Here’s a question: What is the most fundamental faith message you are communicating to students/your kids? Note: What you are communicating might be different that what you want to communicate.
Far too often in my ministry with students I have communicated the wrong message. While I want to communicate: “Our Heavenly Father has lavished His grace upon us through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and wants a relationship with us where we find our purpose, meaning, and work in Him.”
I have far too often communicated: “Jesus loves you, you should appreciate this by doing something, namely inviting others to church.”
This second message is void of four central elements. When you leave these four things out you are in danger of producing pious church attenders. (Pious – “characterized by a hypocritical concern with virtue or religious devotion; sanctimonious.”)
The four central elements left out are an understanding of grace, an emphasis on relationship, satisfaction in Him, and a mission (work) that proceeds from faith.
4 Reasons Students become Pious Church Attenders:
1. A misunderstanding of grace.
Yes, we want students to know that Jesus loves them, but if we fail to communicate that His grace was shown through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, then we fail to help them understand the magnitude His grace. Furthermore, when students don’t understand the depth of their depravity, they will never fully appreciate the greatness of His grace. For if we are just a little bad, the then the grace of Jesus just has to be a little good. But if we are totally depraved, sinful at our core, and prone to wander, then the grace of Jesus that welcomes us back every time is huge, and almost unfathomable!
2. Their faith leans more toward religion than relationship.
Students who view God as a distant judge will fail to engage in a relationship with Christ. If God is simply a distant judge, then our actions, and church attendance for that matter, are what matter most. Students who don’t walk in a reciprocal relationship with Jesus miss the intimacy that God offers to His children.
3. That “He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” (shout out to John Piper).
Outside of relationship, God is distant and cold. It’s hard to keep God preeminent in your life if He is void of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But if God is love and in our relationship with Him we are able to walk in all the fruits of the Spirit, then it’s easy for us to rejoice in Him. The cry of our hearts should be to glorify Jesus because we find utmost satisfaction in His presence; not from what He provides, but from Him. So many students miss this. They either fail to find full satisfaction in Him because He seems cold and distant or they find their satisfaction in the provisions rather than the provider.
4. They get the faith vs. works paradigm backwards.
Far too many students who have grown up in the church get the faith vs. works paradigm backwards…and it’s not necessarily their fault! Rather than understanding that our good works are an extension or overflow of our faith in Jesus, students believe that good works will earn them favor with Jesus. The behavior-reward cycle is something they have been taught from birth (i.e. If you behave you will get a cookie). This is why this cycle is hard to break in our relationship with Jesus!
It’s hard to grasp that Jesus already views us with favor and that His love for us is beyond measure. There is nothing we can do to earn favor with God outside of Jesus. Our belief in Jesus earns our standing and favor before God and our actions that reflect His kingdom should flow from that favored state.
In your conversations with teens about God you cannot emphasize enough an understanding of grace, an emphasis on relationship, satisfaction in Him, and a mission (work) that proceeds from faith.
As an advocate for your child and other teenagers, be intentional in the ways you bring these topics into conversation. If you are a youth worker or small group leader, look for ways to work these elements into your study. Let’s make disciples, not church attenders.
There’s work to be done!
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David Hanson: Texas native, Texas Tech Red Raider, M.Div. at Truett Seminary, husband to Ashley, father to Ava, Ben & Madelyn, Student Pastor at The Fellowship in Round Rock, Tx, table tennis (ping-pong) extraordinaire, addicted to coffee. For anything else…you’ll just have to ask.