Youth Ministry By the Means of Grace

Brian H. Cosby
Tuesday, May 1st 2012
May/Jun 2012

The number of young people leaving the church after high school is staggering’estimated somewhere between 60’80 percent. And yet, youth ministries across the nation continue to pack in more and more pizza parties, video games, and magicians’yes, magicians’to keep youth coming back, hoping that Jesus will somehow become the all-satisfying, all-glorious treasure of teenage hearts.

In addition, more and more youth are seeing how the American Dream is leaving their parents and the "boomers" empty and still dreaming. Entertainment simply hasn't provided meaning or answers to their deepest needs, their strongholds of sin, and their insatiable desire for acceptance and intimacy.

Whatever reasons may be given for the graduates' great exodus, I contend that high school graduates are leaving the church because they have not been nurtured and established in the faith through a gospel-centered, means-of-grace ministry. America's youth not only need a ministry that seeks to communicate God's grace through the intergenerational teaching of God's Word, the administration of the sacraments, a life of prayer, gospel-motivated service, and grace-centered community’I have become increasingly convinced that they actually want such a ministry.

Kent and Barbara Hughes in Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome argue that faithfulness to the Lord should always trump success in ministry. Our task is not to have the greatest show on earth, but to faithfully plant and water the gospel of Jesus Christ’trusting God to provide the growth (1 Cor. 3:7). In other words, we should strive to have our theology inform and shape our methodology.

Realizing that our task is simply to be faithful in youth ministry brings an overwhelming sense of freedom and joy. But this begs the question: What does it mean to be faithful to God in youth ministry? This is the question that youth pastors, parents, and youth leaders should be asking.

Simply put, being faithful to God in youth ministry is demonstrated through the means that God has established in his Word’the historic means of God's transformative grace. God has sovereignly ordained to use various means of saving and sanctifying his elect’especially his Word, sacraments, and prayer. Why substitute entertainment for these ordinances? Why let the Word of God be lost in the haze of strobe lights and fog machines?

Let's be clear. Just because a youth ministry teaches the Bible does not necessarily mean that it teaches the gospel. Many confuse the gospel with moralism: being a good person, praying, opening doors for the elderly in a self-righteous effort to earn God's favor and acceptance. But the gospel is altogether different.

The law says that you and I are incredibly sinful’more so than we could ever imagine. Yet, through faith alone in Christ alone, we are accepted and loved and adopted into God's family. In the gospel, God declares us "not guilty" on the basis of our sin being credited to Christ's account and his righteousness being credited to our account. This, of course, is the doctrine of justification and lies at the heart of the gospel message.

God has given us means of grace, not just to reap the benefits of their content and application, but also to communicate and display them as the way we should go about our ministry to youth. In a world where youth are disillusioned by the gimmicks and fog of an entertainment-driven world of empty pleasure, let us preach Christ crucified and display him as the all-satisfying Savior that he is.

Tuesday, May 1st 2012

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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