why sound doctrine matters in student ministry
What do your students actually believe about God? Jesus? The Bible? Themselves?
Imagine if you were able to get the teenagers at your church to honestly answer those questions. If they told you what they really thought, rather than what they think you want them to believe, what kinds of answers do you think you’d get?
As a former student pastor and now an editor of student ministry curriculum, I think I have a tendency to assume my students understand the essentials of the faith. I think this way because I work really hard, and I am sure you do too, to teach students good theology and to encourage them to study the Bible. Truthfully, however, I don’t think I adequately grapple with the reality in which students live today. There are more distractions at their fingertips and more forces competing for their attention than ever before. I don’t think we can assume our students know the essentials of our faith because I don’t think we should ever assume they are paying good attention. And furthermore, when students feel free to say what they actually believe, a recent study has shown that it often doesn’t coincide with the clear teaching of Scripture.
Discipling Teens in a Post-Truth Culture
More than half of teens (52%) believe all religions teach equally valid truths and more shockingly, the percentage is not any less when looking at teens who profess to be Christians. Additionally, 31% of Christian teens disagree that forgiveness of sins is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ. These statistics, from One Hope’s study on Global Youth Culture, tell a story: teens today live in a post-truth culture. Most teens don’t talk about what they believe, in part, because they live in a culture that doesn’t value truth.
When we read stats like this, we are tempted to think, “Okay, sure, that might be true of most students, but not the ones at my church!” Culture, however, is like oxygen—it is all around us and we are constantly breathing it in, but we rarely acknowledge it. So whether they realize it or not, our students’ views of the world, themselves, and God are being influenced by their interactions on social media, their interactions with their peers, and their time at school. This isn’t to say that we should be afraid of any of these things, but rather to say that we have our work cut out for us when it comes to teaching and instilling the essentials of our faith to teenagers.
Challenging Post-Truth with True-Truth
This is why 99 Essential Doctrines were developed for The Gospel Project—we believe theology matters. We live in a culture where key Christian beliefs are not only contradicted but where truth itself is devalued. So we’re digging in our heels to say what we and our students believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, and themselves matters greatly. Jesus, after all, is the way, the truth, the life, and the only way to God (John 14:6). There is only one gospel (Gal. 1:8).
I think the problem many student leaders run into when it comes to teaching doctrine is that it can sound like a really dry or academic undertaking. We are convinced, however, that well-taught theology is beautiful, compelling, and engaging. We believe this so firmly that we have created videos that teach the Essential Doctrines in a concise and compelling manner that speaks the language of students. Each unit of The Gospel Project for Students now has one Essential Doctrine session in which we dive into a crucial belief of our faith and unpack why it matters to teenagers today. These sessions are accompanied by optional videos in which student ministry practitioners explain each Essential Doctrine in an engaging and student-friendly manner.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming your students know the important truths of the Christian faith. Teach them, guide them, and talk to them.
This post was written by Drew Dixon, publishing team leader for Lifeway Students.