I wrote earlier this week about my time in Indiana with pastor Don Helton from the Grove Youth Ministry of College Park Church. As we sat and talked in between presentations to his students, we shared our passion and our strategy for equipping young people to respond to the challenge they will ultimately face in the university setting. Don shared an approach that he and pastor Joe Wittmer take with their ministry to high school students. While they are committed to line-by-line expository teaching through the major books of the Bible, they supplement this teaching with something they call CH.A.T. Over the course of the year, Don and Joe take the time to teach their students about Church History, Apologetics and Theology. Their intentional approach to teaching these three important topics to young people struck me as unusual in our current youth ministry culture. Stop and think about it for minute; do you think your church is intentional in its approach with young people in these areas? I think we can take a lesson as a culture here and start to CH.A.T. with students on a regular basis:
Don and Joe are teaching within a Reformed Tradition, so Church History from their perspective often focuses on the teaching of the Reformers. It’s critically important that our young people come to appreciate the rich and robust intellectual capacity of those who have preceded us. In an age of Internet immediacy, it’s easy for young people to get caught up in the now, and forget that many wise thinkers have already struggled with some of the issues they might see as unique to their own situation. Most of our young people are completely ignorant of our vital Christian family history. We wouldn’t want our kids to be ignorant of the history of their biological grandparents, why would we allow them to be ignorant of their theological grandparents?
As a Christian Case Maker, I was happy to hear that Don and Joe valued the role of apologetics in their paradigm. We also talked about how the role of Church History (particularly concerning the ancient Church) can assist us in making a case for the early dating, accuracy and reliability of the gospels. I’ve written a lot about this in my book and used the history of Ignatius, Polycarp and Clement to help us make a case for gospel reliability. When I was a youth pastor, my annual trip to Berkeley provided me with the opportunity to train my students in apologetics for months prior to the mission. Christian Case Making became a vital part of their DNA as high school students, and it equipped them to handle the challenge of the University setting.
Only half of the attack on Christianity is coming from outside the Church. Sometimes the more formidable challenges are coming from within the Christian community: from pastors and teachers who are twisting God’s Word or simply failing to uphold the orthodox beliefs of Christianity. Young people who are not trained to consider and process theological claims are likely to fall for the latest teaching that comes down the road. Every youth pastorate should include an intentional effort to teach students theology. When I was a youth pastor, my annual trip to Utah required me to train my students in areas of Christian orthodoxy because we were about to witness to Mormons who embraced significant heresies related to the nature of Jesus, God, Heaven and Salvation. You can’t see heresy coming unless you first understand what is true about orthodoxy.
When Don first told me about their intentional approach to “CH.A.T.ting” with their young people, I was encouraged and impressed. It’s a simple template that is time tested and effective, but it is challenging. Committing to this approach is going to require us, as youth pastors and speakers who are focused on young people, to find a way to contextualize our teaching so it engages the students we want to reach. Perhaps even more difficult, this approach will require us to raise the bar on our own knowledge and expertise. But the increased effort on our part will produce fruit in the lives of our students. It’s time for all of us to have a little CH.A.T. with our young people.