BLOG// Many wonder why its so hard to disciple the young; I don’t.
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Seth Godin’s “Who Let the Air Out of the Balloon” blog this morning (http://ow.ly/GdJee) was particularly insightful and has application for a variety of life’s sectors. It particularly sparks my thinking for the church and how we leaders must change the way we approach discipleship, the way we dump information and expect congregants (adults and students) to swallow everything that we say without question or critique. Insisting that our people (most importantly HS students) memorize the truth we speak and then, by rote, speak it back to us is failing them in the new economy of ideas, worldviews, paradigms, and perspectives. Indoctrination without the invitation and allowance of robust critique and dialogue is not transformation; it is but window dressing or theater flats.

Transformation is so much more difficult and unwieldy! It can’t fully be done through authority or guilt.  It seems to be best accomplished through a safe, relational community, through hearty dialogue, through honest analysis and evaluation where learning occurs both up and down the ladder of positional authority. It is messier, less certain, and quite potentially disappointing. When I teach my college students, adult learners, or my 7th grade boys small group, I do so while saying, “I have an umbrella of grace up; I want to hear what you really think.” There must be this freedom to express deeply held idea, sometimes very heretical, without being spiritually corrected! I love it when off key ideas are expressed. It gives us real opportunity to grow. One doesn’t really own anything unless they know what they believe and why they don’t believe everything else. The students have to do the work, not me.

In the old days when truth or ideas were communicated through a single megaphone, there was power (an oft present drug for Christian leaders), influence, and compliance; there was anticipation. Helpful information and captivating teaching were soaked up like a dry sponge by people thirsty for wisdom from on high The church enjoyed the predominant influence of being the gatekeeper for most truth and information. It was easy. That is why sermons could last for over two hours!

Those days are long gone. The more churches fundamentally embrace this one source of truth approach the more we will miss the opportunity to develop deep, spirit directed AND critically thinking disciples of Jesus. In fact, we may lose a generation, in the click of a mouse, if we don’t, first, realize this reality, and secondly, drastically change how we go about changing the hearts and minds of our youth and a society.  As Godin says, there is no balloon any longer. We church leaders must deal with this reality.

That is what I love about Lincoln Christian University (www.lincolnchristian.edu). We embrace the Both/And, not the Either/Or. We do not indoctrinate; we seek to partner with God to bring about holistic transformation.  We are cultural exegetes as well as biblical exegetes. I constantly challenge my students to seek how to live in the tension of the middle on the redemptive edge of the kingdom.  Believe me, it is a much messier journey than most people even want to venture. It is the tension of the middle and not the balance of the bland.  It is not the old days when the church had the only balloon that held truth. There is no balloons through which the church can monopolize truth. People are accessing perceptions of reality and “truth” from a “google” of sources!!!!!

Most churches and leaders I encounter are too scared to help their high school students own their own faith by living in the tension of the middle. They want to safely live in sanctuary and not wrestle with honest critiques from societies. They often want to feel good that everyone filled in the blanks and can parrot back the leaders’ faith. Parroting is training, not transformation. Parroting can wear off once the student flies away from the nest.

One of the simplest ways we can change this is to quit just having fill-in-the-blank sermon or lesson notes. That is the lowest form of education. So what if a listener can write down the key word or main point of the teaching. Yes, we have to start here, but we definitely can’t end here. (See my blog post on this: http://ow.ly/GdxUU.)

The process is just as important as the product. 

Let me repeat this. The process is just as important as the product. Do we believe this? If we don’t, not only believe it but embrace it, we really can’t help students own their own faith. If we only measure the product and whether they “got it right” or “are orthodox in their faith” they won’t go through the necessary process of receiving, critiquing, analyzing, evaluating, and then either accepting or adopting it as their own.  We rob HS students of this process because we rush to the product. Just because we preach it doesn’t mean that they process it.  If they don’t process it, they may pitch it! Yes, the product matters, but when we circumvent the process, we may kill the possibility for the product.

We must quit this now!

We must spend much more time helping students and adults engage in a theological faith journey (a journey is a process), guide and challenge them through humble interpretation and analysis, and be there as they choose to own it or not. Here is the key: they have to be allowed to potentially reject the faith before they can fully accept the faith. Most faith communities I know will write a disciple of Jesus off when they get to this stage. This is that zone in a relay race where the batons can be dropped. Just because the baton is dropped doesn’t mean that the race is lost. If we scold the runner for dropping the baton, they may just walk off the track.  Many have.  Unconditional love is unconditional.  We have to love people to the kingdom even through the process is horribly frightening. There are no second generation disciples.

We have to quit with the softball questions or the question that are expecting hearty yes or no answers.  We have to embrace the process of discipleship under the umbrella of grace as we awkwardly live in the tension of the middle. We have to spend as much time on the reflection (good and bad) of an experience or teaching as we do on the experience or teaching.

We must wake up to the reality that there is no balloon. HS students, college age students, single moms, middle-aged dads can all access so many other ideas that conflict with the Christian faith. Some of the teachings of the Bible are simply hard to deal with. When we expect learners to swallow without first examining, we are short circuiting to maturation process. Just because listeners can fill in the key word on a sermon outline or shake their head in agreement with basic tenets of the Christian faith doesn’t mean that they can respond to any of the many challenges that they will encounter each time they click on a webpage or scroll through a Vine roll.

However, many churches are having a difficult time reaching and discipling high school students to be lifelong apprentices of Jesus.

And they wonder why it’s so hard.

I don’t.

What do you think needs to change?

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