All they do is come

By Duffy Robbins

Jon is one of those kids who never shows up for prayer breakfast or Sunday school, and always seems to have unavoidable conflicts that prevent his helping out with fund raisers and work projects. Spiritually, he ranks somewhere between “plant life” and “lower primate.”

The picture isn’t completely negative, though. There are two areas for which Jon has shown tremendous enthusiasm: one is food, and the other is girls. Whenever a youth group activity allows for a large gathering of either, you can count on Jon to be there! Jon doesn’t make any pretense about it. He doesn’t have any real commitment to Christ, but he does have a strong commitment to having a good time. In short, Jon is a fairly average teenage guy.

There are students like Jon in the orbit of virtually every youth ministry I’ve ever known. I call them “Come Level” students.

In the last issue of Good News we talked about the notion of targeted programming: We need to work very hard to meet kids where they are – wherever they are – in the odyssey of faith. This means thinking about where our students might be in their various faith journeys, and then developing and targeting programs that meet them in that place. If your youth group is typical, you probably have kids all over the spiritual map!

The first Level of Commitment is the Pool of Humanity, namely the teenage population within your geographical sphere of influence.

Jon is in the second Level of Commitment. These are students in your Pool of Humanity who have some contact with your ministry, but if, and only if, you have something they like on a given occasion. And frankly, sometimes students like Jon discourage us. After all, we’re called to build disciples, and it’s frustrating to invest time and effort on kids who don’t seem willing to get serious about their walk with Christ.

But let’s be honest: first of all, most teenagers on the outside of our ministries aren’t somehow mysteriously born with a felt need for good doctrinal teaching; and secondly, a majority of the students on the inside of our groups aren’t either. If we only target our programming for the spiritual heavyweights, we’re going to touch the lives of very few kids. In fact, what Paul seems to strongly suggest in Romans 1 is that we are – all of us – natural-born experts at avoiding, denying, and counterfeiting any knowledge of God.

At least these kids come. Most of the teenage population never even comes. Let’s be grateful for the opportunity. You can’t embrace someone you can’t touch. When we find ourselves frustrated and discouraged, let’s remember that every one of us reading these words was at one time very likely one of these “Come Level” kids.

“The ways by which the Holy Spirit leads men and women to Christ are wonderful and mysterious,” wrote Anglican Bishop J. C. Ryle (1816-1900). “He is often beginning in a heart a work that shall stand for eternity, when an onlooker observes nothing remarkable. In every work there must be a beginning, and in spiritual work that beginning is often very small.”

Ryle wants us to remember a biblical example: “Do we see a careless brother coming to church and listening to the gospel after a long indifference? When we see such things, let us remember Zacchaeus. Let us not look coldly on such a person because his motives are at present very poor and questionable. It is far better to hear the gospel out of curiosity than not to hear it at all.

“Our brother is with Zacchaeus in the tree! Who can tell but that one day he may receive Christ just as joyfully? …It may be difficult to see how salvation can result from a man climbing a tree. That’s because you see a man in a tree, but God sees a man lost and searching.”