One of the pressing questions in the Church today is how to motivate young people to want to learn what God wants them to know and to attempt to become who God wants them to be. Unfortunately, many of the methods ministries and Bible class teachers use never have worked well, but we believe they do because it seemed as if we were getting the desired results. Those results, however, came from other influences that no longer exist (or are at least rare). So how should we attempt to motivate young people?
- Help them truly understand their need for God. How did Jesus, the Apostles and early Christians reach people? By helping them understand God’s original plan, how sin interfered with that plan, how Jesus was sent to redeem the world by dying for our sins, and (as unpopular as it may be now) the reality of our own sinful nature. Guilt has become the equivalent of a curse word in most churches today, but the truth is that it is necessary to feel guilty about one’s sins in order to understand the need to repent of them and become a Christian in the first place. Young people need help developing first a sense of personal responsibility for their thoughts and actions, and then help realizing when those things are sinful. I am not advocating using guilt as a manipulative technique. Rather young people today are rarely taught about sin, Heaven, Hell, repentance or any of the principles in many of the teachings of the Apostles and other New Testament writers. They need to know the full truth. But ultimately, the overarching story of the Bible is God’s love for us and our responsive love for Him. And love is one of the strongest motivators there is in life.
- Help them find their place and purpose in the church and by extension, God’s Kingdom and the World. Young people grow up thinking they aren’t needed anywhere. They are free to do as they please and others will run the world for them. This leads to a loss of a sense of meaning, which is why the incidence of depression and suicide are so incredibly high. We need to help them discover and develop the talents God gave them to serve Him. We need to show them how to be creative and use these talents to serve God by serving the Church and by serving others and sharing their faith. We need to help them truly understand how large of a personal mission that is and how God has plans for them to do these good works to strengthen and grow the Kingdom. Without a guilt trip, they also need to understand the world is the way it is today is due in large part to generations of Christians not truly fulling their mission and purpose.
- Encourage them to develop meaningful relationships with Bible class teachers, spiritual mentors and other Christians of all ages in their congregation. Too many young people spend little meaningful time with any adults in their congregation. And too many Bible class teachers and ministry volunteers believe the time spent together in formal church settings is adequate for teaching and mentoring. The new Testament tells us the early Christians were in each other’s lives daily. Studies have shown the most effective secular teachers are those that invest extra time in mentoring, teaching and molding students. The principle carries over to Bible class teachers and others attempting to mentor young people. Strong relationships motivate young people to want to attempt to be the person their teachers and mentors are trying to help them be. Love is always a strong motivator.
- Encourage independent participation in spiritual disciplines – especially Bible study and prayer. Young people are often most motivated to do what they believe they have discovered on their own. It’s one of the reasons why so many of them are influenced by a random book, TED talk, podcast or YouTube video. If they are spending a lot of time reading the Bible, they will learn for themselves what God wants them to know. These personal ”discoveries” can be more influential than a hundred Bible class lessons. In the same manner, watching God interact with their personal prayer life is extremely convicting. Scripture memorization, reflection on scripture and even short fasts for older teens can also help motivate them to be who God wants them to be.
- Encourage their natural curiosity. Young people are naturally curious, but too many times that curiosity is stifled by adults, particularly in a church setting. There is a fear that questions will upset God or that God doesn’t have answers to them. We are also afraid questions lead to doubts and doubts are contagious. Studies have found that it is not doubts that undermine faith, but unanswered doubts. We need to discover and address the questions and doubts of young people. If we don’t, Satan will make sure they are told believable lies by the world. But there is another kind of curiosity that motivates young people. It is a curiosity about how the Bible applies to real life. It’s a curiosity about whether obeying God can truly change their lives and the world. This curiosity is encouraged with project based learning, service learning and other projects. Projects where they can use their curiosity and creativity to attempt to solve the problems they or the world face by using God’s commands and principles.
The next time you want to motivate young people, skip the prizes and candy. Use something that will truly motivate them to want to become who God wants them to be.