I have to admit that as the years tick by, and they seem to tick by quickly, there are more and more ways I could finish this sentence. “It has been a long time since I …. kicked a football, rode a skateboard, climbed a rope in P.E., played a violin, played basketball with my brothers, just to name a few. Yet as I reflect back on each of these I see some things into which I put a great amount of effort. Just thinking back on the hours I spent practicing my violin make my fingers hurt. The years I spent practicing basketball on our driveway basketball court, today are a fond, but distant, memory and I must admit my jump shot is not what it once was. Don’t even get me started about skateboarding. Let’s just say “emergency room” and call that topic closed.
Recently while attending the LCMS Youth Ministry 2011 Conference in Orlando I was confronted with a simple question, “when was the last time you played a trumpet?” For those of us trumpet players in the room, most of us admitted that it had been many years. ?” The question was the first in a series raised by Dr. Christian Smith. Dr. Smith is the principal investigator of the National Study of Youth and Religion. His next questions were: “When was the last time you practiced prayer?, “When was the last time you practiced compassion?”, “When was the last time you practiced hearing from God?”
Just about anything in life that we hope to be proficient at takes practice. I spent hours with flash cards learning German in high school, and Latin in college. I spent hours learning the piano, trumpet, and violin. Today I do not speak Latin or German, and you don’t want to be anywhere near me and a violin or a trumpet. These skills, even once developed, need continued work to keep them sharp.
When was the last time you kicked a football? played a drum? kicked a soccer ball? used your German?
So what is the point of all the questions? Let me answer that question is another question: Why is it that we do not often spend the time and effort in the practice of religion and faith, that we do in the development of arts and athletics? Don’t misunderstand me. I recognize the value of athletics, music and the arts in the shaping of a well-rounded person. I also note that today these skills and the practice thereof seem to trump just about everything else in the life of a teenager.
This has proven itself to be one of the great frustrations in confirmation and high school ministry over the years. This is why after 25 years of youth ministry I have settled on a simple plan for ministry. Help connect students to Jesus Christ and learn the skills they will need to grow their faith on their own, once they leave our ministry. I like to think of these skills as HABITS for Life!
- Hang time with God (a personal prayer and devotional time)
- Accountability (a good close honest and open friendship with a trusted Christian peer )
- Be Involved (connect to the life of a congregation through service and care)
- Internalize the Word (learn to love, study, and enjoy the Word of God)
- T-3 (understanding Biblical stewardship of Time – Talents – Treasure)
- Sharing Christ (a passion for those outside the Kingdom, and the ability to tell your story)
But no habits, not even the bad ones, come without practice. So let’s learn to take time to practice our faith, and make it a priority in our busy days. So the next time you hear these questions the answer will come easy: “When was the last time you practiced prayer?, “When was the last time you practiced compassion?”, “When was the last time you practiced hearing from God?”