In this series, “Promises of Scripture,” we asked Youth Ministers one simple question: “What is a scriptural promise that you burn to communicate to your students?” Read the last article in the series here.
If my preaching was stuck on a Biblical island for the rest of my ministry and I could only preach one text to teenagers, it would easily be 1 John 1:1-4:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”
On a fall night in 2008, I experienced something I will never ever forget for the rest of my life, an event that totally shaped the way I preach today. That night, I spoke to a handful of teenagers about the greatness of God, when all of a sudden I noticed how bored the students were – most of them looked like they were sitting through a chemistry class. As I looked around the room and saw their faces I was shocked, not because I thought it was incredibly rude to look so bored in front of such brilliant preaching (hardly the truth). What shocked me was the fact that (to me) I was not preaching so much as I was worshiping.
I was worshiping through my sermon because (again, to me) the content demanded it – the content being how great, amazing, lovely, and big our God is.
It may have been out of anger, or deep sadness, or maybe somewhere in between, but I very quickly flipped in my Bible to the old apostle John in his late years where he beautifully proclaims the summary of his deepest belief in Christ (1 John 1:1-4). In every verse of this scripture, John doesn’t just speak, but seems to plead with the reader to understand how real and tangible God is.
If the Apostle were speaking to the teenagers in front of me, he would have been twelve inches in front of their faces and with tears streaming down his cheeks, shaking them by the shoulders and telling them that the Jesus they have always heard about was and is the real Son of God. “We touched him with our hands! Saw him with our very eyes! We even had late-night conversations about eternal and crazy things that would stun the human mind!”
John concludes this opening paragraph by proclaiming that because he had tasted “the other,” his joy was now complete, and nothing in this world could compare to knowing Christ our Lord.
A couple of things happened in that moment, after reading this scripture to my previously bored students. First of all, I truly understood that communicating to teenagers (or to anyone) is not just about speaking truth, but showing truth. After ranting (which took fruition in the words of John), myself and every person in the room found themselves listening to God show Himself through His Word, which left each of us stunned at how real He truly is.
For most of us who have been in church all of our lives, it is so easy to forget or take for granted how authentic and real God actually is – this is no less true for teenagers. Going to church, listening to a sermon, singing songs, and even engaging in a small group can (like going through a car wash) become routine. You go through a car wash because you know it needs to be done, but there is really no joy in it. You do it because you are supposed to. After fifteen years of youth ministry, I can recall way too many Wednesday nights when I led a group of students into a room for church, and walked out like we just did something ordinary. The opening verses of 1 John remind us that the God who loves us enough to die for us is anything but ordinary.
1 John reminds us to slow down and remember how real God is. God is not a program, a schedule, or an event. God is a very real, alive, reigning King, who loves us, leads us, and is with us always and no matter what.
Students do not need to hear another lecture from us about mere morality, and what it means to forsake the world of sin. Rather, our students need to see us captivated by the great, glorious, and very real God who proves time and again to be much better than anything they may find in the world. Once your students truly know this, they will see it in every page of their Bible, and experience it in real life – that God who is sovereign hears their prayers and listens to their singing; He is with them in their failures, in their suffering, and in their joy. This very real God is pulling them closer to Himself, and desiring that they stop chasing after worthless idols. Before my teenagers, I am content to be this broken record of 1 John 1:1-4 for the rest of my days. This is where my joy is complete.
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.