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Reforming Youth Ministry

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For too long we have blamed the rebellion of our young people on such things as our school system, broken homes and the influence of the media. As a pastor and youth worker I refuse to point the finger at society anymore. I am not saying the declining morality of our society and the break down of our family structure has not affected our kids. It definitely has had a large impact, but part of the blame is a little closer to home than we like to admit. It is time we stop pointing the finger at our world and point it right back at the church.

J. I. Packer wrote, "Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul." Without a proper understanding of God, our youth will "stumble and blunder" their way to hell. What truths do we want to instill in our kids when they attend our church youth groups? Sex, drugs, peer pressure, dating and other such topics are OK, but are we really meeting our kids' needs or are we just applying a Band-Aid to a gaping wound? If our church youth group is not attempting to teach our kids the attributes and actions of God our Father, then it is we who are at fault for the rebellious acts of our young people.

Paul reminds us, "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (Rom 3: 10b-12)." If no one is seeking after God, why are we afraid to offend the non-believer with our message? If no one is seeking after God, then the students in your youth group are there because God has drawn them (Jn 6:44). Unless God changes their heart, there will never be a true outward change.

We must be faithful to preach it!

The Holy Spirit will help your students with even the most difficult passages (Jn 14:26). We must be faithful to study and present the complex truths of God's Word and allow the Holy Spirit to use it and apply it to their life. We must be faithful to preach all of God's Word on their level!

It is time we teach our students the heart of God's Word. I am not talking about Christianity 101, but the no-holds-barred approach to the truth. It is time our youth groups tackle issues such as: the holiness of God, the total depravity of man, divine sovereignty, justification and sanctification. Some people feel these issues are too lofty for our young people, but I think it is the cure for which we have begun searching. Until we begin to tackle a proper study of God and the deep, rich truths of His Word, we are guilty of sentencing our kids to a life with no direction and no understanding.

I can already hear the cry of hundreds of youth pastors, "My kids will never sit through that, I'll lose them." It is very true that we will lose some, but how much stronger will those who stay be? Paul wrote to Timothy saying, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the Word of Truth" (2 Tim 2: l5). How can our young people learn to "correctly handle the Word of Truth" unless we teach them the depths of God's Holy Word? What good is it if we create a generation of "excited" young people if we sentence them to a life of mediocrity and poor theology.

In the Psalms we are reminded God's Word is sweeter than honey (Psalm 119:103). If our kids are to enjoy the sweetness of God's Word we must make sure we teach it. Do not hold back the meat of God's Word lest we starve our kids. Allow me to suggest five goals we should all put forth in our groups:

Don't be afraid to teach the doctrines of the faith.
Our students are capable of handling more than we give them credit for. They are at a point in their life where they want to "question" life. Let's give them biblical truths to deal with. Let them wrestle and search the scriptures for answers to their questions. We must all be sure we are properly equipping those in our ministry. Our young believers crave the nourishment of God's Word so they may grow (1 Pt 2:2). Give it to them! Paul says "Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1 Cor 9:16)

Don't try to sell or package the Gospel.
We are dealing with kids whose minds are influenced by sitcoms, MTV and video games. Too often we try to compete with current culture to "impress" our kids. I do not have enough money in my budget to compete with Green Acres let alone MTV. Even if you have the money, our call is to be "separate", different than our world. The only thing we have that will grab our students' attention is the hope of God's Word. God's Word says, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Cor 1:18).

Don't "settle" when choosing youth leaders.
Too often the only requirement to serve in youth ministry is a "heart" for kids. What does that mean? Those of us who are youth directors are pastors, nothing less! If you are in charge of your youth ministry you are in every sense their pastor and must fit all biblical qualifications of being a pastor. Those who are youth leaders and volunteers also must be a godly example in every area. Do not forget what James reminds us, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1). Those who teach and volunteer in our youth groups should always be what we want our kids to be. Leaders should always be exactly what you want your kids to be.

Don't "overdo" the activities.
Too often youth pastors become too much of an activity director. Games and events are excellent tools in youth ministry, but don't let them run your ministry. You have each student for a limited time each week. Use your time wisely! God has entrusted you with His children, do not waste their time with too many games. The Pharisees and teachers of the law involved themselves in many religious activities and did much traveling to win converts, but Jesus said to them, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are" (Mt 23:15).

Instill godly habits in your students.
Begin a lifetime of godly habits in your young people by emphasizing a disciplined Christian life. Keep your kids accountable to regular quiet times, scripture memory, reading Christian literature and serving Christ. With strong accountability and by the example of godly leaders your students will begin good habits that will last a lifetime (not to mention what it may do for your leaders).

Each student that comes into our group is important and needy. The only thing we have to offer them is "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). The moment we begin to try to entertain our kids or teach what is spiritually correct according to people pleasers, we damn them to a life with no direction and no hope. Paul tells Titus, "You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1). We must run from the trendy distractions such as psychology, how-to's, sloppy doctrine, sex education, twelve-step programs, accepting homosexual immorality, and other ungodly acts. The ideas of this world are foolish, we can't waste our kids' time with it. "Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world" (1 Cor 1 :20). If we do not teach them the fullness of God and His grace we become part of the problem and not the solution.





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Issue: "Life Under the Big Top: When Evangelism Undermines the Evangel" Jan./Feb. 1995 Vol. 4 No. 1 Page number(s): 29-30

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