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Youth have big questions needing answers, prof says

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Reaching youth for Christ should be about helping them struggle with the hard questions of faith and not about playing a religious stock market where the primary end is bigger numbers, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor said.
“Are we willing to look at our evangelism approach as a hard sell based on the Christian Dow Jones averages’ of the numbers game?” asked Philip Briggs, distinguished professor of youth education and church recreation, in chapel April 15 at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary.
The emphasis on numbers is taking the focus off what the church should be doing to help youth — discipling them and helping them to integrate into church life, Briggs said.
“We’re called to make disciples, not babies,” he said.
Briggs quoted a prayer that summed up the emphasis on numbers: “Lord, deliver us from doing better that which we should not do at all.”
Reading from Acts 12, Briggs relayed the story of a young girl he called “Rhoda.” After Peter had been delivered from prison and had come to the house of John Mark’s mother, Rhoda answered his knock at the door.
In her excitement, she forgot to let Peter in and went to tell the other church members there he had been released. But no one believed her and she was eventually pushed out of the way as other members answered the door.
Churches today are ignoring youth just as Rhoda was ignored, said Briggs, even though youth want something to believe in and to give their lives to.
“We need to recognize that youth desire something that answers their big questions,” he said.
Only authentic faith, not consumerism or a feel-good religion, can provide the answers, Briggs emphasized.
In seeking answers, youth need adults who will walk with them, not come at them with an authoritarian attitude or bore them with long-winded sermons, he added.
“To be eternal, we don’t have to be everlasting,” he said.
Teenagers also don’t want or need to be entertained by youth ministry, Briggs said.
“It encourages passivity, makes spectators out of our people and our youth, and it becomes another consumer item,” he said.
Seeking high-profile high school leaders who can influence others no longer works either, Briggs said, because schools today have too much diversity and no one group has an influence over all the rest.
Instead, he suggested that churches focus more on finding ways of integrating teenagers into the established church, become more family friendly and look for ways in which young people and adults can share leadership.

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  • Cory J. Hailey