Treat Them Like Adults

About a week ago, Sean Chandler wrote about a thought-provoking experience he had a at a meeting for youth pastors.

He wrote, “All we did was discuss the question, ‘How do you mobilize and equip students to go share the gospel?’ The only answer which came to mind initially was, ‘I treat them like adults.'”

I read this and was fired up in a really good way. Our church has a really great youth pastor who, from all accounts, challenges Jr. and Sr. High students with deep biblical material. Our lead and worship pastors (our primary preachers), with increased emphasis in the couple of months, try to challenge us with weighty issues. This is something I’m very grateful for.

But I got to thinking: I wonder how often we—the larger church, not our specific congregation—treat the larger congregation like adults?

Truthfully, I don’t know that we do. The increasing biblical illiteracy of North American Christians seems to indicate that something is seriously wrong.

My preference in preaching is that it is exegetical. I believe that this is the best way to challenge and equip all of us within the congregation. I believe that exegetical preaching prevents the creation of an “out” for difficult subjects. If you’re preaching through the book of Romans (or Ephesians, Acts, John, 1 Peter, Jude, Colossians, 1 John, or virtually every other New Testament book), you’re going to have to inevitably deal with the subject of election, which many might be tempted to avoid simply because it’s such a hot-button doctrine for many.

That said, I do believe there’s a place for topical preaching, or preaching to a “felt need” (whatever that means) when necessary and appropriate. Some topics aren’t served well with strictly exegetical or expository preaching. For example, it would be rather difficult to address birth control methods while preaching through Revelation. But you can discuss this well topically, taking principles that exist throughout Scripture.

While I don’t have a problem with topical preaching in general, I have to wonder: Does preaching strictly to “felt needs” truly treat the body as a group of adults who are capable of being challenged by what the Bible says?

When you’re listening to the Sunday sermon, do you feel like you’re being spoken to like an adult?

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  • Jeney


    My husband and I recently became (as if by magic) the youth leaders at our church. We hesitated when asked previously, because we had always seen youth group done so…I don’t know…youthy. And I (erroneously) assumed that they would prefer it done the same way at my church.

    Refreshingly, they told us that we could lead it however we chose. And we don’t treat them like they would be just as well served in Toddler Church. We do “treat them like adults”, when it comes to how we teach the bible. And that is what we teach them – the bible. What is more important?

    The reason we started it in the first place was because I couldn’t imagine sending my kids to any other youth group, and our church didn’t have one. The other groups my oldest had tried were so nauseatingly all about topical studies and talking out their feelings and delving into their individual days. The worst case – they’d be teaching out of a Rob Bell book.

    As for the adult congregation: I do think American Christians as a whole just need to get back to the Bible. Stop using it as an extraneous tool for all the how-to-be-a-better-christian books. I happily and thankfully attend a church that teaches us to get into scripture and stay there.

    Have you read/heard about Paul Washer’s opinion on how youth groups should be run? Very interesting and thought provoking.

    • Aaron

      I’ve not had an opportunity to hear Paul Washer’s opinion on youth groups; I’ll have to find it as I’ve really appreciated his ministry.

      Great feedback, Jeney. God bless you and your husband as you both continue to teach the Bible to the youth at your church.

  • Sean Chandler

    Thanks for linking ad quoting me. :)

    Speaking of election as a hot button topic…My major (Bible teaching) required me to do 9 weeks of student teaching at a Christian school. One of my classes was a verse by verse study of Romans. Two days before my 9 weeks was up we came to Romans 8:29.One of the students asked my personal view on election…Wow! They did not like what I had to say. The response was bad enough that the principle sent an email to my cooperating teacher, the school secretary called me into her office, and rumors started circulating of me crying in the corner after being school’d by my students.

    • Aaron

      They said you were crying in the corner because the students school’d you? That’s harsh.

      What did you tell them that got them so cheesed off?

  • Sean Chandler

    Basically a give a 3 minute summary of both the Calvinistic and Arminian views of salvation. One of the students then asked my personal view. When I said I was on the Calvinist side of things, the room immediately became livid. They started to feed off of each other. It was a classroom of about 30 people, and 10 of them were very vocal about their dislike of my beliefs.

    I tried to avoid getting in a scream match or logical debate (primarily because I couldn’t out scream the 10 of them and they would cut me off before I made any logical arguments). Instead I turned to Romans 9 and Romans 3:10-12 and attempted to let the passages speak for themselves. I tried to give a disclaimer that there are alternative interpretations, but to me I can’t get over what the passages clearly state. When I showed the passages, all they could really say was, “Well I don’t believe that” or “I don’t like that.”

    The next day I tried to clean up the mess by providing proof texts for both positions and pointing out which denominations tend to go in which directions. Ironically some of the most rabid anti-Calvinists were Presbyterians.

    • Aaron

      Oh man, I’m amazed you came out alive – 10 rabidly anti-Calvinists out of thirty! And the worst were the Presbyterians? Wow.

      Is it wrong that I find the lack of grace from the opposition to be particularly appropriate?

      “I don’t like that”. My goodness…

  • Sean Chandler

    I really should have known better than to tell them my position. I should have known the kid who asked the question was looking for a fight. Before the kid asked me my personal beliefs, I’d overheard him bragging about making a girl cry by schooling her in a debate about predestination.

    My cooperating teacher had warned me that he was divisive and contrary. He was a pastor’s kid and his dad was on the school board, but the dad didn’t agree with the school’s doctrinal statement. It was a really messed up situation where the father was endorsing and encouraging his son’s divisiveness and then using his power as a board member to defend his actions.

    Let’s just say I didn’t leave with a positive view of that school’s administration and leadership….great teachers….bad leaders.