Jesus is alive - and why that matters for youth ministry
By Luke Johnson | December 1, 2014
Advent has just begun, which means I am officially into my third year as a youth minister. Advent occupies important space at the start of the year. It's time to take stock of everything that makes up your life and to ask how these things prepare you /enable you to encounter Jesus as the year begins again.
I've been reflecting on the purpose of running a youth group — not thinking about the things we do or the 'value' of doing them, but attempting to discern what God's own Spirit desires in conducting a ministry to young people. Beyond thinking about programs, growth, goals, or ways of measuring "success", I want to ask the questions, Why do it? What's it for? Who's it for?
The conclusion I've come to might sound strange: It's not actually for the young people. It's not actually for their benefit. "Youth ministry" isn't "ministry to youth".
Why conduct youth ministry? What's it for? Who's it for? The answer is: Jesus is alive.
"Jesus is alive" is the biggest and most terrifying statement a human can understand. If Jesus truly rose from the dead, if he is truly King of the Universe with absolute say over every life that lives, then a risen, living Jesus is the scariest thing I can imagine.
Jesus is 'safe' if he's just part of our tradition, if the creed is something we say together because it's something we've received, if the gospels help us merely remember things from long ago. Then of course we can 'make' Jesus care about things we care about. We can use his words to support our causes or perspectives. If Jesus is just part of our tradition, then we can do all these things without consequence. Plato doesn't mind if we misrepresent him. I'm pretty sure I've misquoted my grandfather before, but his words live only in my mind now, so no harm done.
But if Jesus is alive, he can contradict us. He can say difficult things that expose our selfishness and discharity. He can break us out of old patterns of thinking and living, can shatter our colourless ideas about the world and awaken us to a reality that vibrates with the aliveness of the One Called Life.
Youth ministry is for Jesus alone. Youth ministry is to Jesus alone. In the gospels, God works to glorify his Son. That's the heart of any Christian ministry. As a community of young people, that must be our aim as well. We join together for the sake of Jesus — young people loving each other and worshipping together in recognition of (and in expectation of encountering) the risen Jesus.
As a quarter-time youth minister, it can be a challenge to keep my head above water. The weekly task of writing studies and planning activities and preparing complines and growing relationships with our young people is heavy work. But Advent comes along in the middle of a busy fall/winter season, and reminds us to heed the voice crying out in the wilderness, and to remember who is the true recipient of our service. Like the slaves in Matthew's parable of the talents, as ministers, leaders, or youth, our singular task is to inventively and expectantly work for the glory of our master, to do well with what he gives us as we wait for his coming, that we might share in his joy.