I visited a United Methodist Church this last weekend and witnessed about 50 teenagers celebrating their confirmation. In order for them to reach this moment (most were between 12 and 14 years of age) they had to memorize scripture, learn and understand church doctrine and were informed of the seriousness of their decision.
During the service, the Pastor read Joshua 24, the covenant between the Israelites and God is renewed at Shecham. Notice the dialogue between Joshua and the people. Like Jesus asking Peter three times if he was serious about loving Him, Joshua asks the people three times if they are serious about following God and three times they reply that they are.
Why three times? Aside from the significance of the number found throughout scripture, I think Jesus and Joshua were trying to get across the message that following God/Jesus is a very serious commitment. You need to be either all in or all out. “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” are the words Jesus used to describe the requirements of being one of his followers. The choice to follow Jesus will have consequences both amazing and amazingly difficult.
We live in a culture where there is no such thing as consequences, at least not bad ones anyway. Teens are told they can have sex, do drugs and all sorts ‘fun’ things without any consequences. Couple this with the teenage brain that says ‘nothing bad could happen to me’ and you’ve got teenagers who see very little need in committing themselves to anything but….themselves.
Instead of selling Jesus to teenagers like the latest phone, our churches need to be reminding them of the cost because it goes completely against everything else they are being told. We need to be the ones expecting more from them than cool. We need to let them know that they can be world changers for the kingdom of God. We need to remind them that although the cost is high and it goes completely against everything else the world is teaching them, it’s worth it.
What if more churches took the approach that I saw in that United Methodist Church? An approach that involves dedication to learning the scriptures and an understanding that following Christ has consequences? No, it doesn’t guarantee any student will make good moral choices but at least they’ll have a moral compass to reference.
Although teaching doctrine and having youth memorize scripture initially sounds like a way to get them to leave the church (and some will) those who are serious about their faith are looking for a faith worth dying for. Instead of offering teenagers a place to play games, eat pizza and being thankful if they just show up at all, we need to be cultivating fully-committed disciples who have weighed out the cost and yet are still attracted to Jesus