One of the most heartbreaking parts of being a youth minister is watching students decide to walk away from the Lord to “live it up while I am young”. Sure, sometimes students are going to make sinful decisions simply because they are human beings with a sin problem, and frankly that is something we all do. But what I am talking about is the willful decisions to set aside their Christianity so that it ceases to be an impediment to fun. It is a decision that in every case leads to consequences, baggage, and, in to many cases, a complete rejection of Christ.
While I believe that God’s grace is indeed able to cover the sins of ones youth, or old age for that matter, I lament the baggage that these young people are adding to their lives. For instance, if a young lady decides to “live it up” by experimenting with sex and then gets pregnant she changes her life direction completely. She is faced as a young person with the reality of having the fate of a new life in her hands. Whether she decides to parent the child, put him/her up for adoption, or have an abortion she will live with the consequences of this decision for the rest of her life. Or what if a young man decides to “live it up” by partying and one night, at the age of 17, loses his license or worse because he decides to drive drunk. Again, this young man will live with the consequences of this decision for the remainder of his life.
God can redeem these kinds of tragic situations, but I believe He has a better plan that will help young people avoid having to walk through these minefields of consequences! Without entering into a “were they ever really saved” debate, I want to challenge us to consider a plan to counter this thinking in some of the youth we see in our churches. I think we need to help our students understand some key truths about who they are and the amazing plans He has for them.
- They must understand their Creator and Savior. Every young person who comes in contact with our church or youth program must be introduced to the Creator of the universe. Not the “Big Guy upstairs” or the generic “God” that most people aren’t afraid to talk about, but rather we need to ensure that they learn about the one true God who alone can offer salvation. Our students need this message from John 14:6; “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.” We need to be sure that our ministries are focused on boldly proclaiming the power of the Gospel in both word and deed.
- They must understand their identity. One of the biggest issues in youth culture today seems to be that of identity. We live in a world where young people don’t realize how special they are. We have an epidemic of cutting, self-abuse, bullying, and other behaviors that show a complete lack of recognition that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a Creator who deeply loves them. Even many who are truly disciples of Christ fail to recognize their identity in Christ as seen in Ephesians 2:10; “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The realization of this identity as a child should spur them on to holiness, righteousness, and self-control. Not because they are able to earn more love because of these things or even accomplish them in their own strength, but rather as a result of the wonderful saving grace they have experienced through the Savior. It is partially our job as Shepherds to help them see this identity. We need to come alongside them and open the scriptures with them as partners on a journey to spiritual maturity.
- They must understand their current role in the church. Those students in our ministry, who are redeemed, reconciled, and regenerated disciples of Christ need to know that they have a present role in His church. I believe that this faulty thinking that they can live how they want now and get it together later is partially a result of us sending them the message that it’s true! We neglect to give them a place in the current ministry of the church. We lecture them about being “the future of the church” but forget that they are also the present. It is imperative and biblical that we empower our students to do ministry now because according to the word of God, all are called to be ministers. Note that in the 1 Peter 2:9 we see no age distinction: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Our ministry needs to include this exhortation so that students can see themselves as useful servants of the King today. If they are declaring His praises while living for Him, they will be less likely to see earthly living as the better alternative.
Once we help today’s students see the full power of the gospel and help them embrace their identity in Christ I believe that they will become less prone to make the decision to willfully walk away. This will create healthier disciples who won’t have to struggle with some of the baggage, consequences, and pain that “living it up now” are guaranteed to cause.