When I first got started in youth ministry twelve years ago, I did my best to emulate what I thought the typical youth ministry should look like. In Bible school we were taught to communicate to youth the importance of avoiding certain peer pressures, to counsel those who struggle in their Christian walk, and to build numbers while maintaining a balance of the fun and the spiritual. Truly these are all good things. But is it enough?
For years I had seen the same problems that have been pointed out in studies done by Barna1 and America’s Research Group. 2 Typically two-thirds of our youth walk away from the church, some never to return. This was true everywhere I looked.
A couple years ago I picked up the book and DVD from Answers in Genesis titled Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It. The realities outlined in the book mirrored what I was personally seeing in churches across the nation. Students often end up coming out of their 4–6 years in youth ministry without much personal strength and solidarity in their Christian faith. One of the leading reasons, as outlined in this book, was that students had significant questions about their faith that were never answered.
Many of these questions had to do with the reliability and authority of the Bible. Things like the Bible’s account of creation and world history were often called into question, but the church never provided solid answers.
Oftentimes churches teach the Bible’s historical accounts simply as “stories” to children, with cute pictures and silly songs, without ever following up to re-emphasize their accuracy and truth. As children grow up through their teenage years and into adulthood, they are left with the same “mother goose-like” impression about historical realities like Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, and the tower of Babel. It’s easy to see how a fairytale mindset can take over.
If the church doesn’t teach the entire Word of God as truthful and accurate, then where will the upcoming generations learn it?
Time and time again I have seen the “greenhouse” principle poorly implemented in churches. Churches and youth ministries are great environments for seeing rapid outward growth and blooming “spiritual” students, but what happens to them once they are removed from that culture and face the harsh realities of the world, or when they encounter a major life crisis that tests their faith?
The problem is that we don’t live in a greenhouse forever. The goal is to produce healthy plants that can live in the harsh, outside elements. Sadly, I’ve sometimes seen a problem where parents or churches have overly protected children in an attempt to keep them “safe.” I think it’s doing them an injustice and ill-preparing them if we simply ignore the problems of our culture when it comes to an old earth and evolution.
Ignoring the problem isn’t going to make it go away. We need to equip everyone within the church to face the battle head-on. We need to teach them where the false idea about millions of years came from, what evolution is and isn’t, and how scientific and biblical errors drive these and other antibiblical beliefs. It won’t get the job done if we simply show cartoons of Charles Darwin morphing into a monkey, as I’ve sometimes seen. We have to face these issues with boldness, clarity, and the full authority of God’s Word.
While parents are primarily responsible for training children, God also gave the church an essential role in spiritual education (Ephesians 4:11). It’s a team effort. Unfortunately most parents have let the church take it over completely, and the church has failed to equip not only their children but also the parents with a real understanding of how to know, defend, and share their faith.
By not teaching apologetics and biblical authority at a young age, we are setting up our entire church body for failure. The signs of failure are everywhere. Are we willing to make a conscious change to reverse the decline?
It’s my experience speaking to pastors, youth pastors, and other church leaders that many see the signs of decay but don’t know the root of the problem or how to reverse it. They don’t realize that major changes may be required to retool or refocus certain areas, if we hope to stem the tide of decline in our youth ministries and churches.
That’s a problem. So what can you do to help?
Steps Toward Healthy Change
Young people need specific help where the Bible is most under assault, especially in Genesis. They need to hear solid answers about dinosaurs, radiometric dating, and similar issues. You may think that these topics are over their heads, but that’s exactly what their secular teachers and the media are pounding into their heads. These are the questions they’re asking about!
Time and time again I’m amazed at their curiosity and their incredible ability to retain information. Each year we run a summer day camp for children, grades 3–6, that focuses on creation apologetics. After the week is over, we give the young people an opportunity to share publicly the favorite things they learned. I love seeing parents’ mouths drop open when their nine-or ten-year-old talks about so-called “missing links” and remembers their scientific names, or when their little girl explains how natural selection really works and where all the world’s diversity of people groups came from.
