After a 3-day Rooted Ministry conference in Dallas, I’ve been reading back through my notes and seriously want to share it all. Honestly, it probably will trickle out into this space. Two of the key note speakers this week were Scott Sauls and Jen Wilkin so if you are familiar with their teaching/writing you know why it was so good! Plus, workshops were led by Walt Mueller (founder & president of Center for Parent/Youth Understanding), pastors, practitioners and licensed counselors, like Sharon Hersh (author of 8 books on addiction, parenting, etc), all of whom specialize in the realm of teens. I learned so much from one workshop (my friend Alice’s) on Teen Stress and Anxiety I even typed up my notes in an email to someone.
To back up a bit, Rooted is a ministry seeking to transform the way youth ministry is done through educating, equipping and encouraging youth leaders across denominational lines with grace-driven and cross-centered content. I got acquainted with Rooted a couple years ago after my publisher suggested I reach out to Rooted founder Cameron Cole to endorse my first book. I did, and he did.
Since that time I have been a contributor to the Rooted blog and have traveled to multiple cities for Rooted related speaking events, including this recent conference. And now for the next three years I will be serving on the Rooted Steering Committee.
So why am I so passionate about Rooted?
Statistics tell us approximately 70% of kids who grow up in the church will leave the church upon college and adulthood. Did you get that? Sadly, this number is not inflated! I’ve written about that in the past here.
The reason for this stark reality stems from a lack of gospel teaching to our students. Instead of discipling them in how to read their Bibles as the one story about Jesus so they see his goodness and grace to them in light of their badness, we spoon feed them feel good nuggets, morality and law. We focus more on entertainment, fun and games then the hard truths of Scriptures and the inner working of their hearts. And along the way we lead them to believe Christianity is based on their good behavior not his. All reasons why I wrote Get Your Story Straight.
Instead we need to help teens see their need of a Savior, which includes seeing the depth of their sin. Sin is not just outer behavior, but the inner desires of our heart, the selfish motivations, the idolatry and misplaced identity. When we don’t go there we falsely assume we are pretty good and don’t see our deep need of rescue and redemption.
Therefore it is said, our view of God rises or falls proportionally to our view of sin. If we aren’t that bad, what Jesus did for us living the perfect life and dying on the cross isn’t that great. But to the extent we know our sinfulness, the greater our love for him will be.
To see how this plays out with youth ministry, imagine you have a student who grew up in the church and was primarily taught what to do (have a quiet time, go to church, be nice) and what not to do (don’t drink, have sex, look at pornography). The student followed the “laws” and everyone considered him a “good” Christian. Or, maybe the student didn’t obey, but hid his sin so everyone around thought he was a “good” Christian.
What happens when he goes off to college and messes up?
He is likely shocked by his sin and filled with shame. Phrases like, “How could you do that?” flood his mind as he beats himself up. Yet at the same time he secretly found the sinful behavior to be fun. He still resolves to do better or try harder next time, but he struggles to follow through. Each time he fails to live up to what he should do the more shame is heaped upon him. Eventually, like the friends who are freely enjoying not having to hide their sin anymore, the shame sends him running from the church. “How could God love someone like me?” is all he’s left with.
But now consider the the student rooted in the gospel of Christ. This student knows in her sin she can go boldly to the throne of grace. She’s been growing in this truth for years because she’s been taught to trace her behaviors down to the root to discern her heart. Therfore, she isn’t shocked by her sin and she knows but by grace our human default is sin. There is nothing within her that is worthy, but it is Jesus’ worth and work for her that makes her right. This student is able to live transparently and freely admit her sin without fear of condemnation because she knows He is strong where she is weak. And while she continues to be grieved by her sin, she knows she is always met by God’s unending accepatance and love. She longs to obey, not out of duty, but out of worship and praise. And she knows she needs to constantly hear the gospel preached (at church and being in the word) to reorient her mind back to the truth the selfie world she lives in seeks to distort.
Do you see the difference?
It makes sense to me why kids abandon the church. But it doesn’t have to be this way. What these kids are leaving is not true Christianity. But they don’t “get” that because the gospel has been so diluted or misconstrued.
Let’s teach our kids the gospel of who Jesus is for us, because it is the power to salvation. It is freedom from sin and shame. And we didn’t even talk about how only the true gospel speaks to suffering and serves as the only hope in this broken world.
I love what Rooted Ministry is doing because in helping youth leaders and parents of teens raise up teenagers who know and rest in Christ alone, these students, their future marriages, families, relationships and the church at large will be transformed. To God be the glory! Let’s steep our students in the Word about Christ. Let’s flip the statistics, as we at Rooted like to say!