You’ve probably heard this witty comeback at some point in your ministry. Savvy seekers exploring the idea of faith often will not commit whole-heartedly without this question being answered. At the outset, it seems to be just a non-committal hesitation. After all, the last ten years of ministry have been fixated on the mantra, “It’s not about you!” Sometimes we repeat it so often that we dilute its meaning. Further, it is often vocalized in frustration when our projects, procedures or positions are questioned. But in the end, it comes down to buy in. Youth will not commit full-throttle to this faith-gig until they have this question answered. Frankly, I don’t blame them.
When we jest in our gruff superiority, “It’s not about you,” we don’t really mean it’s not about you. Of course your faith it about you. Duh. The beauty of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is that he relates to each of us through our unique perspectives. What we really mean is, “it’s not about only you.” Faith is about all of us working together to reach others.Faith is about all of us working together to reach others. Click To Tweet
In a similar vein, what if the motives driving students to question the value of faith for their lives doesn’t mean what we think it means? When students demand to know what’s in this Jesus thing for them, I believe they are not exhibiting selfish motives. Instead, they are revealing a set of more elemental questions lurking below the surface. See if any of these alternatives below apply to your students.
What purpose does faith offer me?This generation of students craves to change the world, not as spectators but as purposeful participants. Click To Tweet
This generation of students craves to change the world, not as spectators but as purposeful participants. The personal and national terrors of their childhoods have heightened their awareness that life is short. They are also not naively trusting. Yearning to get into the mud with this down-and-dirty business of changing the world, they demand specifics of that change in advance to guarantee that the time sacrifice is worth it. I believe that reveals much more than selfishness. It illustrates a positive stewardship of time and resources. Most importantly, they desire to understand Jesus’ specific role for them to play in that transformation. If we gave them a label, this generation could be called “street-smart problem-solvers,” in that they believe as Isaiah, and later Jesus, proclaimed:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. Isaiah 61:1
Answer this question by giving them a powerful purpose and authorizing them to run with it. Ownership of that purpose will galvanize today’s youth into powerful players in the future field of faith.
What value does faith offer me?
No matter how engaged students are, they are still teenagers. Each young person has a deep, unquenchable need to be worth something. Being valued for who we are is a basic human need. The reality that Jesus created us and loves us just as we are meets that need in a way that well exceeds most student’s expectations.
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ, you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:9-10
When students recognize that faith in Jesus Christ offers them eternal significance—coupled with a completeness that can be applied powerfully in the present– they are more apt to buy in.
What challenge does faith offer me?
Today’s students are movers and shakers. They don’t aspire to sit comfortably inside of the church walls, bored and entertained. They yearn to rage against the machine of injustice and evil. They crave an authentic, active and adventurous faith that empowers them to take great risks and results in even greater rewards. You mark my words, many of this generation will be among those standing before Jesus saying,
“Yes, Lord, I saw you in faces of the least of there and I stood with you.” Matthew 25:21.
It is up to us to embolden students to battle against injustice and speak out for the poor. To do so, we must live out adventurous faith ourselves. That is what they are really asking.
It’s not a question of what faith has to offer them; rather, what kind of faith are you as their leader going to model for them?
So the next time a student says, “What’s in it for me?” try to see beneath the teenage bravado to the real questions lurking beneath the surface. Before we respectfully explain the truth of the matter, we must search our hearts. I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to say with fierce authority as one who has experienced such faith, that true faith in Jesus Christ offers you a challenging life, full of purpose, value and adventure!