- A Refuge Youth update by Ben Keller
The heroic battle cry from C.S. Lewis’s famous final installment of the Narnia series echoes my hopes both for what Refuge Youth has accomplished together thus far, and what I hope we accomplish in the years to come.
Two years ago, my heart was aching for the youth – not just Refuge young people, but Christian young people everywhere – seeing a cultural landscape, and a future, that was bleak. Theologian Owen Strachan summarizes eloquently both the problem and the prescription:
“Many young men and women do suffer real loss or at least weakening of their faith when they venture beyond home and church. Many struggle to respond to skeptics, defend the truthfulness of the Bible, and answer objections about sexual “intolerance”…There is a real issue in the modern evangelical movement with training our youth. The issue is namely this: we don’t train our youth. In my view, we send our children out as lambs to the intellectual slaughter by not treating them as if they can understand, appreciate, or even love sound doctrine. Though our kids take classes in chemistry and precalculus, though they learn football plays and master emerging social-media technologies within hours, we evangelicals commonly treat them as if their greatest need is entertainment. In truth, our youth are no different—please read me without any uncertainty here, no different—than any other person. They desperately need Christ, his gospel, and the whole mind-blowing counsel of God. They do not need watered-down material; they need to be challenged to know and love the Lord…Young people are being picked off by skeptics and secularists today. It is true that this constitutes a crisis. But here is the solution to this crisis: to double down on our biblical teaching. We need to love our youth, yes, and to have fun with them, but primarily prepare them for the wilds of an unbelieving world by taking them deep in the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. We need to point them to strong and sound teaching from faithful theologians and pastors of the Christian tradition. We need to preach not a pocket-sized Jesus who saves you and then disappears, but Christ the lion and the lamb, the one who roars over his creation and came to it to ransom a people for himself by dying in their place as an act of war against the devil. We need to help our youth see that the God of the old covenant is an impossibly gracious God who foreshadows his global gospel by gathering in Gentiles even in ancient times.
Strachan’s words constitute a stirring call to arms. And while the maelstrom of challenges surrounding our kids is as daunting as ever, in the past two years since the Fall of 2016, Refuge Youth has been able to cover a lot of ground, winning – I hope and pray – some small battles in the war for hearts and minds.
Secondary study materials that we’ve made it all the way through together include the following: Bible Study: A Student’s Guide by Jon Nielson; Rebels Rescued: A Student’s Guide to Reformed Theology by Brian Cosby; Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach To Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung; Church History 101: The Highlights of Twenty Centuries by Sinclair Ferguson; and Luther and the Reformation by R.C. Sproul
We’ve also covered a lot of other material, such as teaching videos from such respected minds as R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and James White. And thus far in 2018 we’ve watched 17 Bible book summary videos from the creative folks at The Bible Project. As I write this, we’re marching through God In Our Midst by Daniel Hyde – a study of the purpose and meaning of the Tabernacle as set down in the second half of the book of Exodus. We’re also reviewing other ancillary materials discussing such diverse topics as the Origin of Scripture, Mormonism, and even Islam (a few Sundays ago the kids were taught by our very own missionary to the Muslim community – James Rayment!).
We have fun too! I ask the kids to pay attention and think and learn. And they are respectful and listen to instruction. But the rambunctiousness of youth warrants proper outlets, so we also take time to let our proverbial hair down. We’ve enjoyed summer retreats to Astoria/Long Beach (2017) and Camp Casey (2018). Nerf wars. More nerf wars. Christmas parties. And here’s the first and second installment of what we hope becomes a tradition: making a fun end-of-school-year short film together. As well, on 10/26 and 12/15 of this year, we’ll be taking part in joint youth-group activities with kids from Faith Community Church in Edmonds and Shoreline Christian Reformed Church.
And lest I forget, the last 2 years has seen over 60 wonderful dinners provided by Refuge parents and volunteers, helping us get our Sunday nights off to a healthy and invigorating start!
Is any of it making a difference?
Nathan Geddis – who has grown from student, to church member, to future helper in teaching the youth – shares the following: “My biggest area of growth over the past few years has been in living my faith throughout the week. I used to live like a Christian on Sundays and Wednesdays most weeks and the rest of the time I followed my selfish desires. This youth group taught me more about prayer, about biblical doctrine, and practical ways to live as a Christian every day of the week. This has helped me to gain a deeper relationship with God and to regularly pray to him, not just when I need something. It has also helped me to grow not only in my knowledge of scripture, but how to study scripture and to learn from the word of God in a deeper and more meaningful way. Overall this youth group has help to solidify and deepen my faith in Jesus Christ.”
And Zech Latimer, who attends church with his family in Mill Creek, but has been a part of our youth group with his brother, Josh, adds his two cents: “When I heard the term ‘youth group,’ I would think of a social clique of ‘cool kids.’ I never thought there was a real spiritual reason to go, and I didn’t seem to fit in. But coming to Refuge Youth has changed my experience with youth group. The social environment is easy-going and the teachings are very focused on the rich meaning found in the Bible. Ben puts a lot of work into keeping everyone engaged, and I learn a lot every time I come.”
I ended my blog in the summer of 2016 with a charge to the parents and members of Refuge. It’s still true today and so I leave it with you again:
Parents and guardians, please note: this time [Sunday nights, 6:45p-8:45p] will not, indeed cannot, be a substitute for godly child-rearing. The church is not properly understood as a surrogate for the infusion of Christian teaching and practice in your homes. What we can assure you of, however, is that this will be a time with our young people when their ears will be listening, their minds will be receptive, and their Bibles will be open. As your leaders, we desire to inculcate a culture of expectation, responsibility, consistency, and accountability in our youth. We believe kids want to be engaged and will rise to the occasion when presented with a worthy challenge, especially when they see adults lead by example. Not every young person is a natural study pro, or bookworm, or theology acolyte. But every young person has a desire to meet expectations of them, and, in my experience, they will quickly construct a scaffolding of mutual care and accountability when they are “in the trenches” together.
I plan to teach with a view toward the fact that these young men and women will, in a few short years, be the standard bearers of the faith for their own families. It is my deep desire to birth and nurture in them tools for (1) expanding their prayer life, (2) deepening their theological anchors, and (3) placing their lives on a firm foundation in submission to the Word of God through careful reading and study.
Refuge Church: pray for every child and young adult who darkens our doors. Pray for the faithfulness of their parents and guardians. Pray for true repentance and regeneration among the people of Refuge, regardless of age. As your leaders, we do not want a sanctuary filled with “country club” Christians, who have bought into the lie of salvation by “being good”; we want people who know their state as sinners and have trusted Christ to be their righteous advocate before God the Father. Pray for all the teachers and leaders in our church. We all need the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of our savior Jesus Christ to model holiness, wisdom and godliness to the next generation.
Young and old, may we hear the counsel of Solomon:
Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life. (Proverbs 4:13)
And take to heart the wisdom of Paul to young Timothy:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity”…So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (1 Timothy 2:16-19,22)