Just like a lot of other small churches this time of year, my church is in the middle of its annual stewardship campaign. How does that sound to many of our young people? “How much money are you gonna give the church this year so we can keep the ministries (and our jobs) going for another year?” It feels like a lot of tips, tricks, and convincing on why tithing is important.
Recently, I was preparing to preach the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16) as an avenue of “convincing” our congregation to give. But this time, I saw something new at the end of the parable. Abraham is telling the tormented rich man that sending Lazarus back from the dead would no more convince people of anything than the Law of Moses and the prophets should be able. I realized that maybe being “convinced” wasn’t the point. Perhaps, Jesus was reminding his listeners that “conviction” was a better guide to following him.
That final verse made me think about my youth ministry.
I was struck by how often I try to “convince” young people to follow Jesus, to make good choices, and to attend every youth event possible. Sometimes my best efforts to lead young people into the way of Jesus boils down to ploys and schemes of “convincing” them to do as I say. At my worst, I’ve used peer pressure and gentle guilt-ridden statements like, “We sure did miss you this week at church/Sunday school/youth group.” Although my desires were pure, I started feeling guilty for the way my tactics could be perceived.
I want the desire to follow Jesus and living an honoring life to be a sustainable process that doesn’t involve my guilt “convincing.”
Although the original Greek uses the same word for convincing and conviction, our modern English translators have differentiated between the two- to be convinced typically requires external stimuli which can change our minds. Being convicted is often the result of a deep held belief which originates in our hearts.
So now I’m rethinking my methods of “encouraging attendance” with our young people. I’m beginning to wonder if creating space to hear from them about how God is moving in their hearts, how they want to engage Jesus, and their deep Christian convictions, might better guide our group in faithfully following Jesus.
It’s got to be better than a guilt trip… for all of us.
-Guest Blogger, Brent Parker - Texas youth pastor and team member of Small Church Ministry Architects.