Distractions and Right Priorities in Youth Ministry

It was the last session of our one-day retreat. We were wrapping up a great day full of worship, small group sessions, food, games, and an Amazing Race. The last message was the call to action, which would motivate students to jump into the mission of God, share their faith, and love their neighbors as themselves—or so I had planned. But five minutes into my message I realized the students were too worn out, too overwhelmed, or simply too distracted to pay attention. Right or wrong, I cut a few things out, wrapped up early and we went on to our Lip Sync Battle.

After the weekend concluded, I was pretty discouraged. I had hoped students would have been more interested in worship and the Word. Selfishly, I had spent a lot of time working on the message for that evening and it felt like my students didnt care.

As I was sulking around the next day, sitting in my self-imposed misery, I realized all of the fun activities and even the worship sets had distracted me from the reason we were doing this retreat in the first place, which was to provide the students an opportunity to connect with the Lord through time spent with each other. I read a story out of John 6 that corrected my distracted heart and reminded me of what matters the most. Peter’s confession reminds discouraged youth ministers of our hope in Christ and what we ought to prioritize in ministry.

Peter’s Confession is Our Confession

John 6 is full of miracles but also challenging lessons. Jesus feeds 5,000 people with only 5 loaves of bread and two fish. After this miraculous meal, his disciples pile into a boat and sail across the sea to Capernaum. As a storm ascends, Jesus causally walks on water to reach the boat. The next day, Jesus teaches about how he is the bread of life and the only way to the Father.

Many of Jesus’ followers didnt like what they were hearing, so they took off. His lessons were too costly—to their pride, to the way they thought wanted to live their lives, and to their families. In response to this exodus, Jesus initiates the following conversation with his twelve disciples:

“‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:66-69).

Ever the impulsive one, Peter blurts out an answer to the Lord that challenged my pride and put me in my place. I had been prioritizing the sessions because I wanted everyone to see how good of a speaker I thought I was. Instead of focusing on me, I should have been working on building the relationships between students and the Lord.

Just like the followers who left Jesus to pursue other interests, our hearts affections are drawn to many things. John Calvin famously said that our hearts are idol factories.” We consistently exchange our Creator for our own little gods in hope that they would fulfill our deepest desires. These gods are not always bad things, sometimes they are even good things, like family or the growth of our ministries. However, when they become ultimate in our lives, they distract us from our Savior.

My heart was bent on making the retreat about my own gifts, which distracted me from where the Lord was working in the lives of students. The truth is that we love to be distracted because it means we are in control. Distractions keeps us from truly examining our hearts and recognizing our deep need for the gospel because that would mean we have to let go of the way we want our lives to go.

Teenagers and adults are distracted by busyness, school, work, extra-curricular activities, athletics, homework, social media, TV, and movies. You name it, we can make a god out of it, and then it will distract us from loving God. With their decision-making skills still in process, teenagers are especially susceptible to distractions.

Our challenge as youth pastors is to direct ourselves and our teenagers to Peters foundational statement. The disciples who left failed to recognize that only one person in the history of the world has the words of eternal life. Only one person is the promised Messiah who makes all things new. Jesus loving compassion manifested in miracles and healings distracted them from Jesus himself. They didn’t want what Jesus, they wanted the benefits of Jesus (the miraculous meal and supernatural healings). 

Good News for the Distracted

Once we realize that our hearts have wandered away from the Father, it is the gospel alone that can draw us back to him. We need to remind ourselves and our students that Jesus welcomes us with open arms—we don’t have to do anything to redeem ourselves because Jesus already completed the work on the cross.

The good news is that our wandering doesn’t sever us from Christ. All we need to do is admit that we have turned from him and he brings us back into the fold. He alone can provide peace to our troubled hearts, hope when we despair, and grounding when we are distracted. Through his shed blood, we are sealed by the Spirit for the day of redemption and no matter what happens in our lives, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39).

When I get distracted, frustrated, upset, disappointed, or simply worn out, I return to Peters response to Jesus when others were leaving. It reminds me that Jesus alone is the Holy One of God and He alone has the words of eternal life. There is absolutely no one else to turn to because Jesus alone gives rest, peace, and hope. He alone gives everlasting, abundant, Spirit-filled life. May we and our teenagers answer the Lord Jesus the same way that Peter did: Jesus, Im not following anyone or anything else. You alone offer me everything that I need.

About The Author

Matt Brown is the Student Pastor over both campuses of The Gathering Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. He lives there with his wife, Kaylee, and two dogs, Annie and Oakley. In addition to his love for student and family ministry he enjoys hanging out with his family, watching the Chiefs and the Royals, hunting, fishing, and being out in God's Creation.

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