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Lay Off the Guilt

You should read the Bible every day, you know.

If you don’t invite your friends to this event, what does that say about you?

You really should come to youth group every week.

Let’s face it: if you only talk about Jesus in youth group, you may as well stop calling yourself a Christian.

Jesus doesn’t want your attention every Sunday evening. He wants your attention every day, every hour.

We’ve mastered the art of the guilt trip in youth ministry, haven’t we? We can package it like a ‘loving truth’ or ‘merely holding up a mirror’ or even a ‘Biblical confrontation’, but the fact is, that we’re dispensing guilt. And we’re really, really good at it.

We rely on guilt to get teens to share the Gospel with their friends.

We rely on guilt to get youth to invite friends to events.

We rely on guilt to get them to read the Bible more, or pray more.

We rely on guilt to get them to accept Jesus as their Savior.

Here’s the thing though: guilt doesn’t work. It may look like it’s working in the short term, for instance when we guilt our students into inviting friends, but it doesn’t impact them in the long run. That’s because guilt is about the worst motivation for anything.

guilty

Real change is hard. It requires both intellectual brain (rational arguments that support the change) and the emotional brain (our emotions that make us act). By the way, if the emotional brain is a new concept for you, check out this video I made which explains what the emotional brain is and the role it plays.

Guilt leads to short term actions, not long term change. Negative emotions seldom do inspire change, unless it’s righteous anger (what Bill Hybels refers to as a ‘Popeye moment’). Guilt is a shortcut to get teens to do something, but it won’t lead to results in the long run.

So let’s lay off the guilt. Let’s stop making teens feel guilty about not praying enough, not evangelizing enough, not coming to youth group enough, not being a good enough Christian. Guilt is the opposite of grace. It’s condemnation, judgment—and teens really don’t need those.

Instead, let’s show them so much grace and love that they’ll want to know where that came from…and where they can get it.

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