What’s in Your Youth Ministry? Part 1: Jesus

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It’s just about September, which means that your fall youth ministry calendar is about to kick into high gear. For youth ministries, September is a new year of sorts, and it’s a great time to evaluate your youth ministry. Over the next week, I’ll be asking an important question: What’s in your youth ministry? Each post will cover something that really needs to be a big part of your youth ministry. Today, we’ll talk about…Jesus.

I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t that a given? Well, you’d hope so. But in reality, it’s not a given. In ten years of youth ministry, I’ve discovered that it’s hauntingly easy to have all the trappings of what “looks” to be a thriving youth ministry, but forget to make much of Jesus. Occasionally, I’ll pull up a message I delivered to teenagers years ago, and be totally embarrassed at the fact that Jesus doesn’t seem to make an appearance. I may have done the word studies well, had a captivating introduction, and even engaged a variety of learning styles, but there have been too many times when I forgot to point to Jesus. I wasn’t intentionally leaving him out; I guess I just assumed every teenager knew they needed to know Jesus, so I didn’t bring him up.

Keeping Jesus front and center in your youth ministry takes constant attention and effort. If you just assume that he’s always there because you’re a church, and you teach out of the Bible, and there’s really cool cross art in your youth room, then he’s really not front and center every week. Below are a few ways to make sure that Jesus isn’t marginalized in your youth ministry. But first, I need to make a caveat:

In this three-part series, you won’t find a post specifically dedicated to the Bible. Why? The main reason is this: you cannot separate Jesus and the Bible. The whole of the Bible speaks of and points to Jesus and his redemptive work. And what we know of Jesus comes from the Bible. I love the Bible, and I work to foster a love of God’s Word in my children and in the teenagers I work with. I write Bible study curriculum for youth workers on the side. So yes, I know it’s important. But I think there’s a very real danger in Evangelicalism of teaching from the Bible without really saying much of Jesus–as I’ve said above, I’ve done it myself too many times. When we do that, we are simply teaching information rather than proclaiming the redemptive work of Jesus. But that’s another post for another time.

Now that we’ve got that down, here’s how to make much of Jesus in your youth ministry.

Make much of Jesus in your life. I’m not talking about just having devotional times or personal retreats to refresh yourself. If you have not let Jesus completely take over your life, then there’s a good chance you haven’t let him completely take over your youth ministry. This isn’t a call to be perfect; it’s a call to be Christ’s, and to be his alone. One thing I did not count on when I became a pastor was the temptation to leave Jesus at the office. But I have learned that if I compartmentalize my life, there’s a chance that I will lead a youth ministry that’s compartmentalized as well.

Make much of Jesus in your preaching and teaching. Charles Spurgeon famously commented about his preaching, “I take my text and make a beeline for the cross.” Here’s a question you need to ask yourself when you teach, preach, or lead a small group Bible study: “Am I pointing to Jesus?” It is all to easy to get so caught up in the text your teaching out of that you forget to draw a connection to Jesus. This doesn’t mean that you have to teach out of the gospels or even the New Testament the whole time. It’s just that you make sure Jesus doesn’t take a back seat to anything, even the Bible.

Share about how Jesus has transformed you (and ask your leaders to do it, too). The reason you need to make much of Jesus in your youth ministry isn’t just because you have teenagers who don’t yet know him. We need Jesus each and every day to continually grow us, mold us, and transform us. Sharing about how Jesus has done that in your life isn’t just about sharing your conversion story. You need to continually share how Jesus is growing you and working in your life. This can be a very vulnerable experience, but if you’re willing to talk about your weaknesses and how you need Jesus every day, the teenagers you lead are more likely to see that they need him every day, too.

Celebrate Jesus changing lives. One of the most powerful moments as a youth pastor came this past summer when a number of students accepted Jesus for the first time or recommitted their lives to him. What made it so powerful wasn’t just that it happened; it was seeing their friends cheer them on and pray for them as they began their new journey with Jesus. When a lost teenager comes home to Jesus, there’s a party in heaven, so why shouldn’t there be a party in our youth ministries as well?

Worship Jesus and provide a variety of ways for teenagers to respond to him. Corporate singing–whether you’ve got 300 teenagers in the room or just a handful–can be a powerful way for teenagers to respond to Jesus. But it doesn’t have to be limited to music. Provide different ways for teenagers in your group to respond to what Jesus is doing in their lives. Create a prayer station with an interactive prayer activity. Or you might ask teenagers to answer a challenge from Jesus with a physical activity, such as writing on a card how they can answer Jesus’ call to love an enemy in their life and taping it to the wall of the youth room. It’s one thing to teach about Jesus; it’s quite another to actually help teenagers take practical steps in their journey to follow him.

How else can we make much of Jesus in our youth ministries?

UPDATE: You can read Part 2 (Grace) here and Part 3 (Love) here.

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