Teach the Real ‘Personal Relationship with Jesus’

Cameron Cole | July 3, 2017

One of the greatest benefits I received from my youth pastor and Young Life leaders in high school was the critical observation that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Having grown up in the 1980s and 1990s American South, where church attendance was often a compulsory cultural behavior, this delineation needed to be clear.

The terminology of a “personal relationship with Jesus” remains an important part of communicating the core of Christianity to teenagers. Many initially misunderstand the Christian faith either as “just another religion” or as a set of moral behaviors. Consistently articulating the relational aspect of following Jesus reinforces the true nature of Christianity and the core of the gospel.

In recent years, however, I’ve questioned the wisdom of the “personal relationship with Jesus” phrase to describe Christianity’s core—for two reasons. 

First, kids have numerous personal relationships, many of which are not particularly healthy. Adolescents may have a contentious or broken relationship with their parents or siblings. Betrayal, competitiveness, and comparison might mark their relationships with peers. Perhaps relationships with teachers and coaches involve pressure, criticism, and performance. By virtue of the tumultuous nature of adolescent social lives, many kids have mixed or conflicted associations when they hear about personal relationships.

Second, given the rise of technology and social media…

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