A Priest in the Order of Shang-Chi and Training Priests in Your Youth Ministry

The character arch of the latest film in the Marvel franchise, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, gives us insight into a problem we all have—we need a priest. Shang-Chi shows us that where Adam failed to uphold his priestly duties in the Garden (thereby letting sin corrupt all of humanity), Jesus perfectly upholds his priestly duty. By overcoming the corruption of sin, Jesus reverses the curse of Eden (Rom. 5:12-15).

Shang-Chi’s father, Xu Wenwu, is portrayed as an Adamic figure who lets the serpent into the Garden (Ta Lo). Shang-Chi is portrayed as a shadow of the Christ figure, who defeats the dragon and banishes it forever. Whereas Xu Wenwu represents a bad priest who tries to train his son to be a weapon of death, Shang-Chi represents a good priest who rejects his father’s training in order to become an instrument of life. This movie provides unexpected insights into the biblical office of the priesthood that will prove to be helpful in our ministry to students. (For more on the theological implications of this subject for teenagers, check out my previous article on Shang-Chi and the biblical priesthood.)

The biblical narrative demonstrates that Christ has ultimately fulfilled the Levitical priesthood— but that doesn’t mean we are finished applying it. Christians are called to be priests who train priests, and this gives us insight for structuring our youth ministries.

Jesus, Our Great High Priest

God ordained the biblical priesthood to mediate between him and his people. The priests offered sacrifices on the altar (Lev. 6:7), taught God’s law to the people (Lev. 10:11), and separated the clean from the unclean (Lev. 10:10). While this office served a crucial role in the life of Israel, as the redemptive story develops we see that it was never going to be enough. Sacrifice had to continually be made. Sin still lingered. The people continually rebelled. The stain of sin was never finally dealt with until our Great High Priest offered himself as the final sacrifice (Heb. 10:11-13). Now, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, the people of God no longer need the Levitical priests because God has made us into a nation of priests (1 Pet. 2:9).

Be Priests in Your Ministry

The sacrifice/instruction/separation paradigm of the Levitical priesthood and of Jesus’ ministry informs our youth ministries. In the Garden, God commands Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). In the Great Commission Jesus charges his disciples with a similar task, but instead of physically expanding humanity he tells them to spiritually multiply the kingdom (Matt. 28:19-20). Just as Adam and Eve and their offspring were to mediate God’s presence on the earth by working and keeping the Garden and increasing in number, now the Church has been charged with mediating God’s presence by spreading the gospel and advancing the kingdom.

In this sense, everything we do in youth ministry should be done with eyes set firmly on the cross. The gospel should be the air that we breathe and the aroma of the time that we spend with our students. That is not to say that breakfast Bible studies, coffee hang-outs, and game nights aren’t important. But underneath all of those elements, the gospel of God’s love for sinners through Christ should be implicitly felt and explicitly proclaimed! When our students tell us of a sin they are struggling with, or when we see a sin that is harming them, we engage them not primarily with an ethical message, but with a transformational message. As God’s royal priesthood, we are redeemed by the blood of the lamb who is our Great High Priest. We are called to mediate to our students that true fulfillment, purpose, and reconciliation are only found at the foot of the cross.

Further, being priests in our youth ministries means that we should constantly be engaging in the world teenagers inhabit. When we are informed about the MCU, the latest TV show, or Taylor Swift’s newest release, we can better bridge small talk into gospel conversations. Just as the priests separated the holy from the unclean, we approach the culture with the eyes of faith in effort to separate the truth from lies.

All of the media that our students take in has a message to tell them; we have the opportunity to help our students decipher these messages to see where they hold up and where they fall short. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is just one example of a movie that borrows elements from the redemptive story of Scripture, which we can use in ministering to our students.

Train Priests in Your Ministry

The long work of youth ministry is not just being a priest, but training up more priests. Our job as youth workers is not to simply offer our students a place to come have fun, although fun should be a part of youth ministry! Ultimately, we are seeking, by the help of the Holy Spirit, to train up students to walk through life as priests of the kingdom.

It is therefore important to communicate to our students that our aim as Christians is never to be merely “better people,” though conduct will always follow confession. Rather, we are to be transformed people united to God by the grace he has given us through his Son and the holiness he has endowed to us though his Spirit.

I often explain to parents and church leaders that in youth ministry, I am not aiming at 12 to 18-year-olds—I am aiming at the 25 to 85-year-olds those teenagers will become. We have been placed in such a unique point in our students’ lives, in which they are slowly learning how to take the training wheels off and follow Jesus themselves. It is our job to come alongside them and their parents to help with this training (Deut. 6:4-9).

We must carefully teach students that God has not left us alone. We are not thrown to the wolves with no shepherd. We must tell them the great news that as they walk through this life, bombarded by lies of the enemy, by the unholy and sinful of the world, they have a Helper (John 14:16). Just as Shang-Chi has the Great Protector, so we have the indwelling Holy Spirit to protect us in the battle against sin.

With this truth fueling our ministry, we then commission students into the world, counseling them as they learn how to crawl, then walk, then jog in their race. Our goal is to equip them with what they need to run the race as to win the prize (1 Cor. 9:24).

Parker serves as the Director of Student Discipleship at Redemption Church in Madison, MS. He and his wife, Ali, live in Jackson, MS where he attends Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson.

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