"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Five Core Principles Core Principle #4: Penetrating the Student Culture

Teaching Kids to Defend Their Faith

Steve Miller

"Chad" (he chose to remain anonymous) is a 15-year-old evangelist. Not the kind of evangelist that preaches at revivals, but the kind that continually makes his unchurched, spiritually clueless friends consider Christianity as a viable option. He?s especially good at reaching the Punk/Hard Core crowd (here designated "freaks"). Most Sundays several of these guys and girls from his web of friendships are attending the youth group. Many more go with him to Christian metal core concerts.

How is he able to turn people from hating both Christianity and Christians to coming to church and worshiping God? How does he approach defending his faith before a group of people who not only need to understand that Christianity is true, but to first need to discover that their preconceived ideas of Christianity are false? To find the answers, I both talked to him extensively and observed him in action. Here are some hints from a successful teen evangelist that youth pastors could pass on to their students:

  • Try to find something in their arguments that you agree with. If a schoolmate starts foaming at the mouth about how he can?t stand all these Christian hypocrites and those lousy Churches that condemn people, I may respond, "I know exactly what you mean! It really ticks me off when Christians do stuff like that. Sometimes Christians look down on me because I wear weird clothes and?" So we rave together a little while until the guy thinks, "Hey, this guy thinks a lot like I do. But he?s a Christian, right?" This disarms him by helping him realize that not all Christians are like the stereotypical ones he has in his mind.
  • Don?t look down on them. Some Christians stereotype all counter-cultural freaks/alternatives as rebellious drug addicts and drop-outs. That?s not been my experience. Sure, some are into drugs, but is that worse in God?s eyes than some preps who are filled with pride and exclude those who can?t afford Ambercrombie and Fitch? The "freaks" I know are some of the most accepting people I?ve seen. Some are committed Christians. Some are brilliant academically. If you want to reach unchurched people, you can?t put them into boxes. When they sense that you?re looking down on them they don?t want anything you?re selling. And by the way, I?m not a missionary who dresses like "freaks" to reach "freaks." I fit in better with the "freaks" than the preps. I am a "freak."
  • Listen. Some Christians think that when they hear someone either cutting down Christianity or spouting spiritual nonsense, they have the responsibility to rise to the occasion by setting the people straight. It?s as if the gospel is somehow in jeopardy and needs to be defended. The result? The poor Pagan receives a barrage of haughty counter-arguments by Christians that only serve to reinforce to him that Christianity isn?t for him. What went wrong? Although the truth was presented, it wasn?t presented in love. Rather than thinking primarily of how I can set this person straight, I concentrate on listening. I may ask questions about his experiences and/or religious beliefs that help me find out why he doesn?t like Christianity. I?ll say, "heck, tell me about what you believe and if you can prove my religion wrong, I really want to know." But usually his unbelief has nothing to do with his unanswered questions. So I listen some more.
  • Don?t get defensive. Some of my non-Christian friends complain that whenever they present their opinions to Christians, the Christians get all defensive and think they have to destroy all their arguments. It?s a major turn-off to them. After listening to someone criticize Christianity, rather than present my case, I simply told him I was glad that we shared an interest in discussing spiritual things. He responded, "I can?t believe that you didn?t put me down like all the other Christians."
  • Remember that our ultimate goal is not to win an argument. Most of my lost friends aren?t avoiding church because of some rational argument. Actually, either television their music or personal experience convinced them that Christians are jerks and air heads who exist to look down on people who don?t believe like they do. So my ultimate goal is to confuse them with kindness. That makes them positively curious about my faith and the Christian meetings I attend. At school, I invite people who are considered "freaks" or nerds or the wrong color or whatever to eat lunch at our table. When you do nice stuff like that, some of their arguments all of the sudden don?t seem so important to them.
  • Don?t think you have to solve all the problems in one conversation. It?s unrealistic to think that if you can answer all his objections in one conversation that he will fall on his knees and cry out, "Now I believe! I repent and give my life to Jesus as Lord!" It took Thomas three years with Jesus before he said, "My Lord and my God!" My goal is that by the end of a first conversation he?ll be thinking, "He?s a nice guy that seems to like hanging out with me. Maybe all Christians aren?t jerks after all. I?d like to talk to him again."
  • Take them to Christian events that appeal to their group. I love my church youth group. But whenever my friends from the "freak" culture visit, they can?t see past the almost exclusively jock/prep crowd. The freaks assume that this is the same group that cuts them down at school. Sure, that?s judgmental on the part of the freaks, but remember, they?re not Christians yet. I?ve found that it?s better to take them to local Christian concerts that play Hard Core, Emo and Punk styles. They feel at home with the alternative crowd and the music, respect the band members that share from their hearts, and often want to talk to me about spiritual things on the way to the Waffle House (local hangout) afterwards. I take friends to church after they come to know God and grow a little.
  • Know your stuff on the big issues. Dad tells me that years ago students debated the resurrection of Jesus and stuff like that. But today those big questions will probably come later for a lost person. The initial roadblocks are questions like, "Why are Christians so judgmental?" "If God loves me, why does my family suck?" "If I were to become a Christian, would I have to give up hard core music and dress like Preps?" "Are all churches boring?" Although they may not ask these specific questions, these may be the very ones that blind them to Jesus. By taking them to Christian concerts like "Living Sacrifice" and "Zao," I forever answer the question, "Can Christians Rock?" My musical preference is generally harder than theirs, which blows their minds and frees them from the legalistic ideas they have of Christianity. You may disagree with me on how I respond to these issues, but you?ve got to come up with some response. These questions are big.
  • Don?t be afraid to say "I don?t know." Some Christian students, when confronted with a question they can?t answer, just talk louder. My non-Christian friends hate that. I?ve learned to say, "That?s a good point. I?ve never really thought of that before. I?ll have to think about that one before we talk again." It?s called honesty. But it also makes it easier for him to say at some point, "You?ve got a good point there Chad."
  • Know your stuff. When I don?t know the answer to something, I either think it through, go to a wiser Christian for input or read up on it. I?ve read the little book by Josh McDowell called More Than a Carpenter. Although it gave me a good foundation, you need to keep going deeper.

"Chad" lives in metro Atlanta, loves going to metal core Christian concerts, studying the Bible, going on mission trips and hanging out with friends at the Waffle House.

Author

Author Steve Miller leads Global Youth Ministry in association with Reach Out Youth Solutions, providing resources such as lesson plans and illustrations and articles for youth workers at www.reach-out.org . Check out the series entitled "Making a Mark That's Hard to Erase" if you want to train and motivate your students in evangelism skills. It's in the Legacy Lessons section.

Permissions

Used by permission, Group Magazine, Copyright 2000, Group Publishing, Inc., Box 481, Loveland, CO 80539. Check out Group's Web site at www.grouppublishing.com .

Recommended Resources

For an in-depth look at ministry to fringe kids, pick up one or both of Scott Larson's books published by Group - At Risk: Bringing Hope to Hurting Teenagers and Risk in Our Midst: Empowering Teenagers to Love the Unlovable. Scott directs Straight Ahead Ministries and is a widely respected expert on reaching at-risk kids. To order, call Group at 1-800-447-1070 or go to their online bookstore at www.grouppublishing.com .

Our own Barry St. Clair has written a great work book called Taking Your Campus for Christ, available to purchase online through "Our Resources." Students can either use it for self-study or be taken through it as a group.