Does Your Youth Work Need to Get R.E.A.L?

Last weekend myself and some of my other youth work team attended a training morning run by Sussex Youthworks, the youth work arm of the Sussex Gospel Partnership. It was the first of 6 training mornings running over 3 years. This first session was on “Principles of Youth and Children’s Ministry,” and the speaker was Rory Bell from TnT Ministries.

He started by drawing us to Colossians 1:28:

“Him (Christ) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

This is the goal of youth ministry, in fact all ministry, that we may present people as mature believers before God on the final day. The two things we need to notice from this verse are that firstly we need to present people mature IN Christ and secondly that this means PROCLAIMING Christ. People are only going to be made perfect through Jesus and so that’s obviously going to mean telling people about him. It’s good for us to keep this verse in mind as we do ministry.

 

We then talked about how our youth work needed to be R.E.A.L. if we wanted it to be a success: Relational,Educational, Authentic & Life-Changing.

Each of these were expanded on with some verses from 1 Thessalonians 1&2. Here’s a very brief synopsis of what was said.

Relational

God as trinity is inherently relational, therefore ministry ought to be as well. Jesus was only ever alone at 3 points in his ministry; in the wilderness, whilst praying and on the cross. With that in mind we can deduce that being around people and in relationship with them must be a pretty important part of ministry. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 supports this idea:

“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

Paul didn’t only share the gospel with the people he ministered to, but he shared his life with them as well and that’s something we should do too. This needs to be face to face stuff. I was challenged by the idea that using twitter and Facebook is not sharing our life with people, they’re actually a very shallow form of interaction. Real relationships take time and that means sacrifice.

Educational

Good ministry will educate people from God’s word. It’s not ad-hoc and slapdash but is planned. Schools have a syllabus and so should we. If as a parent you turned up at a school and said, “what’s the plan?,” and the school says “Well we don’t really have one, we just see what happens,” you certainly wouldn’t want to send your kid there. It’s the same for youth work. There needs to be some kind of plan and this will involve teaching the Bible. This is what Paul says to the Thessalonians in 1:5a;

“…because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

The gospel always comes with words so we need to teach the word. Some of us might be tempted to shy away from this and to think that a quaint idea. But Paul shows us that not only does the gospel come with words, it comes with the power of the Holy Spirit. The gospel might seem foolish and weak, but the Holy Spirit has the power to open people’s eyes and it’s pleasing to God to bring people to him through the weakness of our preaching.

Authentic

As leaders, (and as Christians generally) we need to be living authentic Christian lives. Kids can smell a fraud a mile off. Ralph Waldo Emerson says this: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” If we teach kids the gospel but then they hear us swearing or see us out getting trashed on a Saturday night or being inappropriate on facebook then it’s all for nothing. If we don’t look like what we’re preaching, we’re only going to be doing the gospel damage. Check out what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:5b-7:

“You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”

The people in Thessalonica saw what Paul was like and so they became imitators of his example (he himself imitates Christ), even though this meant suffering for them. That’s quite a testimony to his life. Do we set as good an example as Paul? We always need to be asking ourselves the question – “Am I desperately trying to become more like Jesus?”

Life-Changing

Look at the change that Paul says occurred in the life of the Thessalonians when they came to Christ:

“For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10

The people’s lives were completely changed. They turned away from lifeless, powerless idols to serve the living, powerful and true God. Christianity changes lives. Or at least it should do. Rory used the illustration of a sword lying in a field facing an advancing army. Without someone to wield it, it can do nothing. But in the hands of a skilled swordsman, it can cut with skill. It’s the same for the Bible. In the hands of a skilled teacher, it cuts to peoples hearts, just as it does in Acts 2:37. So we must invest time in learning how to handle the Bible correctly.

In my mind these four areas pair up quite nicely. If you’re being relational, then you have to be authentic. One will fall apart without the other. And I’m a firm believer that if we educate people with the Bible and we do it well, then lives will be changed, such is the power of the word of God.

Overall, it was a great morning. In terms of the principles themselves, they weren’t new to me, but it’s always good to be reminded of what we’re here for and the principles undergirding that. I was really pleased to be able to take my team along as I know it will have been really beneficial for them as leaders and therefore beneficial for our youth work. Already looking forward to the next session in March! If you’re Sussex based and you do youth work, make sure you get yourself along.

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