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Youth Ministry 101: Transformational Faith

Here is the great question in youth ministry: How do we move students from simply “liking” Christ to having an everyday relationship with him that truly matters? A recent Gallup pole shows that only one out of eight Americans has a “deep transformative faith”. That lines up all too well with the statistics that show 88% of churchgoing teenagers drop out of church post-college. What it comes down to is that most students only see God as someone who exists only in the background of their lives, waiting to be called on when they have trouble. They are not connecting faith to everyday things that make up their “real world.” God has become irrelevant.

So as youth leaders, what do we do? It’s simple. Make faith relevant. I know that seems a bit facetious, but take a look at Jesus’ life and method of sharing the gospel and you will discover how he would use the raw material of the prevailing culture to teach biblical truths. Fishing, farming, money and other common cultural practices were used by Jesus to unveil his good news. We must do the same in our ministries as well.

In, but not of:

Youth ministry should not be a safe haven or retreat from the real world. It should be a place where teens can learn to assert their identity as believers who live in the world but who are not of the world. Young people should learn how to think critically about their cultural influences so they become well armed to enter the world without giving in to the world’s system of thinking. There is a difference between worldly and world. God created this world and declared it “good.” We become worldly not by engaging in the world, but by allowing it to shape our thinking. Jesus prayed to God, “not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (John 17: 15)

Breaking with dichotomy:

Our students have learned to live separate “everyday” and “church” lives. We have compartmentalized our faith. As youth leaders, we should be teaching a faith that requires these two worlds collide. If we extract ourselves from culture, salt and light will have no impact. Instead of turning a blind eye that eventually separates us from reality, our students should be inspired to have the “veil removed” (2 Corinthians 3:18) to see the truth clearly as it relates to culture.

Teach as Jesus taught:

As youth leader you will not have all the answers regarding pop culture. What you do have is a God given and Jesus modeled responsibility to connect faith to real life. Look at the following examples of Jesus engaging his culture.

  • He picked wheat on the Sabbath
  • He overturned the tables of money changers in the Temple
  • He allowed a known prostitute to wash his feet with her tears and hair
  • He told people to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
  • He turned water into wine at the Cana wedding

So the question is what is now equivalent to the way Jesus engaged his culture? Social media, social injustices, and cultural trends can all be used to bring significant truths that relate to today’s teenager. Be thoughtful and prayerful. The truth of the matter is that Jesus was extremely risky, but effective. People may see your strategies as risky, but keeping Jesus the center of all teachings will keep things on point.

In the end, students will experience a faith that is relevant and can be applied to life situations, equipping them to think critically and biblically about their culture.