Let’s start this out by getting one thing straight: I am not an expert in youth ministry.
Furthermore, I am not an expert in parenting, especially since, you know, I don’t have children of my own.
What I do have is my Core Four.
Five years ago, God called me into youth ministry although, at the time, I had no idea He was doing that. (He is so sneaky sometimes.) All I thought I was doing was fulfilling an internship requirement for my second major (youth and nonprofit leadership) in college and spending a summer with the girls at my church, forming a “program” for them that would a) give them the Gospel and what it means to be a woman according to the One who designed womanhood and b) fulfill the aforementioned class requirements.
God had other plans.
A BURNING ACHE
That summer He exploded my heart with love for the girls in my class and for girls ministry in general. Over the years, that explosion of love has simultaneously become both a fire burning in my bones (Jeremiah 20:9) and a heart wrenching ache.
I ache for my girls (and all girls and women in general) to taste and see that God is good.
I ache for them to see His holiness and surrender their lives to His Lordship.
I ache for them to experientially understand that life without Him is meaningless and unsatisfying.
I ache for them to partake of the love and joy of the truly Beautiful One.
I ache for them to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.
In that aching, I joyfully embrace, with great fear and trembling, the sacred privilege of doing life with these amazing young women and teaching them the truths of the great God who crushed His Son for them.
Again, I confess that I have not got this youth ministry thing figured out. I have messed up so many times and, had I been holding them up, I would have let my babies down. Oh, the depths of the love and mercy of God. Through these five years, I have been constantly amazed and overwhelmed at God’s grace and forbearance that meets my sin with the blood of Christ, our Advocate with the Father.
That said, I want to plead with youth leaders and parents.
I PLEAD WITH YOU
Youth leaders and parents,
Don’t discredit your youth. If I have learned one thing over these five years it’s that pre-teens and teenagers (my girls are middle/high school age) can comprehend so much more than most people give them credit for, especially when it comes to the Scriptures, doctrine and theology.
Recognize and appreciate their levels of understanding. They have unimaginable depth. Their ability to grasp doctrinal truths is a constant marvel for my heart and mind that has been culturally shaped to discount the intelligence of youth.
Don’t compromise. Don’t compromise the Gospel, your authority, or your gift to extend the Word of God to the hearts of those entrusted to you. Students need the real truth, the whole truth and nothing but the unwavering truth of the Gospel just as much as adults do. Give it to them.
Don’t dilute the Gospel. God asked us to plant and water the seeds of the Gospel but He never asked us to water down the Gospel seeds. Because of their extraordinary depth and ability to comprehend spiritual truths, students don’t need the Gospel to be thinned or weakened with cheesy games, irreverent jokes or “relevant” videos or stories. They might want all of those things but they don’t need them. What students need is to hear the Gospel, and we must remember we are called to equip not entertain.
Don’t look to them to fix your acceptance issues. Find your acceptance and identity in the Lord. If you don’t, your students/kids will shatter your heart and rock your foundation and, in turn, you will crush them with your expectations. Be rooted and grounded in Christ, not what your students (or any other humans) think of you.
Worship in front of them. Let them see your life. All of it. The victories and the defeats. The mountains and the valleys. People don’t need or want to see a perfect Christian (there is no such thing) but they need to see someone who has hope when they screw up. Though it will be painful and will give your pride a (much-needed) kick in the pants, show them your sin. Then show them what to do with it. Let them see you repent and believe the Gospel over and over. Let them see you eating the Bread of Life and drinking of the Living Water. Let them see your joy in the Lord. Let them see that your life’s hope and stability comes only from Christ. Let them see your worship of the great God who saved you and who desires all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). This will show them that this whole “Christianity thing” is not only real but livable, desirable and good.
Don’t seek behavior modification but heart transformation. We don’t want a youth group full of moralists who cling to their morality as their assurance of salvation. Our hearts don’t yearn for a group of students who “act right,” “talk right,” and have an impressive ability to spout off theological propositions and doctrinal truths (as cool as I think that is). They can grasp those truths and they need to hear them over and over again, but without the Holy Spirit igniting those truths into experiential reality, they are meaningless and will profit nothing in eternity. Our desire as youth leaders and parents should not be for them to be “good” kids (there is no such thing, Romans 3:10) but to be kids transformed by the life-giving power of Jesus Christ so that their behavior is not a result of a moralistic duty but a desire to honor and serve the holy, holy, holy God who redeemed and restored their sinful selves to Himself.
Be faithful to the Scriptures. The Gospel is the most relevant thing in the universe and it does not need to be softened to fit a certain demographic. The Word can pierce through joint and marrow regardless of the age of the bones (Hebrews 4:12). Prayerfully, intentionally and even counter-culturally, give your students (and your own heart) the Word of God over and over and over. It will not return void. He’s promised. And as John MacArthur said, “The preacher is not a chef; he’s a waiter. God doesn’t want you to make the meal; He just wants you to deliver it to the table.”