Some not so good news for church youth ministries (and parents) – we’re leaving our young people with questionable (putting it mildly) theology. A person I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know, Kara Powell, the executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute, was recently interviewed for Relevant Magazine. She has written and studied extensively why youth leave the church after graduating high school. She was asked, “Do you think there are any misunderstandings or misconceptions that contribute to young adults leaving the church?”
The students involved in our research definitely tended to view the Gospel as a list of dos and do-nots, a list of behaviors. We asked our students when they were college juniors, “How would you define what it really means to be a Christian?” and one out of three—and these were all youth group students—didn’t mention Jesus Christ in their answer; they mentioned behaviors.
Did you catch that? Being a Christian, in their minds, is about what they DO. Not what was DONE for them. Their response is antithetical to the Gospel message itself. Our behavior isn’t what saves us; so how is it that many define their faith by it? This really isn’t (unfortunately) surprising as many adults view Christianity in this way as well. We are saved from the law, but then the focus for many tends to go back to the law. Michael Horton in his book, Christless Christianity, explains why this is a problem:
The law guides, but it does not give. For all who seek to be acceptable to God by their obedience, love, holiness, and service, the call to obedience only condemns. It shows us what we have not done, and the more we hear it properly, the more we actually lose our moral self-confidence and cling to Christ. It stops our inner spin machine that creates a false view of God and ourselves, (pg. 132).
It’s not about a list of dos and don’ts. We are followers of Christ because of good news, not good behavior! Christ came into the world to save sinners. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works,so that no one may boast,” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV).
We need to be continually reminding our kids about grace, grace, grace… preach the Gospel to them (and to ourselves as well).