Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry

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How do I as a youth pastor work to make the youth ministry at Congregational Bible Church Gospel-centered? How is ministry conducted so that the youth come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that will then be cultivated to mature into committed faith for the rest of their lives? God’s working and power in salvation are sovereign, but every pastor and every ministry have a responsibility to be proclaiming the Gospel and calling people to fix their eyes upon Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of faith (Heb 12:2).    

Step one is understanding the sins and life difficulties that are prevalent among the youth. It is naïve to think that young people sin less or face lesser hardships than adults. God’s Word reveals the true nature of people young and old: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Teenagers and younger experience every temptation, trial, and issue of adults. The youth are exposed to divorce, alcohol, drugs, materialism, profanity, pornography, promiscuity, sexual and physical abuse, suicide, violence, and death. The picture is bleak, and the Bible says sin enslaves, but such has been the case since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen 3; Rom 5:12-6:23). 

Teenagers’ sins may be viewed as arising from three general issues: a wrong view of God, the Bible, and themselves. First, the youth are plagued with faulty and hazy views of who God is and His character. From not believing God exists all the way to viewing God as a cosmic Santa Clause, the loving, good, sovereign, and holy God must be presented as the one and only true God (Exod 20:3-7; 34:6-7; Deut 6:4; 1 Cor 8:4-6). The background and foundation of the Gospel is a good and loving God who sent His Son to die on behalf of sinners; essentially a heavenly Father desiring to be reconciled to His lost and wayward children (Luke 15:11-32; John 3:16; Rom 5:8-11).

Second, the youth fail to understand that the Bible is God’s authoritative truth that speaks into their lives and confronts their sins (Ps 119:9-11, 160; John 17:17). There is a battle raging over the hearts and minds of young people, but the issue is no different than what happened in the garden with Adam and Eve: truth versus lies and error (Gen 3:1-5). The Bible must be continually presented as the inerrant source of truth that comes directly from God (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21). It must also be taught in such a way that the youth realize it is sufficient for guidance spiritually and practically for the issues they face; this is the cultivation of Bible study that builds maturity with wisdom (Prov 1; 2 Pet 1:3).

Third, the youth fail to understand themselves in terms of their sin nature and who God made them to be. God made every person in His image with dignity, value, and personality (Gen 1:26-27). But then the fall of humanity into sin defaced this image. The forces of evil and depraved culture press hard to confuse the youth and to cause them to define themselves according to their sinful and false identities. Those who are young are intuitively asking the deepest question: Who am I? The Gospel message is rooted in the truth that God is the good Creator who made them fearfully and wonderfully with limitless value and dignity in His eyes, for He sacrificed His Son Jesus Christ for them out of love to pay for their sins (Gen 1; John 3:16).        

Step two is understanding how the power of God in the Gospel unto salvation directly saves and transforms the souls of lost sinners. The cross of Jesus Christ shows the depth of everyone’s sin problem: it cost God His precious and sinless Son Jesus Christ to save sinners (Isa 53:1-12; 1 Pet 1:18-19). Jesus Christ stood in the place of sinners bearing their sin, guilt, and punishment in order to satisfy the wrath of God (Mark 10:45; Rom 1:18; 3:21-26; 2 Cor 5:21). Jesus’ death was a sacrifice, and by the shedding of His precious blood, atonement was made unto forgiveness (Matt 26:28; Heb 9:22, 26). Redemption means the price for sins was paid on the cross, both the penalty of sin and its power, bringing about forgiveness and the Holy Spirit empowered ability to live righteously (Matt 20:28; Rom 6:18; 8:1-2; 1 Tim 2:6). Reconciliation is the greatest blessing, meaning that in the work of the atonement the enmity between a holy God and sinful people because of sin has been removed, resulting in peace and joy in restored fellowship (Rom 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:18-19). 

The before mentioned problems and sin issues are overwhelming and unsolvable apart from the Gospel message and its transforming effects: sinners dead spiritually in sins are made alive, old creation becomes new, separation becomes reconciliation (Eph 2:1-10, 16; 2 Cor 5:17). The greatest need for youth leaders and students therefore is the Gospel, with leaders growing in their knowledge, depth, and clarity of this message, and proclaiming it as the only message God’s empowers to save souls and transform lives.       

What specific steps are taken to make the youth group Gospel-centered? First, the Gospel is proclaimed whenever the opportunity arises: during lessons, during special events, and in private conversations. It is my practice periodically to give a Gospel presentation that interrupts our regular study though a book, or to proclaim it at our special events. Second, continuously seek Gospel clarity and understanding among the youth. I find it helpful to ask the youth to explain the Gospel to me, and then I can tell what is clear or unclear in their minds. Third, minister the Gospel personally. Food, activities, and group lessons are great, but one on one time with pastors and volunteers connecting with students is going to be most effective in presenting and guiding the youth to believe the Gospel and to personally trust Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.      

In the end, ministry of the Gospel remains straightforward: proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ dying to pay for sins and rising again on the third day in season and out of season (1 Cor 15:3-4; 2 Tim 4:2). This must be done at every opportunity, with razor sharp clarity, and personally. Gospel witness remains the same, but with a special awareness of the particular struggles affecting young people and a higher sensitivity to how clear or unclear the Gospel is in their minds. I pray to God that the youth ministry here at Congregational Bible Church maintains this Gospel focus and bears a rich harvest of souls being saved into the kingdom.      

-       Pastor Spencer