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Don’t expect young people to adapt to culture of elders

HONG KONG (SE): In reflecting on the worrying number of young people in China that become Christian during their university days, but drift away from the Church scene shortly after graduation, one pastor says that he believes that there is a radical need for a rethink in how the Church does youth ministry.

While he says that the easiest and perhaps most likely response from Church authorities is to blame the young people themselves, the pastor believes that the actual situation is far more complex.

He points out in an article first published in the Gospel Times that often young people simply do not cope with the changed atmosphere around them when they begin work and also find that their Christian faith does not support them in dealing with the new pressures they are experiencing in their lives.

But rather than pointing fingers, he says that it is really a call to examine pastoral strategy.

He says that it must be remembered that Christian education should be needs-based and its goal is to support people in responding to external challenges and change.

“Teaching is meaningful when the content is relevant to the students’ needs and goals,” he says, adding that an examination of the pastoral strategy of many Churches shows that there is more worry about whether they know the doctrine than there is about how to connect their lives with that doctrine.

“Youth are different from other groups,” he says. “What they need is not extra weight of belief to deal with the pressures on them, as if faith cannot solve the problems in their world, inevitably they will pull away from the Church.”

In trying to figure out where to start, the pastor asks people to look back on their experience of parenting and what was regarded as most important, suggesting that it was probably communication.

“You love your child, are concerned about their situation, earnestly instructing and watching the child sitting quietly in front of you. But do you know whether they take in your teaching?” he asks.

He then adds that he sees the clash of the love for freedom of the modern generation with the seeming restrictions imposed by tradition, so it is tempting for them to question tradition, especially when they cannot see anything worthwhile in it.

He then points out that this is a cause for the whole community to examine and reflect on the atmosphere they are creating in the Church, as he has found that young people are hesitant to express their true thoughts and feelings, as the atmosphere demands absolute acceptance and obedience.

“So even though they are present there is a high wall built around their hearts,” the pastor says, adding that just because they came to the church regularly and went through instruction courses, it does not mean that the faith has taken root in their hearts.

But the pastor believes that basically youth ministry is cross-cultural and there should be no expectation that young people simply adapt to the culture of their elders, as this is suicidal.

“The Church should give young people enough space to create a culture that is suitable for them. We should build the Church into the family where they feel safe and independent and trusted. When young people open their hearts, you can understand their needs and shepherd them appropriately,” the pastor claims.
He adds that because ultimately the Church is based on relationship, it is the relationship among different generations that needs to be fostered, as while the pulpit is a weak educator, relationship is a strong one.

“The relationship between the young person and the believers is what determines the quality of shepherding,” he says.
He then challenged the custom in many Churches of classroom-style lecturing, as it can even become a barrier to those of a new era in working to depth their faith.

“A model that young people can appreciate more readily is one of developing faith on real life experiences through observation and reflection in line with their particular personality,” the pastor says.

In saying that this is not a new style of teaching, but a well tested and accepted one, he points out, “We need to help them to be sensitive to real problems in different situations and to explore the meaning and impact of faith on life,” he continues.
But the most important thing he says to remember is that successful ministry crosses interpersonal barriers in order to build new relationships with people.

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