As football season is under way, favorite team gear has made its way back out to the front of the closet and life schedules are arranged around when certain games are playing. I grew up in Nebraska…you can’t live there without being a Husker fan. Really. The grocery store is absolutely empty when the game is on. Families and friends are gathered to watch the game – great food on the table, cheering in unison from the living room, face tattoos, full body red – it’s intense. Even better is getting tickets to the game, sitting in the stadium amongst the Sea of Red – roaring cheers, crazy loyalty, and sheer love for their team. Husker fans are for real! I’m willing to say it’s a lifestyle, not just a season. I was a kid during the Coach Osborne days and I remember feeling like we almost knew him personally. (Little bit weird!) Now I live in the world of Vikings vs. Packers. Little less intense than Husker fans, but people get into it!
We know how to do the “fan” thing! The thing is, I can be the craziest Husker fan there is, wearing body paint and all…even cheering my heart out from the 50 yard line. But I’m still not playing the game.
Are we creating fans of Jesus – or followers of Jesus?
Fans love their team. They wear the clothes, watch games without fail, know the plays, and know how to cheer loudest of all.
I have students who really love Jesus. They show up to everything our youth group puts on, they know how to act and what to say, they sing the songs, they might even have some Jesus gear.
Are they following Jesus, or are they just really great fans of Jesus?
Jesus made a pretty wide distinction in the gospels between the guys who knew all the rules and the guys who gave up their lives to learn how to do the things Jesus did. I fear there are things we have been building our youth ministries around that are helping to create really fantastic fans of Jesus, but are failing to create followers of Jesus who are equipped to live like Him in their world.
I also fear that youth pastors have quite possibly enabled students to need them, rather than need Jesus. I wonder if we have created a model where we continue to “feed” students and provide meals for them, rather than teach them to fish. Out of compassion we pray, we counsel, we teach them the Bible, and they continue to come to us for more. If we want to do something about that nasty statistic of our church-going kids walking away from God once they hit college, we better figure out how to get out of the way and teach them to excavate for God’s presence on their own, teach them to dig in the Word of God on their own, teach them to lead friends to Christ on their own; we need to teach them to play the game, not come to our game to watch, sing, and cheer! It’s time we created a culture in our youth ministries where we become more like the locker room. We gather the team, discuss the plays, and then send them out into their lives to play the game!
As a pioneering apostle type, I tend to have an aversion to all things that smell religious and love coming up with innovative ways to transform those things into something that will actually set students up for a vibrant life with God. One of those things we are transforming in our ministry is Confirmation. Confirmation is intended to be a rite of passage for young people to declare they have committed their life to Jesus and want to spend the rest of their lives learning how to walk that out. In essence, they take the responsibility for their faith on as their own. But for decades it has seemed that Confirmation has become a religious hoop to jump through for students to make their parents and grandparents happy.
As much as we have tried to make Confirmation a powerful and life-giving thing for students over the years, I have continued to notice a disconnect. My students would regularly encounter God on retreats in crazy powerful ways. It was in moments like those that they would rededicate their life to him and make plans to live differently when they returned home. It’s almost like those were their “confirmation” moments. Now especially as students are learning to live missionally, it seems they “confirm” their faith every day they dawn the doors of their public school. Confirmation almost happened way before the formal ceremony and therefore felt pointless to our students.
So this year, we are tweaking this rite of passage. Rather than simply a confirmation of their covenant relationship with God, we’re going to be COMMISSIONING them as missionaries, confirming their kingdom responsibility as well! We’ll include training on being an “everyday missionary”, naming people of peace in their lives, and accountability to what God is asking them to do about that. Confirmation Sunday will be on our church’s “missions Sunday” (an already established monthly rhythm in our congregation). Our Confirmation students will be celebrated as that month’s missionaries, telling stories of how they are bringing the power and presence of God to their schools, and the congregation will commission them by sending them back out into their lives.
Confirmation has traditionally made better fans of Jesus. Following Jesus means more than knowing all the stuff. Following Jesus means playing the game.
This is only one example! What are you doing in your youth ministry to create followers of Jesus?