by Ida M. Smith
I chatted with the hairdresser about dogs, kids, church, and her baptism. She mentioned that her boyfriend, who had just moved in with her, didn’t understand her car window decal that read, “Jesus is Lord.”
Words failed me. I sensed a disconnect between what she seemed to believe and the life she lived. Doesn’t she know God considers premarital sex a sin? I thought. Sadly, many who claim Christ live in ignorance of or in rebellion against God’s Word, misunderstanding grace and casting a poor reflection on the Christian life.
Biblical Counsel Put to the Test
When I talk to believers who appear to reject biblical authority, I am reminded of Israel’s sad history and how obedience to God’s Word would have spared them much pain. In Deuteronomy 27 and 28 Moses described in detail the blessings the Israelites would experience if they obeyed the Lord and the curses they would suffer for disobedience. The two chapters provide a foundation for Israel’s history as it is recorded in the Old Testament. The ancient Israelites experimented with disobedience to God’s Word and experienced the forewarned suffering.
Despite the technological changes from ancient civilization to our present time, the human condition has not changed. The Ten Commandments, introduced more than 3,000 years ago, continue to address some of the greatest problems of society. As God continues to carry out his plans, promises, and punishments, the Bible remains the best instruction manual for life.
In addition, the Bible has repeatedly been proven accurate in archeology, science, and history. The accuracy, dependability, and benefits of its teaching are even accepted by many non-Christians. So why do some Christians continue to ignore Scripture’s teaching when it comes to the way they live their lives?
Casualties of a Cultural Revolution
We live in a secular, postmodern, post-Christian culture. Our society is inundated with ideology that points to human ingenuity, science, and other avenues for answers rather than God. At the same time, society elevates personal experience and public opinion over logic and reason.
In their book Frequently Avoided Questions (Baker Publishing, 2005), authors Chuck Smith Jr. and Matt Whitlock note that many believers are “comfortable with chaos and a worldview that does not need to be logically ordered.” They value sacred texts, but don’t understand why one would have higher value than the others.
Young and new believers have grown up with these cultural teachings and many have unwittingly merged them with their Christian faith. In addition, many believers really don’t know who God is and that he is great, powerful, and worthy of worship. In an attempt to make God personal the American church has made God small.
As we have focused on his ability to identify with us, people’s view of God has diminished. If God’s thoughts are not higher than ours, as Isaiah 55:8, 9 claims, then they hold no supremacy over other teachings and philosophies and are not worthy of our study and application.
Reaching a Searching Generation
Young believers of all ages are seeking answers to their questions about relationships, childrearing, finances, and meaning in life. According to Library and Book Trade Almanac 2010 an estimated 1,387 self-help books were published in 2009. In addition, the Internet and magazines are teeming with articles on these subjects. People e-mail, text, Facebook, and talk about these issues—but generally from a flawed, secular point of view.
Sadly, these believers have been deceived by everyone from advertisers to parents, resulting in eroded trust. With so much information at their fingertips and a self-protective distrust, it’s no wonder young and new believers are confused about how to find correct and workable answers to their problems.
Smith and Whitlock note that “within popular culture, people are realizing that life change is the result of relational, communal, and spiritual encounters.” We who are older in the faith need to step out of our comfort zones and develop loving, honest relationships with younger believers, giving them opportunities to formulate their own faith through discussion rather than simply by listening to the preacher’s sermons.
The greatness of God and the relevance of his Word are revealed in the quality of our lives and relationships. Our lives are often someone’s introduction to the Bible. If people can’t see that our lives are better because of our relationship with God and our obedience to his Word, they may see no compelling reason to know and obey him. Paul encouraged Titus to “promote the kind of living that reflects right teaching” so older believers could teach younger believers how to live (Titus 2:2, New Living Translation).
Changing Our Approach
If we are to pass on the biblical torch, we need to change the way we think, minister, and communicate. The traditional Sunday school class or Bible study is no longer effective in many congregations. Young believers want close relationships with God and other Christians, and many do not find what they seek in traditional class settings. We need to follow Christ’s example. Jesus spent time loving others, meeting their needs, and developing relationships by asking questions, engaging in dialogue, and listening.
Small groups that offer loving relationships with give-and-take dialogue about struggles, failures, and successes will reach younger believers where a dogmatic lecture environment won’t. Many in this generation have spent nearly 20 years in the classroom. At the same time, many come from broken homes. They are hungry for relationships. In addition, many lack and are seeking practical living skills.
By asking questions we can better understand these believers, their past, their thinking processes, and needs. With understanding comes the compassion and authenticity needed to communicate God’s Word. People were attracted to Christ because they knew he cared. Similarly, when we care, people’s hearts are softened and they become more open to the relevance of his Word.
We can create relationships through non-threatening activities like cooking, car repair, home improvement, or finances. Whether through a small group or an individual mentoring relationship, mutual interests can offer opportunities for openness and freedom to approach difficult issues. When we admit our own failures and struggles, our vulnerability helps lead to a receptiveness to God’s Word.
Igniting a Passion for God’s Word
As the mother of an 18-year-old and a four-year-old, I associate with two generations of parents who look at life differently. For the past year-and-a-half I’ve attended a young moms’ group. We joke, share our struggles, cry, discuss, debate life issues, and consider ways to apply God’s Word. I’m learning how this generation thinks as I talk about how God’s Word guides my life. I’ve also watched our minister’s wife, a woman with grown children, befriend and love these young moms. She never condemns but rather communicates what worked and didn’t work for her. She gently shares Bible verses to help these moms succeed. It is exciting to watch these women apply God’s Word to their lives through this informal and personal interaction.
Through loving relationships and godly lives we model the relevance of God’s Word to the world, igniting a passion for the Bible in others’ hearts.
Ida M. Smith is a freelance writer in Lewiston, Idaho.
The author suggests, “The traditional Sunday school class or Bible study is no longer effective in many congregations. Young believers want close relationships with God and other Christians, and many do not find what they seek in traditional class settings.”
• What do you think about this statement? Does your congregation promote relationship-based classes and studies?
• Is there a way to infuse a traditional class or Bible study with the type of relational interactions the author advocates? How can you take your traditional class or Bible study to a deeper level?
• How can you share Christ with a person from a different generation?