“The culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in influence.” That is how Stuart Murray defines post-Christianity. I stumbled across this quote while reading Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World: A Hopeful Wake-Up Call by Brock Morgan. It’s an essential read for leaders trying to navigate the world our students live in.
Doing ministry in Canada, Yes, I am from Canada, gives me some unique advantages. We are in a post-post-Christian culture. I do ministry with students who have no understanding of Jesus, the gospel, or church.
Some people might look at this generation of students that I am working with weekly and wonder “awful and sinful” this generation is. Last week, I was talking with a missionary in my lobby of the church, and we were discussing this exact same thing. They were amazed that students didn’t know or care an out key holidays like Easter, or Christmas for Christians. Students that I work with have little to no understanding of these holidays outside of Santa or the Easter bunny.
The missionary said to me something that struck me. She said, “what an opportunity you have to paint a beautiful picture of Jesus for these young people.” It’s so true. What an opportunity we have to reach a generation of unreached people. The best part is that they aren’t somewhere else, they are in your town, and might(probably) live next door.
Working with students who are living in a post-Christian culture made me realize how to effectively reach students in this post-Christian culture.
Preach the gospel.
When I talk to students about the gospel and what it is, they are curious. They want to know what it is, and why I need it. I often use this quote by Tim Keller, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
The gospel isn’t about being a better version of myself, it’s about Jesus rescuing me from myself. It’s about what he has done, not what I need to do. I preach the gospel each week, and I know my own need for it. The students that I work with know that. They know that I am not a perfect person, and that is exactly why I need Jesus. Not just that they need him.
Live out what you say.
We live in a social media culture where students have amazing b/s gauges. They know when you aren’t being real. They know when you are trying to be someone you are not. Be you. Live out what God has called you to do among your students. Stop trying to be someone else.
Students who live in a post-Christian culture wants to follow someone who actually lives what they believe. This is very compelling.
Get to know student’s stories.
I was raised in a “secular” home. My family is unchurched. We went to church once in my life. Someone took the time to know my story. They took time.
Do you know the student’s stories who come through the door? I think we make a lot of different assumptions about students without knowing their story. Before you try to understand an issue that is in your youth ministry, first get to know the students in that issue.
Beware of moralism or religiosity.
I spent years of my youth ministry days with pastors who ended every sermon with, “I challenge you…”. Do you end your messages with do _________? If that is the case, you might be building a moralistic culture. You can explain to students why they should read their Bible, but don’t just command it.
We don’t need to shame our students into following Jesus. They want something to live and die for already. They aren’t looking for a new set of rules.
Youth ministries smell of moralism. We have been telling and guilting students into doing more for God. When I look at old youth ministry curriculum, I am always surprised at how often we would lean on moralistic themes.
The students I work with are questioning what is real, and why would Jesus need to die for our sins if we just wanted to atone for them on our own? This goes right back to our understanding of the gospel, and how poweful it can be for reaching student this culture.
Those are 4 helpful ways to reach students today in a post-Christian culture. We really need to engage students and families who are “unchurched”. They are open and honest about the church, and way Christians have been portrayed in the media.
There is a mission field outside of your church front door. Let’s go and get to know stories, while we live our story out.