At family devotion, my 13-year-old son quipped: “The good should go to heaven and the bad, hell.” “Son, who are ‘the good’? Who decides who is good? What is the yardstick for goodness so I know for sure that I am good?” I replied. So continued our discussion which pointed to Jesus as “the way, the truth and the life”. His younger sister protested, “It’s not fair. What about those who’ve never heard about Jesus? They’ll go to hell?” Later, my hubby exclaimed: “Wow! I’m glad we had that conversation.”
Recently, I addressed young Christian working adults at their retreat. They shared how their church peers had left the faith or church, leaving only a handful behind. We worked through some key doctrines like salvation, the kingdom of God and the biblical worldview. They saw their place within the Bible’s overarching story and began to get excited about living missionally at work and at home. It was a ‘light-bulb moment’.
A recent report (The Straits Times, 21 March 2016) showed that young Singaporeans were shunning religion. Some reasons suggested were an increasingly educated populace, greater critical thinking, exposure to a wider range of ideologies, and religions being slow in helping the young connect their faith with their lives. My conversations with young people corroborated the report’s findings.
There are fault lines in the way we disciple our young people. This is our most urgent task: Growing our young people in the faith and Christ-likeness so that they become messengers of the Gospel and makers of disciples. From a Kingdom perspective, our young people are a potent labour force for the harvest. But they won’t do it if they don’t “get it”. And they won’t get it if we, as adults, won’t disciple them effectively.
First, who is to disciple? The responsibility for discipling our children rests chiefly with parents — in a family setting (Deut. 11:19). It was the Jewish way. The security and stability within family environments is most conducive for teaching and modelling faith.
My children attend Christian schools and church. While playful and prankish, they are otherwise well-behaved. We were lulled into complacency. We discipled our children incidentally, but not intentionally. As a result, their faith lacked depth and would be unable to withstand the blasts of society’s ideologies and narratives.
Discipling our young must be parent-driven, not pastor-driven. The church supports through engaging and equipping parents, and raising adult mentors for those whose biological parents are absent or unable to disciple.
Second, what do we use to disciple? Out of expedience, we often use devotionals and teach minor biblical narratives to our children – not incorrect, but inadequate. The biblical metanarrative (or “big story”) is the only story that explains the way things were (Creation), the way things are (Fall), the way things could be (Redemption) and the way things will be (Consummation). It is within the framework of this “big story” that the young can connect the dots between their story and God’s story.
Explication can be dry, but the Word moves from weary to “wow” when it comes alive through the Spirit working powerfully in miracles, signs and wonders. “Apart from Scripture, experience is the strongest proof of Christianity” (John Wesley). It is the happy marriage of explication and experience that helps biblical reality become a young person’s reality.
Third, how to disciple? People disciple people – programmes don’t. The Apostle Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. He was transformed and, like a mother or a father, began caring, loving, sharing his life, encouraging and urging others to live lives worthy of God (1 Thess. 2:7-12). Transformed, fruit-bearing lives – not programmes – produce transformed, fruit-bearing disciples.
Parents, our children need us to get serious about God in our homes. Adults, our young people need mentors committed to walking with them in their faith journey. My hubby and I are on a three-year Bible discovery from Genesis to Revelation with our children, using an excellent age-appropriate programme. It cannot be “business as usual”.
See also: Sep 2016 P15 article on “Stories, rituals and relationships: building the next generation”
Picture by HalfPoint/Bigstock.com
Lorinne Kon –
worships at Paya Lebar Methodist Church with her husband, Siow Aik, and three school-going children. She is active in prison-related ministries, including Prison Fellowship Singapore and 70×7, and is passionate about advocating for and integrating the marginalised back into society.