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Have You Heard the One About Michael?

Thu, 28 Jun 2012 - 1:01 PM CST

By Sarah Malcolm

Whatever happened to Michael? You know Michael - he was the baby you saw dedicated at the front of the church with his young parents holding him proudly. He was the little boy who was the first to raise his hand in children's church (even though you were never quite sure what he would say). He was the young teenager who was faithful in youth group and participated in your short-term mission trips. And then he was the young adult who went off to college ... and you never saw Michael again.

David Kinnaman of the Barna Group recently wrote a book titled, You Lost Me, which details the spiritual struggle of 18-29 year olds to remain rooted in faith after graduating from high school. Kinnaman repeatedly stresses the need to hear each story of every young person who has either walked away from faith altogether or is simply a Christian by name but not practice. In fear that we might just apply labels without hearing hearts, Kinnaman reminds us over and over how important it is to hear. Hear the stories, the questions, the disappointments, and the lack of understanding about deep spiritual matters.   

Recently, I've been in conversation with several friends from the student ministry I led in Aberdeen, Scotland. These former students who were faithful to the ministry and to growing in Christ during their college years still come to me with their thoughts and questions. When you listen, you hear stories like:

"I attended a new church in Aberdeen just after Scotland decided to ordain practicing homosexuals in the Episcopalian church. I was so overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted me to either curse or praise the decision that I decided to leave. I felt like they didn't see me - they just wanted my vote. The thing is, I don't agree with the decision. It's just that the way they talked was so full of distain it really turned me off."

"A friend of mine was running a marathon last month when he dropped dead unexpectedly. I don't understand. He was a healthy 28-year old who had recently accepted Christ into his life. He was going to get engaged this year and had his whole life ahead of him. When I told another Christian friend about my anger at God, she berated me and said I was wrong for being angry. Now I don't know how to feel or even how to talk to God."

"The new church we are attending has been so kind to us. They recently brought us in front of the congregation, placed their hands on us, and prayed for us. We feel loved and wanted in the community for who we are rather than simply for what we can do for them. It's surprising and refreshing."

I can remember a professor during my master's studies saying that sanctification is an event and a process. It is the moment when you say yes to God, but it is also all the large and seemingly small moments afterward when your faith is formed. Several years after graduation and walking into the marketplace, I still hear the searching questions of the students with whom I worked. They made their decision, firmly putting roots in Christ, but they still question. They still want to know how their faith shapes the new challenges, disappointments, and hopes they have in the here and now. They are still going to Jesus asking, "How do I follow You?"

In student ministry, I find that it is not just how well you live the life of Christ but how deeply you express the gospel that truly changes lives. We were not meant for simple answers, and fortunately Christ appreciates our probing questions. He is not afraid of them.

And He was not afraid when the real-life Michael decided to walk away from Him for 2 years. Instead, He strategically placed Michael on the outskirts of our student community in Scotland, and He gave him friends who repeatedly sought him out and offered conversation and love to his disappointments and questions. Today Michael is committed to Christ, a minister himself, and a light for others who want to know how to follow.

If we listen, we can hear the heartbeat of the next generation and offer them Christ - who wants more than anything for them to find true and life-giving faith.


Sarah and her husband, Rob, are nationally-appointed missionaries with Chi Alpha. They are pioneering a new ministry at Yale University. She is also a member of Chi Alpha's Training Team. They have a young son and daughter.

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