I’ve been writing this month about my experiences at Summit Worldview Academy and the nature of student training. There are a number of similar worldview programs around the country (including the Impact 360 Institute), and I’m always impressed to see how many students are interested in this kind of intensive preparation. To be sure, there are always some students at these conferences who are present because their parents demanded their attendance, but these young people are always in the vast minority. Most students come (and put themselves through the rigorous material) because they heard about it through a friend who highly recommended the experience. And while there are some fun opportunities to hike, relax and play games along the way, these activities (commonly associated with youth group retreats) are typically few and far between at worldview camps. Students are here to roll up their sleeves and get to work. They’re far more interested in learning than lounging. Youth pastors can glean something from worldview academies.
I have to confess: When I was a new youth pastor, I was more likely to provide my students with pizza than preparation. I thought the only way to attract students in the first place was to satisfy their desire for entertainment and social interaction. I simply tried to wedge in the important stuff (theological and apologetics training, Spiritual formation and Biblical literacy) along the way. It took me a year or so to find a better approach. I eventually realized my students would willingly delay their desire for fun if I could effectively show them their need for truth. I began to take them to places where their worldview was tested and I did my best to demonstrate their deficiencies. As a result, the Utah and Berkeley trips became a regular offering of my ministry. It wasn’t long before my students were ready to do whatever it took to better defend themselves. They were more than willing to delay their desire for what they used to think of as fun to achieve a greater goal. Along the way, they discovered how satisfying it is to learn the truth, articulate it effectively, and engage the world.
It turns out that students are willing to raise the bar and do much more than we expect of them in most youth groups across the country. If you’re a youth pastor or are serving in a youth ministry, think about what your students are typically willing to do in order to succeed on their club sports team or to prepare for their next academic AP test. Our students are already working hard to prepare themselves in some area of their young lives; why aren’t we willing to ask them to prepare this rigorously as Christians? It’s time to show students why it’s so important to equip themselves as Christian ambassadors. It’s time to stop teaching and start training.
Many of the students I spoke with at Summit told me they originally heard about the academy from a friend who was transformed by the experience. Some were attending the training for the second time. These Summit veterans said their second interaction with the material was even more helpful than the first. They admitted they were originally overwhelmed by everything they heard in the first year of training and many wanted to come back to better absorb the information. As a result, they spent two summers engaging difficult but important issues. Interestingly, some of these two year veterans were in that minority of students who were originally required to attend by their parents. While a few young people may arrive here reluctantly, none seem to leave here willingly. It’s amazing how God uses the truth to transform the lives of students, and how willing these students are to delay traditional forms of recreation to become good Christian Case Makers. Let’s learn something from worldview academies and turn every youth group into a Christian worldview training opportunity.
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, and Forensic Faith.