Young people are eager to learn, especially when truths are presented in exciting and relevant ways. Hearing solid, biblical explanations grabs their attention and makes a real difference in their willingness to take the Bible seriously.
Remember, the children in our programs today will be the adult church workers and leaders of tomorrow! So whether you are a youth pastor, a ministry leader, or just a concerned parent or other church member, you can take active steps to help strengthen your church by developing a stronger biblical teaching and apologetics focus.
One note of caution: If you would like your church to introduce stronger teaching, I suggest you make your appeal with “meekness and gentleness” (2 Corinthians 10:1). Don’t storm the pastor’s office or the church board meeting demanding that they change every program by next week! A pastor or youth leader will be much more open to introducing new approaches if you display a sincere desire to help and do not simply criticize shortcomings.
Become a Learner First
Discipleship and mentorship are every mature believer’s duty, whether one-on-one or in a classroom (Matthew 28:19–20; 2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 2:3). That includes helping young people or their parents. If you truly want to help, take a young person or parent under your wing, or you can serve as a teacher or teacher’s assistant.
But before you disciple or teach others, you must first become a learner. Immerse yourself in what you would like to communicate. When I first began to teach young people about creation science and biblical history, I did all I could to learn for myself. Books, sermons, and DVDs are great resources. Also, look for creation and apologetics events near you.
Granted, you may run across a lecture or two that seems a bit dry and over the heads of younger people. That’s why it’s important for you to understand what is being said so that you can digest and later “regurgitate” it in a way that will reach your target group. You know your group best!
The church’s focus should be on seeking ways to assist parents in training their children in the ways of the Lord, giving them a strong foundation to build their lives upon. Every church member has a vested interest in their education. That way, when young people head off to college or work, leaving behind the greenhouse of home and church, they will already be rooted in God’s Word and His authority.
You’re Not Alone
Training young people requires day-by-day, painstaking effort (Deuteronomy 6:7). Thankfully, you aren’t alone. Lots of resources and creative options are available to enflame excitement and fill the gaps where your background may be lacking.
Over the years I’ve amassed quite a collection of apologetics resources and tools. Every church should build a library and make resources available. They should also be used in class!
One of my favorite learning and teaching tools is the Creation Museum DVD collection. It contains many short clips packed with information to learn from or include as a supplement to a message. Answers in Genesis, the parent ministry of Answers magazine, also provides other resources online, including monthly digital download specials, at www.answersingenesis.org. This is a great place to start if you don’t have a large budget.
Bring in Someone from Outside
Many times great speakers and teachers live nearby who would love to come and share! Search the Internet for local creation groups and ask if they have anyone willing to talk at your church. Often they will even speak for free! Just make sure they hold to a biblical model for things like six-day creation. Over the years I’ve been privileged to speak at churches and school groups throughout Southern California. You never know who is out there with a passion to reach your young people and will partner with you.
If you become a teacher or assistant, look for additional teaching opportunities outside the church walls. Many of us live within a short distance of amazing “creation classrooms”—natural wonders, museums, or attractions. Young people can see professional challenges to their faith, and then you can show how the creation message makes sense of it all.
Over the years I’ve taken groups to amazing places like the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, and Sequoia National Forest with the specific purpose of teaching about the undeniable wonders of God’s creation and other biblical events like Noah’s Flood. Don’t be intimidated to approach your pastor or youth leader about a creation field trip to these places, and volunteer to help in any way. Answers magazine has even created a website, www.CreationVacations.com, that includes great destinations and helpful tips about some of these popular places.
Whatever your role in bringing biblical teaching and apologetics to your church, many great ministries and resources are out there to come alongside you. God Himself has provided many tools in creation as well. So always be looking for ways to incorporate the things around you in your teaching. Much like Jesus used the birds of the air or the lilies of the field, use what God has made to proclaim His truth. The whole universe proclaims His greatness and is a fantastic classroom full of His glory!