If you are a regular listener to Wallace’s podcast, as I am, you’ll have heard him talk about his experience as a youth pastor before. But if not, give this article a read.
My first year as a youth pastor was a challenging year of self-evaluation. When I was initially offered the job, I wasn’t sure I could lead or teach high-schoolers; I’d been working with younger students and my own children were not yet teenagers. But I was ambitious and eager, so I accepted the position. I spent several months trying to decide what the teaching focus should be for my group. I surveyed some of the key seniors who had been in the ministry to see what they thought. We ended up doing a series on James and Ecclesiastes, and most of my energy that first year was expended on designing the Sunday service. I was concerned about “relevance” and spent a lot of time trying to understand how to communicate to this age group. I thought experience was as important as content. Actually, I thought experience was more important than content. My students got their money’s worth every Sunday. It was a musical, visual smorgasbord of video, images, interactive eclecticism and burning candles. It was ridiculous.
At the end of the first school year I could tell something was amiss. Most of my key seniors seemed disconnected and disinterested. I got through that first summer and the first semester of the next school year, striving continually to capture the imagination and attention of my student congregation. At Christmas break that year I had an epiphany. One of my key seniors from the prior year returned from Sonoma State where she had been attending her first year as a College freshman and announced to her parents that she was no longer a Christian. I got the call from her mother. I met with this student and she told me about her new life as an atheist. While I was frustrated and didn’t seem to be able to persuade her otherwise, I also wondered if she was the exception or the rule. I did some research on my other graduating seniors from the prior year. All but one had left Christianity, and they were only in their first semester as freshmen!
Don’t worry – the post has a happy ending. I wish more Christian leaders would allow themselves to accept that what they are doing now – avoiding apologetics because it is “divisive” and “prideful” – would learn from J. Warner Wallace. We need this. It works. What we are doing with young people now is not working.