Legalism: a tendency in Student Ministry

The full article (linked Here which you should check out), written by Cameron Cole, is the third of four articles addressing the State of Youth Ministry today.  Backed by the Rooted Blog and Gospel Coalition, you can be sure these articles are hard hitting and biblically rooted.  Here we have another great resource that I will encourage all church leadership to read, not just my fellow student pastors. There are great insights into the nuts and bolts behind why things are the way they are.

The first great quote warns youth pastors wanting to see immediate results. We are (generally) products of a culture that inclines us to desire instant gratification.  We want the same from the gas station burrito as from our students spiritual lives; perfection in two minutes or less.  But sanctification does not work that way.

Mark Upton, a former youth worker and current pastor at Hope Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, offered these wise words to me when I started youth ministry: “If anyone asks you about your ministry, tell them you will let them know in ten years.”

In an effort to see results faster, the temptation is to focus on the actions rather that the heart.

Wanting validation for their tireless labor, youth ministers occasionally focus on behavior modification as a means of providing tangible proof of the efficacy of their ministry. A kid carrying his or her Bible to school, signing a chastity pledge, or sporting a WWJD bracelet may appear like signs of spiritual progress—the fruit of ministry labor for a youth pastor—but if these actions come out of a student misunderstanding Christianity as a code of behavior rather than heart transformation through the Holy Spirit, then they do not necessarily reflect lasting life change.

I have to call for some clarification to the section entitled “kids are as destructive as nuclear warheads.” While I agree that moralism plus increased pressure to perform results in rebellion, I do not agree that this is a “teenage” issue.  This is a human issue.  You can say the same thing for my 3 year old, whom I am trying to teach not to hit his brother!  You can see this issue rampant among adults in the work place. While adults may learn to be more subtle or crafty, the heart issues are the same.

Very few youth pastors go through a year without the death of a teenager in the community where they serve. Many youth pastors preach moralism over the gospel in order to protect students from self-destruction.

I think that section is simply highlighting that teenagers are acting on their sinful nature just like anyone does apart from the grace of God through the work of Jesus in their heart.  So let’s not just call out the teens on this one, OK?

Cameron Cole follows up right on track when parents are indicted with the moralization of their children, rather than focus of Gospel transformation.

Parents rightly want moral children, as do youth pastors. Sometimes, families view the church exclusively as a vehicle for moral education, rather than spiritually forming them in Christ, and put pressure on youth and senior pastors to moralize their children.

Lastly, I encouraged church leaders to read this article because many student pastors are in great need of mentoring.  As I have experienced and continue to experience, mistakes stink.  I have learned from my mistakes in the past, but have much to learn still.

Many youth ministers are young, both in age and in their faith. Given all of the other responsibilities that adult pastors must juggle, nurturing the theological and spiritual development of the youth pastor can be overlooked. Furthermore, churches often view the youth department as entertainment and relationships but not a serious teaching ministry.

If student ministry can resist the temptation to being simply an entertainment driven, behavior modification system, we may see a generation connect with the life changing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Your fellow worker in the field,   Adam

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