Have you ever struggled to communicate the truth of Christianity to your teen (or pre-teen) children? You’re not alone. Even those of us who feel properly equipped to understand what Christianity teaches, sometimes struggle to transfer our knowledge and passion for Christianity to our kids. My coauthor, Sean McDowell, and I have talked to a lot of parents in our roles as Christian educators, youth pastors, speakers and Christian apologists. We’re parents as well, and we understand the challenge of teaching and training young Christians, especially “Gen Z” students in their teenage years. Whenever we’re asked to provide some insight in this area, we offer the following tips to help you communicate Christian truth to the young people in your life:
Don’t be afraid to revisit classic Biblical issues, topics and questions repeatedly, especially if you’re a youth pastor or Christian educator. As a police officer and detective, I spent nearly 25 years training. Very little of this effort involved anything new. Instead, it involved scenarios and skill sets that I’d been employing for my entire career and had practiced repeatedly until my responses were simply a matter of “muscle memory.” In a similar way, we can’t assume that one spiritual discussion, lecture or sermon will be enough to engrain truth into the minds of our young people. Revisit theological, apologetic and behavioral topics repeatedly.
It’s commonly observed that people who begin to explore and master the evidence for Christianity or God’s existence sometimes struggle with humility. As Christian apologists, Sean and I have wrestled with this and consciously strive to remember that being knowledgeable about a topic does not make us superior. In fact, there will always be someone who knows more about a topic than we do. Be sure to express appropriate humility to the young people you are training. They will likely identify this humility as a sign of transparency, an attribute Gen Zers admire.
One important expression of our humility involves the way we make the case for what we believe. If there’s one thing I have learned in my experiences in criminal trials, it’s the danger of overstating the case to a jury. Every case has strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with the young people you train. Don’t overstate the case for Christianity or God’s existence, and don’t understate the opposition’s case either. If you do, you’ll only set your students up for even greater challenges when they discover the true extent of the evidence.
Because of how deep-seated secularism is in our culture, students often do not make natural connections from their beliefs to their behavior. That’s why it’s important to regularly help them see how theology shapes our practice. As a youth pastor, I would occasionally role-play (or ask students to role-play) as someone who is tempting others toward inappropriate, un-Christian behavior. What should we do when tempted? What should we say? How should we respond if we fall into such behavior? Role-playing helps young people prepare for temptations before they occur. In addition, whenever we teach a theological topic to students, we always ask, “Why does this truth matter? How does it relate to our lives? In other words, so what?” Ask this question, and help students draw practical conclusions for their daily lives from theological truths.
Be Personal and Contextual
If you’ve been teaching or training young people for any amount of time, you may be asking yourself, “Is there some form of existing curriculum that can help me accomplish this task?” The answer is “yes,” and… “no.” As teachers and youth pastors, we’ve scoured the internet (and the marketplace) looking for curriculum ideas to help us train young people. We’ve even created curriculum (see the appendix in our book, So the Next Generation Will Know). But these kinds of courses are designed to be used in brief, controlled settings that probably look a lot different than your specific situation. For that reason, we suggest you look for available curriculum, online syllabuses, and internet resources as a starting point. Use this material to form and supplement your own material. Become a dedicated student, and the take the time to modify existing plans and curriculum to meet your specific needs.
Gen Zers are incredibly visual, just like their older millennial counterparts. That’s why we started communicating in a new language many years ago. I call this language, “Visualish.” Rather than composing a message on paper and then trying to find images to support my words, I try to think visually from the very start. What word picture or visual sequence would help me explain this concept? What visual metaphor has the power to speak a thousand words on this issue? What object lesson can I use to make the case? Start speaking “Visualish,’ as you use images, props and video to communicate your message.
This brief list of suggestions to help you communicate the truth of Christianity to a the next generation has been excerpted from our new book, So the Next Generation Will Know. We wrote this book to teach parents, youth pastors and Christian educators the practical, accessible strategies and principles that make a real difference in teaching the youngest Christians the truth of Christianity. The book is accompanied by an eight-session So the Next Generation Will Know DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide).
J. Warner Wallaceis a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academyfor kids.