35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
One of the hardest parts of youth ministry for me is that Sunday in August when our students officially go from graduated high school Seniors to incoming college Freshmen. As the Youth Ministry Director at a church in Massachusetts, I have now had four classes of students transition out of our ministry. Although I am thrilled to watch these students take on the next big adventure that the Lord is calling them to, it is always hard to say goodbye.
As those who play a part in the formation of middle and high school students, I think some of the reason it is hard for youth workers to say goodbye is we want more time with them. We wonder if our teenagers have heard enough and learned enough to face the pressures of being away from home for the first time. We wonder if we have helped prepare them to say no to the inevitable temptations they will face when they are on their own.
I’ve watched as parents begin to wonder the same thing: have they prepared their sons and daughters enough to leave home?
For this reason, I pray Romans 8: 35-39 every August for our teens. I know that out on their own for the first time, my students will face trouble, hardship, and persecution. They may fail an exam. They may give into the temptation of alcohol, drugs, or sex. They may really truly wrestle with their faith as they branch outside of familiar circles.
Although parents, youth workers, and members of the church pray their kids will make the best choices, it is critical that students know this: even if you make a mistake, there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God.
As heartbreaking as it is to watch a student make poor decisions, it is even more heartbreaking to have them think they have done something too big or too horrible for God’s forgiveness.
With the pressures and temptations of society reaching students at a younger age, it is important to make sure our middle and high school students understand the gift of God’s forgiveness as well. I have students who mistakenly believe they have done something outside of God’s forgiveness, and they inevitably fade away from the church and youth ministry. It is imperative in my line of work to be sure my students know the truth: God is not in the business of shame and guilt, he is in the business of immeasurable love and infinite forgiveness and grace.
Nothing can change God’s opinion of his children, which means there is no sin, no power and no temptation that can separate them from His love. I am reminded of a student I worked with a few years ago who had experimented with drugs. She believed her sin was too big for God’s forgiveness, and was filled with embarrassment whenever she came to church or youth group. The church needed to give this girl, and all teenagers, a greater understanding of the greatness of God. The creator of the universe, and the One who loves and knows this child by name has said there is nothing that can separate her from Him, so let’s help students embrace and understand this message. The earlier and more frequently our teens hear this message in their walk with the Lord, the more they will believe it when they are faced with those certain trials and failures.
Youth workers, I encourage you to not only teach the “don’ts” in God’s word (premarital sex, gossip, drinking, swearing, etc.) As those who work with youth, we are sometimes quick to address these so often that students falsely see them as the extent of the Gospel. Their faith becomes based on a list of morals and, if or when they mess up, they feel as though God is too mad at them to still love them.
This couldn’t be further from the truth!
We have a special gift and calling as those who work with students to teach teenagers the “do’s” of God’s Word (to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and to love your neighbor). Teach students the whole message of the Gospel. Tell them about this God who passionately pursues them and loves them and makes them more than conquerors because of what He has done – not because of what they have or haven’t done. The “don’ts” will organically flow from this beautiful and complex point of understanding.
Parents, I encourage you to not fully rely on your youth workers to have the tough conversations about what the Bible teaches on sin and hardship. Have the tough conversations with your kids, and start when they are young. I also encourage you to remember that when your teen experiences trouble or hardship — it is inevitable – to remind them that although there are consequences for their actions, God’s love for them and your love for them is unchangeable and unshakeable.
Join us for Rooted 2016, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore the good news that God’s grace is sufficient for our relationships: with ourselves, with others, with the world, and with God. Jesus is our reconciliation yesterday, today, and forever.
To learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check out more articles and podcasts from Rooted’s youth ministry blog.