Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry
In the rapidly changing culture in which we live, teenagers are always searching for the latest fad or style that will bring them acceptance by their peers. Unfortunately, in a similar bid for acceptance, many of our student ministries have become entertainment and amusement-driven. Biblical relevancy has been replaced with cultural relevancy. Theologically and doctrinally teaching has been replaced with a short, simple challenge, followed by an emphasis on fun and games. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves spending more time planning entertainment and less time saturating ourselves with God’s Word. The entertainment-driven approach to student ministry will fail for several reasons:
1.) The entertainment the world offers is far superior to any entertainment we can offer.
Let’s face it, the entertainment industry has resources that our churches will never have. After all, they entertain so that they can make money and they make a LOT of it.
2.) “How you win them is how you keep them.”
Sure, a teen will come to your awesome event, but they don’t need that event in order to have fun. If your entertainment can’t keep up with their demands they will leave as quickly as they came. When our focus becomes entertainment, the excitement of the current event must always surpass the previous so that they will keep coming back. Teens will create their own entertainment, they don’t need me to create it for them…they will always find something bigger and better.
3.) Entertainment is not your calling.
Matthew 28:19-20 calls us to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” As ministry leaders, we’ve been called to teach and preach the Gospel, not to entertain. Stay in your lane!
4.) It cheapens the message of the Cross.
As we herald the message of the Gospel and proclaim the need for all to come to repentance, but place an exorbitant amount of time and energy on entertainment, we cheapen the message that should be our ultimate priority. The more we emphasize frivolity, the less we focus on imperative matters of ministry, seeing souls saved and lives transformed through the grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If we’re not careful and attentive to teach doctrine and truth, as a teenager transitions into adulthood, they realize that the church they’ve been attending during their teen years has offered them nothing more than the world has offered. Therefore, the church has become of no theological value in their lives and in many cases they will walk away from church and even the faith. The question must be asked, how do we keep our student ministries focused on Gospel driven growth?
1.) Understand student ministry in its Biblical context.
As Moses delivers a message from God to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6, we clearly see the Biblical model for student ministry. First of all, the student ministry is the responsibility of parents in the home. As youth workers, our task is to come alongside and partner with parents in raising godly young people. Speaking to the parents of Israel, Moses states, “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
The overarching message of this statement is clear – saturate your children’s lives with God’s Word! This is the Biblical pattern for youth ministry…it takes place primarily in the home and it includes a saturation with God’s Word.
2.) Practice intergenerational ministry in your church.
If teenagers grow up in churches with no modeling and mentoring, how do we expect them to know how to live as Christian adults. Of course, modeling and mentoring begins in the home, but the church must realize the importance of making intergenerational ministry a priority within the programs of church life. One pastor asked this question to one of the young people in his church, “What should I say to older adults about communicating to youth?” She answered, “We already know how to be teenagers, show us how to be adults.” Young people are starving for the respect, attention, and mentorship of older adults, it’s far past time that this realization is made and acted upon.
3.) Return to theologically and doctrinally teaching and preaching.
Make a big deal of the Bible, not your opinions. The student minister must make this a point of emphasis in his own life. He must be given to the study of Scripture and theology so that we can offer that life-changing understanding to the young people whom God has given him the opportunity to influence. If we’re not allowing our personal lives to be transformed through the study of God’s Word, we won’t have the necessary tools or knowledge to be able to offer the theologically deep messages today’s teens need to hear.
4.) Pray for teenagers.
A proactive, intercessory prayer for the hearts and minds of today’s young people should be an integral part of every adult Christian’s life. God has bestowed upon every saved person the opportunity for powerful, life-altering prayer. It is the distinct privilege and responsibility of each of us to pray for the young people to whom we minister.
Like anything in life, balance in student ministry is necessary. While much of this article has pushed against entertainment and amusement, we must remember that having fun is not wrong, an entertainment-focused and amusement-driven ministry is wrong. Let’s strive to have fun, yet remain Biblically rooted—we can strike the proper balance between the two.
Josh Venable (M.BS, Pensacola Theological Seminary) serves as Associate Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, VA.