Have you ever put a puzzle together but couldn't find one piece? There's nothing more frustrating because, after all that work, the job cannot be finished. The same is true with the worthy effort of keeping our teenagers from abandoning their Christian faith after (or maybe even before) they graduate from high school.
The majority of puzzle pieces I hear and read about are "more parental involvement", "more worldview training", "more socratic-style theology teaching" and "more church-wide integration of teenagers."
And, yes, these puzzle pieces are absolutely necessary if we are serious about helping teenagers embrace the faith as their own.
Parents need to be at the center of the spiritual development and discipleship of their own teenagers. We need to help teens understand the Christian worldview enough to compare and contrast it to other prevailing worldviews. We should teach theology in a way that asks questions and unpacks what teenagers really believe down deep inside first. Then we should teach the truth of God's Word in a humble, interactive and listening way.
And, of course, the entire church needs to embrace the discipleship of the next generation. We need Titus 2 type older men and women who pour into teenagers and model a life worth living.
All of these puzzle pieces are needed to help teenagers own and keep the Christian faith long-term. But, in most of the conversations I've had with both trench-level youth leaders and Phd-level experts, evangelism is not a major part of the faith-retaining equation.
I'm convinced that we must equip teenagers to share the gospel with their peers if we truly expect their faith to be their own over the long haul. There's something about evangelism that forces a teenager to go beyond head knowledge of the faith to heart ownership of it. Why? Because risk is involved in faith sharing!
When teenagers share the gospel with their peers they're opening themselves up to mockery, scorn and potentially being ostracized from their social circles. But it is this exact possibility that can harden the cement of their faith into concrete Christian convictions.
Maybe that's why we don't see many former Mormon missionaries abandoning their faith. After dealing with two years of slammed doors and argumentative evangelicals the average young Mormon has complete ownership of the tenants of Mormonism. You'd need a tire iron and the full power of the Holy Spirit to pry it from their white-knuckled fingers. Their faith has been steeled and sealed on our doorsteps. They've processed through their faith by articulating and defending it again and again and again. And the verbal persecution they receive just drives it deeper into their souls and psyches.
Think about it, the central call of discipleship is a call to die. In Matthew 10:38,39 Jesus told his young disciples, "Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it."
What's interesting is that Jesus gave this challenge to his disciples in the context of sending them out on an evangelistic mission. He was calling them to die a social death by sending them to preach "The kingdom of God is near."
The same thing happens when our teenagers share their faith. They pick up their crosses, die to themselves socially by sharing the Gospel publicly.
The act of evangelism drives their faith deeper into their souls, not only because of the risk they are taking, but because of the faith they are building. The fear associated with relational evangelism among peers cannot help but make a teenager pray for strength and boldness. And it is only through this full reliance and connection to the Vine (aka "Jesus") that they can produce lasting fruit (John 15:1-8.)
In our efforts to help our teenagers' faith thrive long-term let's keep relational evangelism (teens reaching their peers with the good news) central to the conversation. And, by the way, Dare 2 Share can help you do just that. We have a free app, training conferences, curriculum, and a next-level Summer program for youth leaders and teenagers called Lead THE Cause. Get to know us and let us equip you with the training and resources you need to give your teenagers a lasting faith, specifically when it comes to faith sharing.
If together we can pop this final puzzle piece into place we'll have the complete picture of a generation passionate about Jesus for the rest of their lives. And that is what we are all praying and pushing for!