April 19, 2012
The Import of the Gospel in Youth Ministry
I ought to be in bed right now, being as I have a presentation to do in the morning, but alas, I am suffering some insomnia. So, I will share with you all something of what I will be talking about tomorrow morning at the Rocky Mountain Bible Mission's Shepherd's Conference here in Missoula. Wayne and I are splitting a session, sharing with people something of our philosophy of youth ministry. Youth Ministry takes a lot of shots from more conservative, reformed, and rural people (not because any of those are necessarily connected or related). Much of this, honestly, is fair criticism. I recently read the book "Giving up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry From an Entertainment Culture" by Brian Cosby. Excellent book, if you can get past a little Presbyterianism. I wasn't quite sure how infant baptism worked into youth ministry, but anyway. The gist of his book was that youth ministries cannot be divorced from the local church. No ministry should be divorced from the local church. And if this is true, and said youth ministry is part of the ministry of the church, then the question which ought to be raised is, what is the mission of the church? And does what we are doing with our youth align with our mission? And quite frankly, if we look at the average "youth group" in America today, it would reflect some very sad things on the state of our churches. Food, games, and a cotton-candy "talk" are the order of the day. The better the food, cooler the games, louder the music, and sorter the message, the happier we are, the higher attendance is, and the more successful we appear. I say none of that to dog on food, games, music, or "talks." But if that's all we're about then something is missing. Food never got anyone to heaven-despite our myriads of potlucks and food-centered get togethers that would seem to say we think it does. Games are fun, sometimes, and fun is good, sometimes. It is, however, not a God to be worshiped. Music is wonderful...but is our music excellent, does it challenge students and point them to the living God? And do our messages point sinners (which is what all of your students are) to their need of a Savior? I want to look at what is most likely a familiar passage, and make a few points out of it that point to the importance of our focus in ministry being on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
"1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
7To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
(Romans 1:1-7 ESV)
I will work backwards.
The first thing we need to know about here is that ultimately, the glory of God is the primary reason our focus is to be on the Gospel. We see this in verses 5 and 6. We have received grace and apostleship to bring about obedience through faith for the sake of His name among the nations. Nations including us, right here, right now. All ministry, all personal growth, all faith, obedience, and works are meant not to somehow earn God;s good favor, which Ephesians 2 makes very clear is a gift that we cannot earn. It is meant to display the glory, the weighty, the import, the worthiness of Almighty God to the nations.
The second thing I want you to see pulls from the previous point. That being, God has ordained to glorify Himself through our obedience of faith. Inside this same point I would like to point our attention to the close link between faith and obedience. While not synonyms, they are inextricably linked in this passage, and I believe one could easily argue in the Scriptures as a whole. The proof of faith is obedience and the power and motivator behind obedience is faith. "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)
Thirdly, the grace that brings about faith and obedience is bought for us by Jesus. Jesus is the only Son of God, prophesied beforehand, descended from David, and was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead. This was declared and evidenced by God Himself, God the Holy Spirit, whom, in we see elsewhere ( 1 Corinthians 15, Romans 8), was the one who raised Christ. On account of which we, too, can have faith in our coming Resurrection. Jesus is God, He is the only way to the Father (John 14), and He has come to reconcile us to God (Romans 5). Romans 3 tells us the God put forward Jesus as a gift to be received by faith. We glean from places like Ephesians 2 that even this faith itself is a gift purchased for us by Christ.
Fourth, this is the Gospel that was promised and prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. The old cliche is that you can find Jesus on every page of the Bible. I hate cliches, but it's true. 2 Timothy 3:15 tells us that the Scripture is there to make us wise for salvation in Christ Jesus. John 5:37-40 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees saying,
"And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life."
(John 5:37-40 ESV)
The entirety of Scripture bears witness to Him, not merely the last 27 books.
The fifth thing I want you to see, is that this bears weight on us because we have been set apart to this very Gospel. Verse one specifically states that Paul was set apart for the Gospel, but we can draw the inference that we, too, are set apart when in verse 7 he refers to the church in Rome as what? As saints. What is a saint but one who is set apart? And Biblically, what are Christians set apart to? The Gospel, to Jesus, set apart to a God who is redeeming a people for Himself. We have been chosen by God and set apart to believe, trust in, obey, and be saved by His Son Jesus Christ, who was testified to before His life by the prophets, during His life by His works, and ultimately by going to the cross, and being raised by God on the third day. We who are given the gift of faith and obey Him when He commands our belief, are doing so as a part of God's plan ultimately to glorify Himself. That is the ultimate goal of our lives, to glorify God.
How does this relate to youth ministry? I will take time to answer that here in the very near future.