This week, I’ve been writing about a strategy designed to stop the departure of young Christians who leave the Church during their college years. As always, I’ve argued we should stop teaching and start training. 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). Today I want to talk about how we can train effectively and deploy our students to the battlefield of ideas.
Police officers deploy into the field every day. Unlike other emergency service personnel (who stay in their respective stations until called into service), police officers are required to patrol during every shift, proactively deploying into their respective cities. That’s why we train so consistently and so passionately. If we could handle every call from the safety of our station, there would be no need to train at all. It’s a simple reality: There’s no point in training if you never intend on deploying. Perhaps this is why our youth groups seldom train students. If we never intend on leaving the safety of our churches or youth rooms, there’s no need to train.
But if you want your students to grasp what you’re teaching in a powerful and transformative way, you’re going to have to recognize the difference between classroom teaching and practical application. When officers gather to train in defensive tactics, we spend the first part of the session on the chalkboard, diagramming and illustrating the maneuvers and tactics critical to our survival. But at some point during the session, we’re going to get down on the mat with guys who really know how to wrestle. In this hand’s-on portion of the training, we’re going to find out who’s been paying attention and who hasn’t. Because we all know we’re eventually going to have to wrestle, we take the chalkboard sessions seriously. In a similar way, we’ve got to get our students out of the classroom and out on the mat.
When leaders and pastors ask me how they can change the nature of their churches and youth groups, I tell them it all comes down to their calendar. If you want to train more effectively, your calendar is more important than your study notes. You can change your youth ministry overnight by simply calendaring the hand’s-on events designed to turn teaching into training. That’s why I continue to participate in Utah and Berkeley Missions Trips. Every year as a youth pastor, I partnered with Brett Kunkle and calendared a week in Utah (typically in early summer) and a week in Berkeley (usually in the winter). These two trips required students to step onto the battlefield of ideas as they dialogued with Mormons in the streets of Salt Lake city (and on the campus of BYU), and with atheists in the Bay Area (and on the campus of UC Berkeley). These are daunting and challenging trips requiring much from the students who participate. We train for 6-8 weeks prior to leaving and spend a busy week examining theological, philosophical and evidential arguments opposing Christianity. Students come back to our lodging each night eager to study and often frustrated by their own limitations. Along the way we engage further dialogue with the best local Mormon believers or atheists willing to join us each night. Our debrief sessions are engaging and informative.
These trips are difficult, taxing, labor intensive and exhausting. But they are necessary. These battlefields bring the educational experience to life. Without these opportunities, our teaching efforts seem unimportant and irrelevant. But these planned battlefields turn teaching into training.
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.