I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Well, let me correct that. Truth be told, I could believe it for the simple reason that I’ve seen and heard it before. . . perhaps not in such a straightforward manner. I spotted the anonymous post on one of the Facebook youth ministry groups that I visit from time-to-time. Here’s what the poster anonymously wrote as a request to the group of youth ministry peers. . .
I would like to get a master’s degree. But (and don’t laugh) I’m not a fan of school. I don’t like to write, take tests, too busy to read a ton etc. But would love to have that next degree. So is there a degree program that’s. . .
C. A helpful piece of paper and a little bit of learning.
I couldn’t help myself. I had to respond. The question not only offered evidence of the trend to the path of least resistance when it comes to theological education, but to how the lack of a good education can so easily lead to a youth ministry marked by mis-leading kids. If we are not eagerly teachable ourselves, how will we know what it is we should be teaching our kids?
We live in a day-and-age where if we are not careful, even the most careful among us could wind up leaning more into the cultural narrative than the biblical narrative as we teach. We could wind up teaching half-truths as whole-truths. . . with half-truths being even more dangerous than a complete lie. This reality is always on my mind as it relates to the larger youth ministry world, but first and foremost for me, myself, and I. I find Matthew 18:6 to be one of the most important and frightening verses in all of Scripture. Jesus says, “Whoever receives on such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fasted around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” One path to faithful teaching and preaching to children and teens is the pursuit of solid theological education. . . which is the hard, grueling, and joy-filled work of going deeper into the Scripture and the truths of God’s Word so that they might, in turn, be faithfully taught. This is the kind of education that I believe should be a combination of both the formal and the ongoing.
I recently ran across a very powerful reflection on the role of preaching/teaching correctly which was written by S.M. Hutchens, the senior editor and longtime writer for Touchstone magazine. Like Matthew 18:6, it causes me to pause and enter into a time of self-reflection. If you are a youth worker or pastor, I hope you will take some time to consider Hutchens’ words in this current cultural moment. . .
“I have always been acutely aware of what a fearful responsibility it is to speak the Word of God to a congregation, and what awful penalties await those who dare to go into the pulpit with the intention of delivering the best of sermons from their own flatus, without full regard for what they have been called there to do and the responsibility they have for not taking the name of the Lord in vain —for not blasphemously representing God by making him say what he doesn’t, which is one of blasphemy’s many forms, done by every preacher who is carried away by vanity in the sacramental act of composition.
Who would stand on the Day of Judgment before the Living God to hear him say, ‘You were charged, and knew it, with speaking my saving Word to my people, and you gave them the New York Times, the opinions of your favorite writers, most of whom are now in hell, the guardians of the Broad Way that leads there, the idols of your religious and cultural tribes, and particularly what would make you look polite, learned, and acceptable to your audience, and amalgams of all that which were your own best considered opinions, and which I never said, nor even thought of saying. What I gave you to say when I called you to preach was my Word, as sharp as a two-edged sword, which warns the sinner from his ways, purifies as with fire what it touches, and does not return to me empty. Your sermons were, in fact, nothing more than the breaking of the Commandment not to use my holy Name in an empty and useless way. Now, given this, you fool who did this for forty years and did not repent, and cultivated a name among other fools for being a good preacher, what should I do with you?'”
And so to myself and to my youth working friends. . . “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).