There are many ways in which I envy my youth ministry friend Jake. . . healthy rather than sinful envy I hope. He’s young. . . just getting started. He’s doing ministry on a youth culture landscape of deep self-awareness regarding pain, brokenness, trauma, and anxiety. While that’s a difficult landscape, it’s also a landscape ripe with opportunity as hopelessness reveals there’s a deep hunger for hope. . . the hope of the Gospel ultimately. It’s true: all creation is groaning.
When Jake invited me to preach at his ordination service a couple of weeks ago, I kept these realities in mind. How can I, as an older youth ministry guy, encourage someone like Jake who is younger and just getting started? That drove me into Paul’s two letters to Timothy. Is there any other text that might be better? And when I focused in on II Timothy 3:1 to 4:5, I found inspired words that are not my own which formed the crux of my message. I posted on this passage three times last week, and now I’m finishing up with strong words from Paul to Timothy (and all of us!) regarding our primary task as we endeavor to lead, nurture, and teach the emerging generations.
After laying out an overview of Gospel-starved cultural landscape that was being mis-led and further de-formed by false teachers, Paul addresses Timothy with a “You, however. . . “, followed by that important and familiar statement on the doctrine of Scripture. And then Paul issues this three-word imperative: “Preach the Word!”
How often we forget and in how many ways have we strayed from this primary task as we engage in youth ministry. Perhaps we are filling our time with students with anything and everything but the preached Word. Perhaps the preaching of the Word has diminished over time in our ministries. Perhaps we aren’t studying the Word in ways that fuel our passion to preach the Word or the content of that which we preach. Maybe we’ve been lulled. . . consciously or unconsciously. . . out of exegeting and interpreting the Word with a high regard for what it is. Maybe we are worn out from the promised opposition that Paul promised would come when the Word is faithfully preached and lived. Perhaps the false teachers have somehow gotten to us. . . and now, somehow, we have become false teachers ourselves. There are numerous reasons why the preaching of the Word has diminished in our youth ministry world, but preach the Word we must!
The great theologian John Stott has said that “the harder the times and more resistant the people, the clearer and more persuasive our proclamation must be.” Do we love our students enough to know the truth, to live the truth, and to tell/preach the truth?
We would do well to heed the words of Richard Bernard, an English Puritan who wrote the book, The Faithful Shepherd, back in 1607: “Inform the ignorant, confirm such as have understanding, reclaim the vicious, encourage the virtuous, convince the erroneous, strengthen the weak, recover again the backslider, resolve those who doubt, feed with milk and strong meat continually, in season and out of season.”
Youth workers. . . Preach the Word!
In an effort to help you improve your own understanding, skills, and practice in this task, be sure to check out our The Word In Youth Ministry Podcast. The latest episode dropped last week and you can listen below. In addition, check out past episodes which are archived here.