As a youth pastor, when I taught membership classes to my students, I tried to use an approach that connected them to both the Church of the Nazarene and to their larger, global Church family. To do this, we did not start off by studying Nazarene history, polity, or doctrine. Instead, we began by looking at the Apostles’ Creed.
While this approach may have been unconventional, it created a foundation or starting point to establish the Church of the Nazarene’s place on the “family tree” of orthodox Christianity.
It was a good way to instruct the teens on what makes us unique as Nazarenes, as well as what binds us together with the Church universal.
Each week, I would take a different part of the Creed and lay it alongside the corresponding Nazarene Article of Faith. For example, when we studied the line of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty,” we would also learn about Article of Faith 1, The Triune God.
When we got to the tricky parts of the Apostles’ Creed–those parts of our faith that tend to cause division and arguments within the Church–I used these difficult topics as an opportunity to discuss how various Christian traditions have historically interpreted those beliefs, as well as what the Church of the Nazarene believes on that topic. For example, when studying the line on “the communion of the saints,” we explored the differences between a Catholic theology of the Eucharist and the various Protestant views of communion, as well as how Nazarenes affirm the Lord’s Supper as the feast that proclaims the Lord’s death and resurrection until he returns again. When we looked at the section on how Christ would come again “to judge the quick and the dead,” we discussed various theories of eschatology. Then, I was able to affirm that Nazarenes have chosen not to explicitly define what we believe Christ’s second coming will look like, but instead we have intentionally chosen to simply proclaim, “We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will come again….” (Article of Faith 15, Second Coming of Christ). Through this, my students learned to differentiate between those beliefs that are unique to Christianity and bind all of us together in Christ and those doctrines that are specific to the Church of the Nazarene.
When we looked at the section on how Christ would come again “to judge the quick and the dead,” we discussed various theories of eschatology. Then, I was able to affirm that Nazarenes have chosen not to explicitly define what we believe Christ’s second coming will look like, but instead we have intentionally chosen to simply proclaim, “We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will come again….” (Article of Faith 15, Second Coming of Christ). Through this, my students learned to differentiate between those beliefs that are unique to Christianity and bind all of us together in Christ and those doctrines that are specific to the Church of the Nazarene.
This method of instruction and discussion allowed my teens to not only gain knowledge of what the Church of the Nazarene believes but also grounded them within the greater Body of Christ. It gave them the opportunity to learn about our “little c” church and established them firmly within the “big C” Church universal.
As youth ministry expert Kenda Creasy Dean explains in her book Almost Christian (2010), one of the key characteristics of teenagers highly devoted to their faith is their ability to “claim a peculiar God-story” or articulate their faith through a creed (29). The God-story found within the Apostles’ Creed offers teenagers a narrative that is far more compelling and energizing than many of the stories they hear on a daily basis. Furthermore, the unique story of the people known as Nazarenes allows our students to claim this greater God-story in a specific and personal way.
This foundational knowledge and the ability to articulate a creed is particularly important for our teenagers today who have grown up in a society that is increasingly comfortable with the plurality of religion and faith. Our students may have friends that are Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Baptist, as well as friends who are Hindu, Muslim, or Jewish. More than likely, they also have friends who claim no faith at all. While we can celebrate this diversity, we also acknowledge that our students may not understand what sets Christianity apart from other world religions, let alone the nuances among various Protestant traditions.
If they are comfortable explaining the tenets of the Church of the Nazarene in terms of the Apostles’ Creed, they are able to use the creed as a common denominator in discussions with their Christian friends, and as a primary faith guide when comparing Christianity to other religious traditions.
The next time you welcome teenagers as members into your church, use it as an opportunity to remind them that they are not just joining your local congregation or even the global Church of the Nazarene. They are also joining in with a long line of Christians who have come before them and now come alongside them. In this way, they are able to claim the first Core Value of the Church of the Nazarene for themselves: “We are a Christian People.” As your students join together with the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), rejoice in their commitment to belong to the broader family of faith, and celebrate their decision to embody the unique ways that Nazarenes contribute to Christianity’s family tree.
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