Jared’s post below is a great reminder of all we can learn from each other when we gather together. Join us at the National Youth Workers Convention this fall in Cincinnati, OH to connect with and learn from the full family of youth workers.
Have you ever heard your students say any of these?
- My friends just laugh whenever I try to talk about my faith.
- People don’t want to listen to me, because they think I’m just a religious moron.
- The kids at my school think the Bible is just a big book of fairytales.
- I don’t really know enough about the Bible to talk about it.
If you’re anything like me, these statements from your students left you feeling stumped, frustrated, or helpless. Sometimes it’s hard to understand what the current generation of teens encounters when they try to mix faith with their culture.
I’ve found that what helps students share their faith has little to do with how they are to share it—there has to be something that inspires them to take that scary and daring step into the uncomfortable territory where their faith and culture collide.
Too often, I’ve failed to adequately prepare students to share about Jesus. You’d think that those of us who regularly share with our students about Jesus would be able to easily help our students do the same in casual conversation with their peers. But for many of us, helping students share their faith is very challenging.
One misstep that often occurs in youth ministry comes through subtle messages communicated by one particular ministry philosophy. The just-get-them-to-church philosophy—while not a bad idea—often keeps students from sharing their faith. By asking only that students bring their friends to youth group, we’re unintentionally communicating to them that they don’t have the ability to talk about Jesus with their peers—we’re saying that they should just bring them to us so we can do it for them. We foster in them a “Moses mentality” when we give them excuses for why they aren’t the right people to lead others to Christ.
I’m not saying we should stop encouraging our students to bring their peers to church—but we can’t let it end there. The goal is to help students take Jesus to their peers so that their peers become inspired to come to Jesus. Helping them take Jesus to their peers isn’t so much about teaching them the best ways to bring Jesus up in conversation, and it’s not even all that much about good apologetics. Helping students share Jesus with their peers doesn’t start with training them as much as it does with inspiring them.
One of my favorite stories from Scripture involves a thirsty Samaritan woman who only briefly knew Jesus but was inspired to share about him. We read in John 4 about a woman who had an encounter with Jesus at a well and was instantly changed. She didn’t go through a discipleship class, attend Bible college, get a seminary degree, or receive pastoral training. She met Jesus, and then she ran into town and shared about her life-changing encounter. Through her story many believed, and many others were intrigued enough to seek out Jesus for themselves.
When we train students to share their faith, we often focus on the cup (how or what they share) instead of how their cup was filled (why they share). There’s no one way a person comes to believe in Christ, and so there is no one way for a student to share Christ. Some of our students use sippy cups, others use crazy straws, and some use glassware. Instead of handing students a cup they aren’t familiar with, we should inspire them share from whatever cup they use. The real trick is to give them a “well moment” where they can’t help but run back to everyone they know to talk about the living water Jesus has filled their cups with.
These well moments can come at many different times:
- a small group
- a talk
- a camp
- a mission trip
- even a late-night phone call.
A well moment is often more than a moment—it’s a story about something amazing God has done in a student’s life. We need to be intentional about providing ways for them to be with Christ so their cups can be filled with living water. Then we can encourage them to share their stories in whatever way they choose, reminding them that the Holy Spirit will do the heavy lifting.
I recently implemented this on our youth group’s annual mission trip to Compton, California. On previous trips, we took the students’ cell phones away for the day so they could be with each other and focus on how and whom they were serving. But for this most recent trip, we told them to keep their phones and take as many pictures and videos as possible and then blast all the social media outlets they use. We still encouraged them to share stories from the trip in person, but we realized that many of them would be more comfortable sharing about their faith the same way they share about everything else.Instead of training my students to share their faith, I had to retrain myself. Click To Tweet
I learned to focus less on how students share living water with their peers and instead provide opportunities for well moments that might inspire them to do so.
Jared Zimmerman is the Student Ministries Pastor at Olive Branch in Corona, California. He just moved there with his family in July. Jared moved from The Grove in Chandler, Arizona where he served for over 10 years as volunteer, coordinator, and Pastor all in student ministries. With his passion for leading young people into a life of pursuing Christ he has been able to watch students grow as he leads them on trips to places like Compton, Haiti, Thailand, Mexico, and Malawi. He loves his wife, Jillian, who serves in the high school ministry with him and has two beautiful little girls, Jocelyn (3) and Juliet (7 months). See what’s happening with his church at olive-branch.org or you can connect with him on twitter or instagram @jaredBzimmerman.