How do you disciple students who have ZERO touch points with Christianity?

January 25th, 2017

Our students are increasingly living in a post-Christian world and this means that they have a worldview and moral outlook that has almost zero touch points with Christianity.  If that is the case, then how do we share the gospel and disciple students in the new world?

The Gospel story is wrapped up in the language of adoption.

We are lonely, alienated, and isolated.  The gospel is the story of a loving Father who leaves the comforts of home (heaven) and runs after the lost daughter and son and invites them back home.

For the “Christian” world, there was rebellion and sin, but the process of coming back into the Christian household was a rather simple process of assimilation.  There was a clear Judeo-Christian ethic that was internalized by those rebellious sons and daughters.  They were rebels, but they knew what they were rebelling against, they knew what ideal had been lost, and an invitation back into the family brought justification/forgiveness for these sins and brought healing towards these relationships.

In a post-Christian world, the wayward and rebellious daughter and son actually have no idea that they are even wayward.  They have been so far removed from the Christian story, the Christian family that they don’t even know what way is up.  And while they may not be able to articulate it, most adolescents in this context are lost.  Lost in the truest sense.

But just like those who have come before, the heart of our Heavenly Father is to leave the 99 and run after these lost daughters and sons.  And when He finds them and calls them back home there is often celebration in heaven!

While there may be celebration in heaven, the local church family doesn’t really know what to do with this wayward daughter or son.  They have been adopted and have a full right to be sitting at the family table, but they don’t know the manners or customs of the family, and the older brothers and sisters look down their nose at these true ragamuffins.

Unless we, the older brothers and sisters, those who have assimilated to the church and its customs, those who are moving down the well-worn path of discipleship that has been paved by those who have come before, this new group of adopted kids are different and need a new path towards Jesus.

Part of what us older kids will have to die to are the customs and rituals that are simply cultural.  The usual markers of discipleship will be shown to be more cultural than biblical.  The new path is uncharted and will take an extra measure of love and grace!

But isn’t that exactly what our Heavenly Father has done for us, his enemies?  How much more should we do this for our new spiritual family!  

Lessons from Adoption Stories

In my life, there have been two different sorts of adoption stories and have taken two completely different methods in their parenting and assimilation task.

1) Adam Hart: Adopted from Guatemala when he was 3 months old.

2) Noi Anderson: Adopted from South Africa when she was 7 years old.

Post-Christian students who come to know and love Jesus and who become adopted into the household of God are much more like Noi then they are like Adam.

Noi has been adopted.  She is just as much a daughter than a biological son or daughter would be.  But because she has spent the last 7 years in South Africa, she has absolutely no idea what is expected of her in this new suburban American home.  She doesn’t even know the language.

The assimilation process will be much longer and more messy then Adam’s who was adopted at 3 months old.  And because Nancy’s parents want this girl to feel at home, they have actually worked hard to make their home more welcoming.  They have added African books, pictures, and music to their walls.  They have been learning how to cook meals that Nancy is used to eating and they are actually learning her language.

Motivated by love, Noi’s parents will do whatever it takes for Noi to assimilate into their family.  It would be abhorrent to think that they would do no work or preparation for this new child and use discipline and shame to train her in the way she should go. Yet this is exactly what the church has done to these students and millennials who have grown up in a totally post-Christian context.

A way forward might be as simple as making the main thing the main thing…

I am moving towards Jesus.  Every day I am called to become more and more like my Heavenly Father, to put on his character, to work towards his values, and to die to my own flesh and selfish desires.  Every day I pick up my cross and follow Him!

The starting point for me is culturally simple.  But now this process isn’t a one size fits all process. We are starting from all over the map.  All over the color wheel.  And because of that, the journey towards Jesus is going to look differently.

Instead of forcing everyone to buy into my version of discipleship, maybe we should be encouraging all of us to be moving towards Jesus.  And thankfully, Jesus became incarnate, became like us, in our world and invited us to follow.  Now it is our turn to become incarnate towards these post-Christian young people and walk with them as they walk towards Christ. 

What I am wrestling with is having more of a family/adoption model of assimilation.  What this actually looks like, I’m not sure, but would love your input.

benkearnsAfter almost two decades of student ministry, Benjamin Kern’s heart still beats and breaks for students. Loving students and helping them love Jesus have been the foundational principles around which he has organized his life and ministry. While his job description has transformed over the years, he is still most passionate about investing in the student ministry at MARIN COVENANT CHURCH. Follow him on twitter at @AVERAGEYM.

This post was originally published by averageyouthministry.com.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.