The Parable of the Sower provides a model for approaches to challenging character of our youth:
4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” ~Luke 8:4-8 ESV
In this first approach, we encourage teens to adopt the outward symbols of faith. These might be wearing a cross around the neck or a WWJD bracelet around the wrist. The “symbols” might also be carrying their own Bible or listening to Christian music. It is a strategy common among parents and youth leaders who are trying to get a teenager to buy into Christian character, and while not wrong in itself, these outward symbols alone do not constitute true faith. Nor do they necessarily lead to the embracing of faith, as they are easily discarded or “eaten by the birds”.
This second approach tries to control the behavior of the young people. It might take two forms: positive and negative. A “negative” approach is to try to get the person to stop practicing behavior that is contrary to Christian character. This may be done by any means from gentle coercion through to outright threat. A more “positive” approach adopted by some is to urge the young person to embrace Christian behavior, which might be moral (doing the right thing), and/or spiritual, such as carrying a Bible, attending church and youth group, coming forward at a meeting, or being baptized. Neither strategy in itself is likely to achieve ultimate success, as the focus is on outward behavior and not the heart. The result is “shallow soil” and any apparent evidence of faith quickly “withers for lack of moisture.”
Another approach to lifestyle change is to try to impose parental values upon the teen. A common way we do this is by establishing certain Christian values as part of the culture of our youth ministry and expecting conformity. Generally these values are positive values such as kindness to others and respect for leadership. They may even be backed up by the majority of the youth group who adopt them and in doing so exert a positive peer pressure on the newcomer. Yet as desirable as this is, conformity to these values does not constitute conversion. A young person may exhibit adherence to these values while in the youth group, and yet once faced with conflicting circumstances and pressures may find these values easily “choked”
A more effective way to challenge culture is to focus on what is true. By giving teens accurate information they are able to receive the seed of God’s word and go on to “produce a crop one hundred times as much as had been planted.” Yet many are unable to receive this truth, blinded by the false worldview which has captivated them. If they are to be set free to embrace Christian character they must be impacted at a more profound level.