Are We Getting Through to Our Youth?

A Problem

Did you ever talk to some one and feel inside that what you tried to convey did not affect him in any way? Perhaps you could tell by the stare in his eyes that what you were saying did not register. Public speakers have experienced the same thing. At the close of an address a speaker may have the feeling that his message did not take hold. Oh, yes, the audience seemed to listen. What the speaker said was not without meaning to them, and even brought some response of apparent satisfaction. Yet the speaker has the feeling that somehow what he had to say did not reach his audience. In the face of such a situation one feels so helpless.

The clinical psychologist and the psychotherapist have a good term for this common phenomenon. They speak of “getting through” to a person. “You did not reach your subject,” they might say, “Because you did not get through,” Through what? Through all the barriers one can throw up to avoid the necessity of making a decision. In the case of an audience, it might be carefully wrought defenses that are used to shield the person from attack upon his feeling of equilibrium or complacency.

A competent leader of youth remarked to me some time ago, when we were speaking of teen-age problems, “I fear we are not getting through to our young people. They hear what we say, but somehow our message fails to register. In general they conform, but they are not stirred by personal conviction.” Amidst all his work with young people, this youth leader feels that our work with youth is not reaching the inner person where decisions are made. He has the feeling that what appear to be decisions in many cases are only defensive tactics that postpone or push off the need for decision. To conform and to be accepted accomplish what is expected. So why make decisions?


Sheltered Youth

That this phenomenon poses a real problem is voiced by many today in various ways. Our children are born and reared in Christian homes where commitment to Christian ideals and attitudes are not questioned. Practice does not always square with these standards, but such is considered a deviation and is not approved. In their early years our children are brought to church, and they are indoctrinated in catechism classes. Again, Christian ideals and practices are primary and deviations are judged. Confession of faith is the normal thing. Not to “join church” at middle adolescence calls for some courage, for it means to be different.

We have with considerable success been able to build a wall of defense around our youth within which they have attained a personal security which is difficult to match in our current society. And that this sheltering: of youth has made for a great measure of stability in our homes, churches, and communities, who can doubt. We thank God for our Christian homes, Christian schools , and Christian churches, both for ourselves as adults and for our youth. We do not want it otherwise. A child in Christ (and we hope and pray that God is working the work of grace in the hearts of our children )—a child in Christ needs the nurture of Christian instruction and Christian discipline. This is the mandate to parents according to the Scripture.

Penetration – Decision

But the wall of defense built around our youth is being penetrated increasingly. How could it be otherwise in a culture which is largely dominated by secularism, a culture in which God at best is nominally recognized, but in which his Word is of little or no account? In our homes we profess Christ to be “the head of this house,” the guest at every meal, and the silent listener to every conversation.” But what happens? Is the Christ-like life the dominating motive in our home life or has the worldly standard of life made commanding inroads?

Some one has stated our problem aptly when he said that our Christian world and life view is not far from being a worldly life view in practice. A radio pastor, at the conclusion of a pre-Christmas message, prayed imploringly that the Lord might deliver us from our commercialized Christmas. But such prayer is mockery before God when we continue with our current practices. When will we begin to deliver ourselves by God’s grace? It has been said recently that our great mistake in the church is that we demand of non-Christians that they behave like Christians. Will am established traditions bolster our crumbling defenses?

And the instruction in Christian schools? Is it aimed at a youth’s coming to grips with truth in such a way that personal decisions become imperative? A mastery of facts and formulas calls for no decisions. Drills on information and skills, though very necessary as a part of the learning process, do not educate. One comes to grips with truth in meaningful situations that involve one as he faces issues and problems. Is Christian instruction largely a parroting of cliches, or repeating or saying after adults certain commonly accepted doctrines and practices, the need for which youth has never really felt? There is an advantage in attending a school not specifically Christian in theory and practice. A youth is confronted with a challenge. He is pressed for a decision in a live situation. If he is a Christian, he feels the urge to witness, as many Christian young people do in non-Christian schools. But, of course, this challenge is more than counterbalanced by constant threats to a youth’s convictions. Nor does his Christian commitment have adequate opportunity for a positive, constructive development. But Christian instruction which gets little beyond parroting the adult ideas of a Christian community does not “get through” to youth.

Some seek the distinctiveness of Christian education in the logical structure of formal subject matter. Grammar, history, arithmetic, geography, etc., ‘organized as bodies of knowledge, have structures which embody revelation, it is said. As the thought-process of learners takes over those structures, they, the learners, are structurated to pattern their personalities accordingly. There is no denying this, and there is no adequate instruction without it. But one may put on the form of godliness thereby, and deny the power of it. And who will deny that we have much of form, but we seem to lack power? This seems to be the consensus. We need a revival! The dynamic comes from a committed life. This involves decisions. And decisions are made when a learner lives history, mathematics, German, etc. Living history is not accomplished by repeating facts and formulas. A structure is in itself lifeless and accomplishes no changes in one’s way of life. A vitalized experience, on the other hand, gives dynamic to structure.

And our community life? How we try to shelter our young people by living in “respectable” communities. And again, this has merit. But are we “getting through” to them with the call for community witness and community responsibility? Verbalizing our duty—this we do plenty. But how about proViding youth the vitalized experience of witness? We put them in youth organizations only to shelter them some more, and thereby often encourage a ‘“holier-than-thou’” attitude. How much do they see in our actions of community witness and community responsibility?

A Way In Can we “get through”? Do we “get through”? To be sure, God can and does. He is able to do it, being almighty God, and willing also, being a faithful Father. God works through us in spite of our feeble efforts. These things we know from his Word. But we should avail ourselves of better insight into the problems we face. This is our duty. This is our stewardship.

To “get through” we must begin with ourselves as adults. We are to be examples of a personalized faith and a vital testimony. This is more than passing on the traditions of the elders, good as they may be. It is an impelling urge for service born of loyalty to the living Christ. In our instructional program we should aim at vitalized experience of truth disclosed in God’s Word and in the body of human culture. And in our community life we are to take an active part as Christians to bring the full gospel to every area of life.

Our youth is not convinced that we mean business with our witness. They get the impression that we are concerned with conserving what we have more than with a penetrating witness. We do not “get through” with words merely. They, with us, must experience the living reality of the Christ in us.