids are often be distracted, unengaged or apathetic when it comes to spiritual issues.
My coauthor, Sean McDowell, and I have talked to a lot of parents in our roles as Christian educators, youth pastors, and speakers. We’re parents as well, and we understand that the biggest challenge to “theism” may not actually be “atheism.” Instead, the biggest threat to the future of the Church may be “apatheism.”
If you’re investing in the lives of young people, you’ve probably experienced the paralysis of apathy. As a youth pastor, I almost always had someone in my group who appeared disinterested. It’s difficult to teach the truth to young people when they aren’t really listening. But that didn’t stop me. Because I loved my students, I wanted them to become passionate believers. Here are three things I learned that helped me ignite a passion in my students and kids:
Our young people know when we’re excited about seeing a movie, attending a sporting event, or going to our favorite restaurant. These opportunities are eagerly anticipated and relatively rare. For many of us, however, our experience as Christians is little more than regular church attendance. Perhaps that’s why our spiritual lives seem routine and less exciting to our kids. If we can passionately move toward a Christian life of intellectual, emotional, and experiential abundance, our kids just may adopt our excitement.
My sons still remember the energy they observed around our dinner table when our friends would come over and talk enthusiastically about theology or apologetics. These memories are far clearer than any experience they had at church. Let your passion for God overflow in front of your kids. “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher” (Luke 6:40 NIV). Become the kind of teacher, leader, or parent your young believers can model.
Sometimes there are obstacles that stand between us and the passionate Christians we could become. If left unaddressed, these obstacles can be paralyzing. There are two we must remove if we want to ignite a passion for God.
Personal Sin: Hidden sin is often the root cause of apathy. It’s hard to be passionate about God if you feel like hiding from Him based on the sin in your life. All of us struggle with our sin nature, and young people are no different. As unconfessed sin increases in our lives, so does apathy: “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). When you encounter apathy, consider the possibility that sin may lie at its core. Examine your own life and encourage the young people you lead to examine theirs as well.
Misplaced Priorities: As a youth pastor in Southern California, I often felt like I was competing with an ever-growing collection of alternative activities. Many of my students missed opportunities to grow and learn as part of our group because their families prioritized club sports or other activities. It’s not hard to understand how this might happen, given their value and worth, combined with the pressure to compete. But if we want to develop a passion for God, we must rein in the passions that distract us from God. It all comes down to our priorities.
Ask Two “Whys” for Every “What”
Finally, this simple, overarching strategy can help ignite a fire and direct it to the truth of Christianity. I call this approach: “Two Whys for Every What.” As pastors, parents, and educators, we’ve all explained what is true to our young people. What do we believe about God? What are the claims of Christianity? What does the Bible teach about important moral issues? Most of us have engaged these topics at church, home, or school. But simple propositions about the nature of God or the claims of Christianity may or may not ignite a fire in our young people.
That’s why I suggest taking two additional steps. For every what you offer the young people in your life, be sure to add two whys. First, why is the claim you’re making true? When teaching about the nature of God, for example, it’s tempting to default to “because the Bible says so” when a young person asks us to defend a claim. But take the time to explain the philosophical or evidential support beyond the teaching of the Bible. Young people want to know why we believe what we believe. If we want them to get excited, we need to help them see that the Christian worldview is reasonable and evidentially true.
Next, help young people understand why any of this should matter to them. Once we’ve described what is true and why it’s supported by the evidence, take the time to explain why they should care in the first place. How does this truth impact their lives? How does it change the way they view themselves or the world around them? How does this truth guide or protect them?
This simple approach—two whys for every what—can change the way we preach, teach, or counsel the young people in our lives.
This simple approach to igniting passion has been excerpted from our new book, So the Next Generation Will Know. Our book teaches parents, youth pastors and Christian educators practical, accessible strategies and principles they can employ to teach the youngest Christians the truth of Christianity. The book is accompanied by an eight-session So the Next Generation Will Know DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide).
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adjunct Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.