If we hope to reverse the trend of Christian students leaving the Church during their college years, we’ll need to stop teaching and start training. I’ve proposed a way to do just that, and this week we’ve been examining a simple model (using T.R.A.I.N. as an acronym) to help describe the difference between training and teaching. Teaching is about imparting knowledge; training is about preparing for battle. If we want to adequately prepare students for the challenges they will face in their university years, we need to test them to expose their weaknesses, require more from them than we think they can handle, arm them with the truth (and teach them how to articulate it), involve them in the battlefield of ideas, and nurture their wounds (as we model the nature of Jesus). This final important step of nurturing is critical if we hope to successfully and effectively train our students to overcome the challenges they’ll face in college.
In order for students to understand the nature of the upcoming challenge, I’ve been working with Brett Kunkle to deploy Christian youth groups to the battlefield of ideas on a regular basis. When students get the opportunity to engage non-Christians in a university setting, they begin to appreciate what’s waiting for them. In our trips to Berkeley and Utah, we often encounter smart, informed non-believers who challenge the ideas and beliefs of our Christian students. Sometimes these challenges are aggressive (and even hostile). When that happens, the leaders in our group need to understand their role as nurturers and modelers.
If you’ve ever watched a prize fight, you know how important trainers and cutmen are in each fighter’s corner. Jacob “Stitch” Duran is a cutman who has worked in the corner of many famous boxers and Ultimate Fighters. His job is simple. When a fighter returns to the corner at the end of a round bleeding from an injury suffered in the past three minutes, it’s Duran’s job to stop the bleeding and get the fighter back in the fight. There are times when youth leaders (and parents) must act like cutmen for students who have been injured in the battlefield of ideas. Duran is effective because he knows how to quickly address the critical issues and return the fighter to the ring. As leaders and parents, we also need to be able to address the critical issues so we can overcome the “injuries” suffered by our students as they engage an ever more hostile culture.
If you’re a youth leader or parent, you’ve got an important responsibility. Like Duran, you have to be ready before the battle, so you can be helpful during the battle. Duran comes to the fight prepared for the worst. He knows he can’t “ramp up” and learn how to treat the injury once the fight has started; he needs to be ready beforehand. Are you ready? When your student or child comes to you with his or her first doubt, unanswered challenge or skeptical question, are you prepared with an answer (1 Peter 3:15-16)? All too often, parents and youth leaders are unable to answer critical challenges or nurture ideological injuries. As a youth pastor, I learned to be well prepared, in advance, so I could equip and nurture my own students. It’s time for all of us to train ourselves so we can help our students. In the end, parents have the final responsibility here, but youth leaders can certainly play a pivotal role. As a dad, I would do anything for my kids. I bet you feel the same way about your children. Join me, as we prepare ourselves to become better Christian Case Makers so we can nurture our students as they engage the battlefield of ideas.
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.