Giveaways, Grub, Games, or Grace?

Don’t drink. Abstain from sex outside of marriage. Be a morally good person who passes out food to the poor every once in a while. Pray sometimes when you remember to, read your Bible occasionally, memorize a couple verses a year, and be a good friend.

If we are not careful, Christianity can become nothing more than this in our youth groups, and in our personal lives. We can absent-mindedly take the greatest story, the story of Scripture, and make it about being a morally upright person.

Thankfully this was never a temptation or even an option in my heart and life. When I was a teenager I had a deep fascination and draw to studying the Scriptures, for understanding what the Bible was saying in its entire story. This oftentimes became an obsession that became more about knowledge than intimacy with God, but the reality was I always seemed to understand there was more to Christianity than I was hearing on Wednesday nights in youth group.

That being said, I still struggled with what I was taking in on Wednesday nights. I remember countless weeks of emotional worship sets with the altar open. I also remember countless trips to that altar to draw attention to myself. I remember games and giveaways and lessons about dating well and not having sex or partying. In this season of my life, there were for sure men who took me deeper in my faith, men who proclaimed the gospel’s life-changing power, but they were rare in comparison to the weekly morality lesson I was used to hearing.

That style of youth ministry is likely close to completion.

“Due to the volumes of research suggesting that the moralistic, emotional, entertaining approach to youth ministry has had little to no efficacy in creating lasting followers of Jesus, many youth pastors have put the dry ice machine in the church attic and toned down the underage drinking speeches.” – Cameron Cole

As I now sit in a position of leadership over a group of youth, I am aware of my faults and struggles, but I am glad that I have the opportunity to show teenagers that there is more to Christianity than they think or may have been led to believe. I do my best from week to week to teach students the 3 things they need to know.

The Source Of Truth

The indoctrination of media is astounding to me. This is something that even as a 24 year old male I am needing to fight in my own life and walk with Jesus. We are fed information incessantly. iPhones aren’t evil but they inundate our existence with a barrage of news and opinion. The truth of life is found in the Word of God.
Here’s where I differ with people however. I think we need to be proclaiming the authority and inerrancy of Scripture in the context of the grand narrative of Scripture. Stories are inherently powerful. We learn more from stories than we do from facts and figures. I know this to be true because my students remember more from The Last Jedi then they do my latest Wednesday night sermon.

It is certainly true that we need to search and meditate upon the Scriptures to find the truth about our world and matters that are in the public eye. However, we should do so without turning the Bible into a book of mere facts and prescriptive life lessons. the The Bible is a grand narrative that needs to be read, studied, and taught as such.

A Correct View Of Self. 

We absolutely need to paint a picture of our sin. This is true and necessary for a true understanding of the gospel. That being said, I think we need to do a better job of starting in Genesis 1 with our students rather than Genesis 3.

When we start in Genesis 3, we approach the gospel with the brokenness and terrible nature of our hearts that need to be healed. Acceptance of the gospel brings this healing and redemption. This is good news. Here’s where things get dicey for me. It becomes a story of God making bad things good, and I think this limits the gospel message.

I am in 100% support of the truth that we are all naturally wicked and evil outside of Jesus. We are born with a sin nature. No one has to tell us how to sin. But when we start with Genesis 1, we can show our students that at their core, their deepest identity, they are made in the image of God, they are a son or daughter of God. Yes, they sin and are wicked. But deep down they are an image-bearer of the King and through belief in the gospel they can be set free to live out their true identity.

A Correct View Of God

This goes hand in hand with a correct view of God. I pray before every Sunday school session and Wednesday night sermon that we would all leave the church with a deeper understanding of who God is.

We concoct views and ideas about God that are simply not true. This is not often on purpose, but rather when we take a text from Scripture outside of the grand story. This is how we get a view of God as a malicious sociopath, an uninvolved clock-maker god, a grace-giving genie who doesn’t call us to holiness. We need to teach our students (and our adults, and ourselves for that matter) who God truly is. What His character is truly like.

Giveaways, games, and grub are not sinful things. But if we aren’t proclaiming the gospel of God’s grace every single time we meet with our students, we are wasting our time. I can attest that an entertainment-based version of ministry to youth rarely produces long-term disciples of Jesus.

Let us proclaim the grace of God in our youth buildings.

Our kids are learning geometry and biology, they can learn some theology. Don’t sell them short.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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