The youth ministry is “all about Jesus”. The gospel message of His life, death, resurrection and the new life is frequently taught.
And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself. (John 12:32)
I used to teach a Bible-in-schools class for 11 and 12-year-olds in our local school. There was a young girl who I discovered had no Christian upbringing but was highly engaged and interested in what I had to say each week.
One morning before class she asked to speak to me. She said that she had been thinking about all that had been said about Jesus and that she had decided that week, sitting in her bedroom alone, to pray and give her life to Jesus.
Because of the rules surrounding teaching the Bible in state schools, I had never been able to ask for a response, but what I had been allowed to do was to talk about Jesus each week. In time, the Holy Spirit used this teaching to bring conviction to this young girl.
In John 12:32 when Jesus said, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself”, He was referring to His crucifixion and resurrection. Yet this statement is also true in a more figurative sense. When Jesus is “lifted up” in a youth ministry it has the effect of drawing young people toward Him, making the youth ministry grow in its health and effectiveness.
But just how do we “lift Jesus up” in youth ministry? What does a Christ-focussed youth ministry look like and how do we establish one?
The first step is to appreciate that a youth ministry is more than a club to which we want to attract members. Some fear that by talking about Jesus we risk putting young people off, causing them to abandon our “club”.
When I was lecturing in youth ministry programming at a Bible College one of our students outlined their weekly programme to me. It read more like an entertainment schedule for a secular youth club!
I asked them where Bible study, the prayer and worship featured in their programming to which they replied, “We tried that but our young people didn’t like it!”
They feared that if they made these things a focus, young people would simply stop coming. Admittedly, such an outcome was possible and even likely, yet we cannot lose sight of our ultimate goal in youth ministry: to lead young people into a life-long relationship with Jesus.
I’ve lost count of the number of times youth leaders have told me that they moved the ministry towards more of a “discipleship focus” by including Bible study, prayer and worship. While there was some initial drop off in attendance, almost always numbers grew back over time as Jesus was “lifted up” and lives were changed to produce lasting fruit.
Once we settle on the fact that we want a Jesus-focus to be our priority, our second step is to look for ways to practical ways to acknowledge Him in our programming. We will look at this in more detail in a later chapter but for now, let me offer a few suggestions to illustrate how to do this.
I would firstly suggest that you begin and end your time together each week with prayer, acknowledging Jesus’ presence in all you are doing. When a need is shared or becomes apparent, stop and pray to Him immediately, and show your dependence upon Him.
Secondly, I suggest that as you study the Bible with your young people, you frequently refer to Jesus. After all, the Scriptures all speak of Him (Luke 24:27) and point to Him either directly or indirectly. As they learn about Him every week, they may be surprised to discover how relevant His life and teachings are to their own lives.
Thirdly, allow time for worship in which you acknowledge who Jesus is and what He has done. You don’t need a youth band to do this! A simple prayer or a reading from Scripture that points to Jesus will be sufficient.
Remember that your goal is to reinforce the point that your youth ministry is “all about Jesus”.
That’s not to say however that every youth activity needs to have a direct focus on Jesus and that there is no place for fun, social times together. However, even during these programmes is it good to somehow acknowledge Christ’s presence, our love for Him and our gratitude to Him. This can be done through a brief but appropriate devotional message, a prayer offered at the start and/or end of the event or grace offered before eating. However you choose to do it, make it genuine and not forced.
Furthermore, do not be deceitful by using a “bait and switch” approach. In other words, don’t bait people by advertising a night as a fun event and then, once young people are in the door, “switch” and devote most of the time to worship and the sharing a Christian message. This might seem “Jesus-focussed”, but it is contrary to His teachings on honesty.
An important ingredient of being Jesus-focussed is to look for ways to regularly present the gospel message, covering the essentials of Jesus life, death and resurrection, along with the new life found in Him. One way to do this is to take whatever discussion topic you’ve been looking at and weave the gospel message into it. Rather than talk solely about what we should do, talk about what Jesus already did!
With a bit of practice, this will become easier. One year we had three interns and I spent the year teaching them how to present a brief devotional message to young people that pointed to Jesus. At the start of the year, they had a week to prepare but by the end of the year I would give them a topic and they had just five minutes to prepare a Jesus-centred message. And they did!
Another way to be Christ-focussed is to weave the gospel message into our prayers at the start and end of the night. In doing so we both address Jesus and share His gospel with those who join in our prayer.
To be Christ-focussed is to become known as “the youth group that talks about Jesus” and consistently looks for opportunities to explain the gospel in ways that are both Biblical and relevant. No young person should pass through our youth ministry without having the gospel clearly explained.
Our goal is to be known as “the youth group that talks about Jesus”.
The evidence of whether we have done this effectively is shown in our young people’s choice to follow Him without pressure, and their ability to know and share that same gospel message with others. When young people are vague when it comes to what they believe we have fallen short in our goal to be Christ-focussed and our youth ministry will be weaker because of it.
CHECKLIST: TEN INDICATORS OF A CHRIST-FOCUSSED YOUTH MINISTRY
- Leaders are unashamed in their willingness to talk about Jesus.
- Leaders are unafraid that talking about Jesus may put some people off attending.
- The ministry includes events and activities that directly focus on Jesus, such as worship, prayer and Bible study.
- Leaders appropriately acknowledge Christ’s presence even at events that are purely “social”.
- Leaders show integrity by not camouflaging Christian themed programming as purely “fun”.
- The gospel is presented every week and is weaved into whatever theme is discussed.
- Leaders share about Jesus and the gospel without pressuring young people into making a “decision”.
- A majority of young people demonstrate an accurate understanding of the gospel message.
- Young people are inviting friends to youth group because they want them to hear about Jesus.
- It’s conceivable that young people perceive our ministry as “the youth group that talks about Jesus”.