Book Review: Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry

gospelcenteredym_205_316_90There are a few books I consider “must reads” for people in student ministry (if you want to know what they are ask me). Recently I read a book I would add to that list and it’s called Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry. It’s one of the most theological and practical books I have ever read in regards to student ministry.

One of the strengths of this book is the variety of voices. Every chapter focuses on a different area of student ministry and each chapter is written by someone who has a passion and gifting in that area. Each chapter is written pretty much in the same way – a section on how the Gospel informs and shapes that area of student ministry and a section on how to practically grow in that area of student ministry. Also, at the end of each chapter there is a list of recommended books on the subject of the chapter.

Two of my favorite chapters were Eric McKiddie’s chapter on expositional teaching and Tom Olson’s chapter on singing. All the chapters in this book were excellent but these two were the ones that impacted me the most.

In McKiddie’s chapter, he argues that teaching the Bible is the main task of anyone in student ministry. He says, “While fun is an indispensable part of youth ministry, your main task is to convince your students, week after week, why they need Jesus and to show how the Gospel profoundly after every area of life” (page 55). He believes expositional teaching is the best method for this. After giving his reasons for expositional teaching in student ministry he gives some practical steps in how to craft a Biblical expositional sermon for students. His steps serve as great reminders for people newer to writing sermons as well as to seasoned veterans. Olson’s chapter on singing was another one that I really enjoyed. He argues that corporate worship should be vital a part of student ministry. He says, “It’s not just a warm-up for the message or a means to corral hyperactive teenagers. God has made singing important. Singing is vital for the health of our students and the strength of our ministries and, in harmony with strong teaching, singing will get the word of Christ dwelling richly in their lives” (page 142).

I could say more about these two chapters and the rest of the book but I’d rather you grab a copy and read it for yourself. If you’re in student ministry I’d highly suggest this book for you and your team.

Guest Post: Gospel Centered Youth Ministry

Within evangelical circles there’s a lot, I mean a lot, of talk about gospel-centeredness. This is by no means a bad thing, and God has personally used this movement in my life in which I have gleaned much from the wisdom of those advocating this movement. So when we think about being “gospel-centered,” we want to make sure that we are placing the gospel at the core of every area of life, specifically within the church and in it’s various ministries. To this area, youth ministry is no exception. Students can be taught this concept, and youth ministry leaders can model this concept before them. Here are a few ways to make sure the gospel is at the center of your youth ministry:

1. Make Jesus the Hero of Your Preaching. If Jesus is not the Hero when it comes to our preaching, then we’re probably giving our students a moralistic gospel. Instead of focusing on how your students can do better, focus on Jesus, the One who makes them not just better, but new (2 Cor. 5:17). We tend to get wrapped up in behavior modification, which constantly says “Do better” but when we look at Jesus and what He offers us in the gospel, He says, “It’s done” (cf. John 19:30). This truth has the power to change lives. I grew up with conception that the gospel changed me at conversion, but then I had to work really hard to gain God’s approval from then on. This can be a very frustrating way to live! Grace is a continual part of the Christian life, and God’s grace remains the same for both Christians and non-Christians. Our students can grasp this, and it is truly liberating to know that what you do from day to day does not rest on you, but on what Christ has done for you.

2. Build Intentional Relationships With Your Students. This is something that we all hear, but how vital this is to a student ministry that is centered on the gospel! The more I do ministry, the more I see the importance of relationships with our students. They need us to teach the gospel to them, but they also need to see the gospel lived out before their eyes. You may be one of the few people in a student’s life that cares enough about them to get past the surface and really see what their needs are. The gospel is ultimately the cure for every need in every student’s life. They need us tell them that their sin brings bondage, and that Jesus brings liberation. We should strive to build intentional relationships with our students to lovingly show them their deepest need, the gospel.

3. Be Strategic in Your Programming. Most youth guys and girls love programming. It’s just one of those parts about a youth worker that gets the blood pumping! I love programming as well, but programming can be dangerous if the focus is on the program itself over the people whom we are ministering to. We always have to remember that our ministry is about people. People that Jesus died to save, and people that we have an opportunity to speak the truth of the gospel into their lives! So if the mission of your ministry is something like what I just mentioned, make sure that your ministry program reflects that mission. Strive for a balance in what you are doing, and give your students opportunities to serve and proclaim what Jesus has done for them. Lots of youth ministry events we do are fun, and that’s great, but when was the last time we did an event where our students served the community? How are we training our students for ministry? Do they know how to verbally tell someone about Jesus? Our programming should reflect our ministry’s mission.

The gospel has radically transformed my life! The ridiculous amount of grace that God has showed me is incomprehensible (cf. John 1:16)! Just think about how the gospel has changed your life. Now think about your students, and how you would love for their lives to be changed the ways yours has. Hopefully you’re seeing that, and that gives you even more motivation to elevate Jesus to His rightful place, which is above all things (Col. 1:18). I am convinced that if the truth of Jesus Christ is at the core of our youth ministries, we will see lives transformed by its life-saving power.

This guest post was written by one of my best friends Mark Etheridge. Mark is currently a youth ministry intern at Union Grove Baptist Church in Lexington, NC. He is a recent graduate of Liberty University and is planning on attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in the Spring.