Getting Students off the Sidelines and into the Game

Brett's monthly letter for January 2014

Recently, I sat down to talk with a group of eight students from a large prominent church in Southern California. They were raised in the church. They were regulars at youth group. They claimed to be in relationship with Christ. Yet, they were dead. As I tried to engage them, most seemed unmoved and uninterested. And I was not surprised.

As I work with churches around the country, I encounter countless Christian students who are apathetic toward spiritual things. Their relationship with Christ is passionless. Talk of God is ho-hum. But why? Shouldn’t our relationship with Christ be life’s most exciting adventure? I’m not suggesting the Christian life is one, big, emotional high, but why are students more willing to plug into their iPods than their Bibles? Why are they more excited about the latest celebrity gossip than the Gospel? Why aren’t their lives filled with the drama of God’s Kingdom?

I think a big part of the problem is that Christian students rarely engage their world for the cause of Christ. Here’s what I’ve observed in my training over the years. The most exciting events I do, the events where students seem to come to life, are those where there is some component of engagement. Let me illustrate.

For almost ten years now, I’ve been taking students on mission trips to Berkeley and Utah. Each trip requires hours of training, typically in the form of classroom instruction and the reading of required books. This training is important and necessary, but it’s not what generates the most buzz among the students. Students get fired up on the trip when we give them opportunities to engage non-believers.

On these trips we invite Mormon leaders, Unitarians, gay activists, Hare Krishna priests, skeptics, and atheists to dialogue with students. We give our non-Christian guests time to share their views, followed by a time of questions from our students. It’s during Q&A when students really come to life. They ask question after question, graciously yet firmly force our skeptical guests to give a reason for their views. At the conclusion of each encounter, we thank our guests and then spend time debriefing. At this point, students are always abuzz, asking me question after question. Before I know it, an hour of discussing apologetics and theology with youth will have flown by.

In addition, we send our groups onto college campuses, like BYU or Berkeley, to conduct surveys. The surveys are designed to get our students into conversation with non-Christians students about spiritual issues. At first, students are fearful and anxious. They’re skeptical about people’s willingness to engage with them. But after an hour or two of surveys, students return and they are always pumped. During our debrief time, students can’t wait to share about their encounters. They’re filled with excitement about their conversations on campus with non-Christians.

When we create opportunities for students to engage, there is a vibrancy that infuses the events. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Our teaching should not remain in a classroom or behind the four walls of the church. If we want to train students who can defend the faith not just intelligently but passionately, we need to get them in the game. Think about any sports teams. It’s the starters who are the most passionate about the game, right? The benchwarmers, not so much. I think that’s one reason why our mission trips to Berkeley and Utah are exciting and successful. They get students in the game. They get students engaging a lost world with the truth of Jesus Christ.

In 2014, students will get a taste of being in the game as I take them to Berkeley and Utah. I’ve already maxed out the number of mission trips I’m capable of taking through July. Indeed, we’ve had to turn groups away or ask them to start scheduling for 2015. So this year, we’ll be getting students off the sidelines and igniting their fire for Christ. I can’t wait.

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Brett Kunkle



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