The Power of Gospel Community as Student Outreach

This article is the second in our “What Acts Teaches Us About Youth Ministry” series.  The first article can be read here.  In this series, we are considering the way the apostles did ministry as described in the Book of Acts. Of course, the apostles were not doing youth ministry per say, but we can take a look at their approaches and apply them to our endeavors in ministry to young people.

“What does your Youth Ministry do for outreach?” I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked this by other churches and para-church organizations over the last 7 years.  I remember how, years ago, that question used to make me restless, causing me to whip up events tailored to reach the community with the hopes of seeing youth come to Christ by the droves and forever changing the face of the community.  I can also remember the feeling of exhaustion accompanied by a lack of fruit proportional to the effort put out.  However, now, my response is no longer a restless stirring to frenzy.  It is no longer a strategy session with my team to create the most mind-blowing outreach event the town has ever seen.  No, my response to what we do for outreach in our community is a gracious smile with this answer: “They live.”

I’m not sure if my favorite part is the peace and confidence I have in that answer or the look on the faces of the people asking the question.  It’s almost as if I just broke the Second Commandment in Youth Ministry: “Thou shalt have events” (the First is command is similar and it is this, “Thou shalt have programs” – but that is for an article some other day). Yet, when we look to the early church in the Book of Acts we see a church that didn’t “do outreach,” they lived it, and as they lived it in Gospel Community they had a powerful impact on the community around them.

The climactic scene in Acts where about three thousand souls were added to the church is followed by a seemingly anti-climactic scene where we find the newly birthed church is seen almost… well… hanging around! Rather than taking this mass momentum and pounding the pavement (or dirt for that matter), they took the momentum and brought it into their lives with one another.  It is out of this momentous, one another-ness that the power of Gospel Community surfaces.  And all of this one another-ness can be broken down into 3 simple, organic parts: loving God, learning the Bible, and sharing life.  

Loving God in Community

The very foundation of our love for God is His love for us (1 John 4:19).  That is a quintessential part of the gospel.  God came to rescue us because of His great love for us, not because we deserved it, nor because we even wanted it in the first place! Most, if not all, of us would be left in our depravity had God not loved us first and stepped into our lives with His self-sacrificing love for us.  Having had this put together in their hearts, the newly formed church in Jerusalem couldn’t help but find themselves praising God together (Acts 2:47).  Their love for God, resulting in their praise, was attractive to the community around them.  

Learning the Bible in Community

Seminaries had not yet been established.  Bible Colleges were still a long way off.  Yet, God’s people had an innate desire to know more about this One that loved them enough to step out of heaven, onto a cross, and die a shameful death to be reunited with them.  So, they did what was possible for anyone with a Bible around to do, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” (2:42) As these believers grew and matured their wisdom, faith, and steadfastness became a powerful witness to the community and world around them (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8).

Sharing Life in Community

There is a reason the phrase “one another” appears in the New Testament 101 times.  We are meant to share our lives with one another.  That is exactly what the early church started doing immediately.  They were with one another sharing their thoughts of Jesus, the Word itself, their struggles in life, their greatest joys and sorrows.  They were doing that over meals.  They were doing that in prayer.  They were doing that in each other’s homes (2:42, 46).  Out of that time they spent together, they also discovered ways to share possessions to meet one another’s needs (2:44-45).  What gravitational pull it must have had on the community around them to see such love and devotion these believers had for not just God, but for one another.

These things did stand out to the community around them.  It was because of these very things; loving God, learning the Bible and sharing life that God was able to “[add to their number day by day those who were being saved (2:47).” 

As we lead our youth to love God, learn the Bible, and share life in Gospel Community they will draw attention.  Their friends will see the difference in their lives.  Their friend’s parents will be blown away by the healthy love your youth have for one another and any God brings in.  As each student continues to live their life in their own community they will have opportunities to expose their friends to their Gospel Community.

Some suggestions for application:

Loving God – Focus your teaching ministry around how each thing we read exposes God’s love for us.  The result of God loving us is us loving God.  Be sure to also let your own life display your love for God.

Learning the Bible – Make the Bible the central thing.  It is God, as revealed through His Word, who saves people, feeds them, corrects them, and encourages them.  You don’t need fancy lesson plans and curriculums to be impactful.  God’s Word is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword.  If you need something sharper to penetrate hearts you are relying on the wrong weapon.

Sharing Life – Be sure your youth and their families aren’t so programmed out that they don’t have time to actually share life outside of the church walls.  Rather than creating events and programs, create opportunities and venues for this very thing to happen.

Shaun McDonald has been serving as youth pastor at Open Arms Church in upstate New York since 2008, and has been involved in youth ministry since 2004.  He has a passion to see Christ take root in the hearts and lives of youth and their families.  Coming from a tumultuous and rebellious background, Shaun can think of no greater privilege than sharing the greatest hope of Jesus Christ.  Shaun received an Associates Degree in Pastoral Ministry from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Bachelor degree in Religion from Liberty University, and is working on his Master of Divinity in Discipleship and Family Ministry through The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Shaun, his wife and their three children live in Rotterdam, N.Y. You can read his devotional blog at

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