Disappearance of Testimonies
It’s hard to do collegiate ministry these days when the college students we’re attempting to minister with and to have never heard from anyone what it means to follow Jesus personally. Oh sure, they’ve heard tons of sermons, VBS lessons, youth devotionals, and Sunday School lessons. But the American church today is silent when it comes to personal stories of faith.
When was the last time you heard someone besides your pastor or a church leader share about the difference following Christ has meant in their personal life? Where do young adults hear the real stories of faith today in our curriculum-intensive, content-focused churches? Faith stories are infrequent, and for the most part, they are considered “special” parts of most services.
For collegians, it has a powerfully negative impact on their own faith development to never hear how others have encountered God personally. This lack of understanding what it means to have a personal, intimate relationship with God brings collegians to the university campus with a Velcro Christianity that is easily replaced.
Youth need to hear personal faith stories from each other and from adults in their churches early and often. They need to see how God works in the lives of others, and how a personal love for God is fleshed out in someone’s life. If all they observe about Christianity is a series of church services, events, and programs, they will quickly toss that aside in exchange for what will bring them more personal fulfillment. Unfortunately, there are a lot of negative options on the college campus.
It’s this disappearance of reality-show faith stories that makes it difficult for young adults to relate to most churches today. They don’t want to be a part of a crowd. They want to be involved in a movement. If those in attendance are simply logging in religious hours, college students quickly discern their lack of transparency and opt for places where they can be “real.”
Another sad tendency of many churches is to only put refined Christians on display. If we do hear from members in the pew, it always seem to be those who have had their situations tidily resolved. That’s not true to life. Most of us are aware of friends and family members engaged in intense faith struggles or other challenges. It’s precisely during the hard times that we need to hear from them how they are finding faith and Christ to be sufficient. Young adults don’t want a polished, shiny plastic faith story that would be just at home in the display window in the mall. They learn more from those in the trenches, those who are gritting it out with God. When you see a person slugging it out with Satan, defiantly proclaiming, “Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ,” – that’s the right time for a person to share their story.
Faith stories and their proclamation help growing believers see and relate earthly life with the spiritual realm. Descriptions of struggles and successes help us put feet and faces to our faith. Even in the New Testament, we see a retelling of some of the great faith stories of old in Hebrews 11. Reminding one another what God has done in each of our lives is a powerful tool for shaping and discipling college students.