It’s hard for me to teach youth about Jesus. Since I’ve been a youth minister for around 15 years, you may be surprised by this, but it’s true. I want to explain why that is, but first here’s a question: What is it about people that makes other people listen to what they say? There are some people that are able to attract a lot of followers, to get them to pay attention to what they say, what is it about them that makes that happen?
Acts 8 describes two very different people who were able to attract a lot of followers who paid attention to what they said. Acts 8:6 talks about Phillip, who was one of the followers of Jesus, and says, “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said.”
Acts 8:11 talks about a man named Simon (not Simon Peter) who also had a group of followers. It says, “They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery.”
There’s a direct connection between what people do and how much people pay attention to what they say. The story says people paid attention to what Phillip said after the saw the signs he performed. The same thing with Simon: it says they followed him because he had amazed them with his sorcery.
In the same way, people don’t pay attention to us because of the words we say, they pay attention to our words if they see us live them out. For instance, if I want people to learn about Jesus, it’s not going to happen primarily because I talk about Jesus (or wear a cross, or have a bumper sticker, or wear a t-shirt), it’s going to happen because I live out his teachings in a way that makes other people see a difference in my life.
Now back to my original statement, about how hard it is for me to teach youth about Jesus. Most youth in my church aren’t going to learn about following Jesus from me because I have very limited interaction with them, just a few hours per week at best. The people who have the best shot of learning about following Jesus from me are the people I’m around most often. My family will learn about the importance (or unimportance) of following Jesus from me by watching how important (or unimportant) it is for me to follow Jesus at home. The people I work with will learn about the importance (or unimportance) of following Jesus from watching how important (or unimportant) it is for me to follow Jesus at work. Like it or not, I am constantly teaching my kids and my co-workers and my friends what I really think about Jesus through my actions, not my words.
As for what I’m teaching youth in my church, I can do my very best to supplement what youth are learning in other places by teaching them what I think it means to follow Jesus when we’re around each other, but I can’t possibly teach them everything there is to learn in my few hours per week with them. If we want youth to learn about Jesus, it will take a collaborative effort of parents, teachers, pastors, youth ministers, small group leaders, friends, mentors, and coaches working together to teach them. If we want youth to learn about Jesus, everyone in the community must work together.
The same can be said for people in general. Christians teach people about Jesus every minute of every day. Every word we speak, decision we make, action we take, we are teaching people about the importance (or unimportance) of Jesus in our lives. We could speak all the right words, but if our lives don’t give evidence to our words, people will tune us out once we start talking.
What are you teaching the people around you about the importance (or unimportance) of following Jesus? Your family? Your classmates or co-workers? What do they learn from what you do so that they’re more likely to listen to what you say?