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A Christ-Centred Approach to Youth Ministry

  • 23 October 2017
  • MinistryLift blogger

I can picture it vividly. It's Friday night, the lights are dim, and the music leader is picking his guitar in the background as he sings about God's love. Meanwhile, the speaker stands up and talks in a loud voice: "Do you know how much God loves you? He loves you so much he sent his Son to die for you! Who wants to accept that love tonight?" Crying, hands start to go up. A few stragglers look around, see who else raised their hands, and decide to raise their own hands too. The leaders anxiously go around the room helping the youth say a prayer for salvation. The night concludes, everyone cries and says goodbye. Later, we all go home. 

On the following Sunday, some of the youth and leaders go to their home church and share with the congregation. "It was an amazing time at youth/camp/mission trip/retreat. We had 15 kids accept Jesus into their lives." Everyone cheers, some people cry tears of joy. Mission accomplished. 

This is often the Canadian church’s mindset; it’s about numbers. How many were there, how many got saved. 

But are these the right questions to be asking?  

Months after these types of experiences, how many of these kids who made a decision for Christ are involved in a local church, serving, and being transformed into Christ-likeness? The impetus of youth ministry can often be placed on making a personal decision for Jesus, but unless these decisions are followed by discipleship, the decisions can end up being meaningless.

So what's the remedy? I believe it's having a discipleship-focused, Christ-centred ministry. A ministry that does not just mention Jesus during an altar call, but a ministry that places Christ and his gospel at the centre; a ministry not focused solely on numbers and entertainment, but a ministry that is focused on relationships and encouraging a life that is holistically centred on him. 

Here are some practical ways you can accomplish this:

First, teach the gospel. This may sound like a no-brainer, but sadly, it's not. In many cases, youth ministries are about making morally and socially acceptable youth, not disciples. Morality is important, but it must always be taught in light of the gospel. Thus, it is important to teach about Christ, our sin, and our need to put faith in Christ for all things. 

Choosing to Quit: When Ministry Impedes Ministry

  • 19 October 2017
  • Keith Reed

PruneI was raised to never give up. A drawing was fixed to my family's refrigerator door that I still remember. A heron is being choked by a mostly-swallowed frog that's gripping its predator’s neck in a desperate act of survival. The caption? Never give up.

We love inspiring images like this. Every story worth telling involves a degree of adversity and the best stories tell us how a hero overcomes extreme odds to achieve something extraordinary. Terry Fox. Captain Sully. The Hickory Hoosiers. 

We feel inspired by these stories and the slogans that fuel them. An entire brand was launched on the premise of these axioms (No Fear). The most beloved team of my childhood was defined by a three-word rallying cry that still gives me goosebumps: refuse to lose.  

Vince Lombardi once said that winners never quit and quitters never win. An inspiring quote fit for any locker room, but in most other settings it's a statement that's misleading and inaccurate. You see, the best winners know exactly when to quit.

To be fair, we must understand how to correctly define winning and losing. The best coaches and players understand the importance of "making adjustments". This is the positive way of saying they recognize what isn't working and choose to do something different. Stated differently, they choose to quit so they can win.

But what coach would actually say that? Quitting is associated with such negativity that it's typically equated to the willful acceptance of failure—a behaviour quickly linked to shame and embarrassment. Little consideration is given to the positive results of surrendering harmful practices or to the healthy consequences of giving something up after careful consideration.

In his book called Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud uses the word "ending" to describe the calculated decision to give up something up for the sake of a new direction. He uses a pruning metaphor to illustrate the positive effects of proactive termination. A skilled gardener intentionally removes branches that fall into any of three categories because this will produce the desired results: 

Engaging in Tough Discipleship Questions

  • 17 October 2017
  • MinistryLift blogger

When you think of discipleship, what fills you with fear? 

My role as camp director of Camp Likely has given me the opportunity to meet and interact with many young adults and teens. These are teens who desire to follow Jesus with their whole hearts. They want answers to big questions as they face decisions about their futures, friendships, relationships, church, and faith. 

Some of the hardest conversations I have with them are about these big topics. These are challenging conversations because each one comes with a different perspective, sphere of influence, and specific needs. I really don’t want to give them cookie-cutter answers that I know "feel" good or are the "right" thing to say. I want to be able to engage in the conversation authentically, as Jesus did. 

This, however, has been seriously impossible. I have found that when I engage in conversations about sexuality, finances, faith, career, or relationships that I’m not sure what to say or what not to say. These are topics that are so personal, so close to the heart. I don't want to lose the relationship I already have with them by being too assertive with my views. 

My biggest fear in discipleship is being too forward. I struggle with the fine balance of listening and encouraging with correcting, or offering another way of thinking or doing. I know I limit the amount of hard conversations or questions I have because I don't want to lose the relationship. I don't want it to be overly serious. 

However, Jesus still requires me to be a disciple-maker. To be engaged. To be serious. To be fun. To be dependable. To be honest. To be faithful to His ways. 

In a world where many young people are choosing to leave their faith or live it out differently than in the past, I believe we have a call to still engage. Engage in what is going on with those who we are in relationship with. And if we can't even show up, what can we contribute? 

I truly believe that if I won't first address my fears about discipleship or my fears about the big questions or the grey areas of living for Christ, then how can I expect to be an effective disciple-maker? 

How can Jesus use your strengths and weaknesses to point people closer to Him? How can Jesus lead you to engage as He did? 

As we share some of our fears, I believe we will be able to consider what it means to truly engage in the tough questions, discover our role, and identify the obstacles that are stopping us. When I do this, I have noticed that I no longer feel stuck in my weakness but experience the joy of living in Christ's strength (Philippians 4:13).

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