Preaching the Gospel Before, During, and After COVID

We are excited to announce our new Gospel Basics Curriculum, now available on Rooted Reservoir. This ten- lesson curriculum explores the building blocks of the gospel. While the gospel is in some ways simple, there is a foundation beneath the message. Students need to understand this foundation in order to enjoy the gospel and be transformed by it, and also to guard against believing a false gospel. We would love for you and your students to join us in exploring the building blocks of the gospel message and moving together into the fullness of all God has for us in Christ.

It’s almost been two years since I wrote my original email to Rooted about daring to finally take the leap and just preach the gospel at our youth group. For years I struggled with frustration when it came to teaching God’s Word to our students. I felt that every aspect of our night, from a programming perspective, was going great (dinners, games, activities, etc.). But I kept finding that aiming to only tackle relevant topical issues during the teaching portion was leaving my students lacking. Sure, it kept them interested, but our time together was just scratching the surface of deeper issues that only the Gospel message can truly confront and offer hope in. 

During the Nashville Rooted Conference in 2019, God used the beautiful simplicity of the Gospel message to transform my entire approach to youth ministry in a deeply impactful way. My largest mental hurdle to overcome was to convince myself that repeating the basics of the Gospel message wasn’t going to get redundant or boring for my students. The teenagers I minister to come from a predominantly Christian-school culture, and I was afraid that just preaching the gospel week in and week out was going to seem too repetitive for our students. Boy was I wrong, in the best possible way! 

Let me show you what that has looked like in my ministry now, in 2021…

None of us could have planned for COVID and the adjustments we’d have to make. We have all experienced new headaches, concerns, and planning efforts most of us weren’t ready for. I do of course lament the many losses that COVID has claimed. However, one thing I am deeply grateful for is how much more COVID convinced me of the necessity to simply preach the Gospel. 

It’s really easy to look at the current state of our world and blame COVID for creating the difficulties we’re all currently wrestling with. However, I am a firm believer that all COVID did was bring to the surface a lot of the pain, struggles, longings, and questions that already existed. I don’t know what your experience has been like, but I am finding in the lives of our students that the “current” struggles they’re facing have been there long before COVID. 

As sports and extracurriculars were cancelled, the question of identity came to the surface rapidly. “Who am I and what will I do if this is taken away from me?” As face-to-face relationships were relegated to screens, the importance of Christian community surfaced. “How do I create and maintain meaningful Godly relationships if I’m alone in my home?” As racial tension, political turmoil, and the threat of death from this virus escalated, deep questions about hope came to the surface. “How can this be fixed? Will it ever be fixed? Who can save us from all this brokenness?” 

One of my Senior parents said a deeply profound thing in the second month of COVID, and it has stuck with me ever since. She said, “These students are all collectively having to grieve at the same time, and I’m not sure if they even know that they are in grief mode yet.” When you mix in questions about identity, community, and hope with a collective community grief, well, we’ve all seen the result: it hasn’t been pretty, it hasn’t been easy, and most days it feels like we’re just continuing to tread water, gasping for enough air to make it to tomorrow. 

Yet, as broken and grieved as we all may feel, I don’t know of a more fertile time in my life for the Gospel message of grace to be planted in others. Inversely, messages aimed at behavior modification and tackling “cool topics” has never been less impactful. When we feel like the ship is sinking, the last thing we want to be taught is “just relax, follow the instructions, be a good person and everything will be okay.” When we feel like we’re on a sinking ship, we need to know who or what will save us! 

As I’ve seen and experienced this “sinking ship” feeling with my students, it has motivated and inspired me to preach the Gospel even more out of necessity! Games and activities might provide the 30 minute distraction to the question “Who am I?” But a weekly reminder that you are made in the image of God, that you are the pinnacle of God’s creation, and that you are so precious in God’s sight that he’d rather die for you than spend eternity without you goes beyond distraction. It can provide healing to the deep grief our students are feeling as they are face-to-face with the fallen world. 

When we’re all able to gather again face-to-face, don’t settle for just being happy to see each other again. Rejoice! Celebrate! And remind your students that the reason they have felt this longing for community is because they are called to be a part of the body of Christ! Don’t settle for behavior modification lessons that will do nothing to address their hearts, or the lack of hope they’ve been feeling. Rather, remind them that the same God who has made us in his image, who died for our sins and called us to be a part of his Body, also invites us to cast our yoke upon him so that we can find rest for our souls in his loving and gracious arms! 

If you were like me two years ago, afraid that the basics of the Gospel message would become too repetitive, let me share my teaching journey with you from this past year. The topics we’ve discussed this year consist of: the fear of God, following Jesus, the Holy Spirit, spiritual disciplines (such as prayer and Bible reading), Christian fellowship, and future hope. You might think that in a predominantly Christian-school context that my students were quite equipped with knowledge in these areas; not the case! Here are just a few comments I’ve overheard the past year (and keep in mind that 95% of the students I minister to are 2nd to 4th generation Christians who have only ever gone to Christian school):

“I don’t know how to pray because no one has ever taught me.” 

“The Holy Spirit isn’t so much God as he is God’s helper when we are in really difficult situations.”

“Jesus won’t love me if I don’t read my Bible and pray every day.” 

“I’ve sinned too much to be forgiven” (a 14-year old, by the way). 

“I can trust more in politicians and world leaders to make meaningful change because I can see them. I don’t know for certain that God is going to be the one to fix all this.” 

Each and every single one of those comments screams for the truth of the Gospel of grace. We need to preach the Good News every single week to our students, like our lives and ministry depend on it! We have been blessed with fertile soil to start sowing the seeds of rescue and grace into the lives of our students; who knows if we’ll ever be given the chance to speak truth and grace into a collective conscious of grief ever again in our lifetime? Let us not waste the opportunity on games, activities, distractions, and “cool” messages. As we find rest, hope, purpose, grace, and love in Christ, may we never cease in leading our students to the only one who is able to truly meet their deepest needs with transformative grace. 

Preach the Gospel, friends. Preach it every week without apology — it is what we need — it is what our students need — and it is what the world needs now more than ever! 

About The Author

Arek is a CA native who currently serves as an ordained high school and young adult youth pastor at Hillside Community Church in Grand Rapids, MI where he lives with his wife Jamie and daughter Kaia. Arek holds an M. Div. from Western Theological Seminary, but is still just a big kid at heart. Arek loves spending time with family and friends and will talk to you about football, specifically the Raiders, for hours if you want to.

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