On youth group night, any type of student has the potential to walk through the doors – church kid, skater kid, home schooler, professing atheist, etc. Details of their “social label” can be easy to spot, but it’s not as easy to know the extent of their faith and/or lack thereof. Not many student ministries give questionnaires upon entry that will determine the spiritual regeneration of their soul through a genuine faith in Jesus (nor should they do this). Whether through a friendly invite, google search, or “my mom made me come,” now that they are there, the goal of any healthy student ministry is always for that student to know, love, and follow Christ. But how do you know if they are REALLY a Christ follower??
Duh statement: Tons of Scriptures map out salvation. Smack in the middle of the Romans Road verses, Paul says “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). A student confessing with their mouth is something easily seen and talked about but the believing in their heart isn’t something as viewable with the naked eye. The real truth is only God knows when the Holy Spirit authentically regenerates one’s soul. But there are a couple ways you can cultivate a culture within your ministry that makes it easier to see the real followers while guiding the fakes past their superficial and false view of what active, life-changing faith looks like.
Regularly communicate what salvation is – the start of discipleship
There are two types of unbelievers within student ministries around the globe: those that are cognitively against God’s calling and those who are ignorant to it.
First, any ministry that has a discipleship culture developed (i.e. salvation is step 1 in your faith, not the end game), no active avoider of truth will stay for long because there is nothing more taxing than to say “no” to God on a consistent basis.
The latter is the most heartbreaking as there may be students in your ministry that think they are Christians but actually are not. Simply put, this is the result of not knowing the true Gospel. The two most common things I hear stemming from simple misunderstandings are, “I’m a Christian because my parents are Christians,” or “I have always known God.” The false gospel of earned salvation and checklist faith are others that so many cling to rather than the freedom given in relationship with Christ.
Whatever barrier or lack of understanding is in the way for a student, a regular communication of the seriousness of sin that separates humanity from God and the simplicity of the true Gospel that Christ offers with salvation through faith is essential. Duh, you already teach the Word every week, but what I’m saying is don’t forget to clearly and adequately communicate HOW one is born again. With this, ignorance is no longer an excuse for those unbelievers in your midst. In turn, the more you talk through this, even if it feels repetitive, the more your students know how to articulate it to their friends when they ask! Leaders leading students to Christ is great and all, but students leading their friends to the Lord… THE BEST!
Ask about their story
If you talk about salvation all the time, it should be easy for you, your leaders, and even students to ask other students about their story. There can be a stigma among people that it is not acceptable to ask what feels like intrusive questions to others about their life because of a fear to cross boundaries. I would say there is a portion of conversation that is definitely earned between leaders and their students, but at the same time, a simple question of one’s background in faith isn’t intrusive in the slightest. Often, people are very open to talk about their experience in or out of the church. Probing questions can lead to rich conversation that uncover misconceptions, fears, or lies that a student believes. Some great questions can look like this:
“Did you grow up going to a church?”
“What does your family believe about God?”
“What do you think about this stuff that was being taught/said tonight at youth group?”
“What’s your story of faith? And what do you believe about Jesus?”
“Has there ever been a time that you have talked to God? What did that look like?”
Rich dialog and leading in conversation can be an artform and some are better at it than others, but there is no harm in asking! Don’t be afraid of the Holy Spirit creating opportunities and using your words to draw a student to truth! It is a great idea to have your testimony ready to share, also. A testimony isn’t the Gospel, but it is one of the best tools God has given us to get the good news to others! Have your story prepared in different lengths so you’re ready for any timeframe you may have.
Know a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20)
Last, Scripture is very clear that a healthy tree will bear good fruit. After a student is confirmed in speech to have a relationship with Christ, the process your ministry has to disciple will make it clear who is legit and who was just giving lip service. Discipleship is not about behavior modification but heart transformation. Whether small groups, topical or book Bible studies, serving opportunities, leadership development programs, etc., calling your students to hop into the “observe all that I have commanded you” part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) is nothing short of essential.
PS. Don’t be a stranger to prayer for the salvation of every student God sends under the umbrella of the ministry he lets you steward.
“If God answered affirmatively all the prayers you prayed last week, would anyone new be in the Kingdom this week?” – J.D. Greear
This post was written by Robb Hollifield. Robb serves as the senior high student pastor at Cross Creek Church in Fountain, CO. In addition to his role at Cross Creek, Robb serves weekly in a local skateboard ministry called P.R.O.C.E.S.S. in Colorado Springs.