Students Love Answers More Than the Church Loves Answers
guest post by J Warner Wallace*
I had the opportunity to train approximately 150 high school students last week at Summit Worldview Academy in Manitou Springs, Colorado (it was my second trip to Summit this summer). They hold seven 2-week conferences for young people each year, designed specifically to “teach students how to analyze the various ideas that are currently competing for their hearts and minds.” The curriculum is incredibly rigorous and students spend long hours in class each day, listening to Christian case makers, professors, teachers and speakers from all over the country. Some students even take written exams at the end to qualify for college credit (offered through Bryan College as part of a “Contemporary Worldviews” course, Philosophy 111). This is not your typical high school “camp”; it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn why Christianity is true and how to develop a Christian worldview rooted in this truth. While there are certainly fun activities scheduled for the students, that’s not why they come. Students come to Summit to be trained.
I spent part of my pastoral life as a youth pastor and I witnessed firsthand the challenge young people face in high school (and especially in college). When I first began as a youth pastor, I expressed my creative inclinations robustly (I have a degree in design and a master’s degree in Architecture). My weekend services were a visual and audible extravaganza. I was focused entirely on experience. About a year into my pastorate I realized the incredible deficiencies of this approach. The seniors graduated from my ministry and eventually graduated from Christianity altogether. They were simply not prepared to respond to the challenges they faced from skeptics in the university setting. They needed answers, and I wasn’t providing them; I changed my approach to youth ministry completely.
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I began to share the evidence I found so compelling when I was a skeptic, and I started responding to the objections and questions my students already had (but were sometimes afraid to express). Many of my youth pastor colleagues thought I was crazy to make “apologetics” the sole focus of my weekend meetings, but the students we prepared in this way were ready for life in the “real world”. I discovered something important: Students want the truth. Don’t let the pundits or cultural observers fool you into thinking students are more concerned about experience, entertainment or storytelling. Students want answers. In fact, I think young people want answers more than the Church knows or understands.
When I first planted a church, I formed the core congregation from the young people I was training as a youth pastor. It wasn’t long before their parents began to join us to see what was happening at the church where their sons and daughters were excited to train and serve. After a few years, the younger members of my congregation grew up, moved off to college or got married and moved to new job opportunities. The parents of these young people stayed behind, and my congregation “aged” considerably. I noticed a palpable difference. The urgency and need for answers waned. These older members were much more comfortable in their daily settings and, as Christians, they were not being challenged nearly as vigorously as their students had been. As a result, they were less interested in “case making”.
I get the chance now to travel all over the country sharing the case for Christianity. I recognize the difference between student and adult congregations. While the Church seems to be satisfied with undemanding Sunday experiences, young people want so much more: They want answers. They are willing and ready to roll up their sleeves and prepare themselves. They want their own doubts answered and they want to respond to the skeptics in their lives. Sadly, the Church doesn’t seem to recognize this yet, and it definitely seems ill-equipped to meet the challenge. That’s why I love Summit Ministries. They provide a much needed solution to the apathy I sometimes see in the Church. If you’re a parent who understands the simple value of answers, I highly recommend Summit. It’s time for the Church to raise up a generation of young people who are equipped with a Biblical worldview and can articulate this worldview with strength and conviction. Students love answers; it’s time to woo the Church into a similar love affair with the truth.
*J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker at Stand to Reason, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels.