What Are Youth Ministries For: Pt.3-The Overhaul of Belief System

Several years ago I walked around a shopping mall with a student who was weighing the cost of whether he would walk with Christ as a disciple or go the way of the world. He had a new, non-Christian girlfriend, and the question of whether or not they would sleep together loomed.

Before this experience, I would have asserted that the basic function of youth ministry is discipleship-making. That is the Great Commission and primary function of the Church, right? Nobody would argue with such a standpoint.  However, this conversation with the teenager uncovered for me that there is a deeper layer beneath discipleship-making that serves as the foundational purpose of youth ministry. I think youth ministries function to reform and overhaul the false belief system, which all students (and people) inherit as a product of original sin.

A distorted worldview constitutes the biggest obstacle in the formation of disciples. This young man called into question the validity of the scriptural position on sexual abstinence. He proceeded to offer rationale for why premarital sex is not immoral or harmful, based on his thinking. In the midst of this was an absence of the idea that God had his best interest in mind while constructing His Law.

This rebuilding project centers on three primary areas: revelation, self, and God. Just like Adam and Eve, kids believe that authority for truth lies within the subjective, the self. They do not believe that they can trust God’s Word in the same way that Adam and Eve disregarded the warnings God issued about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Moving them in a direction of understanding that truth comes through what God has revealed in His Word serves as a starting point in the rebuilding effort.

In regard to their view of self, teens naturally believe that they can handle life apart from dependent relationship with God, or that they can be “like God.” God is there for help when they need Him but generally they can handle life on their own. Helping kids understand the depth of the problem and nature of their sin, as beings desiring to live apart from God, brings them into an accurate understanding of self.

Finally and most significantly, they believe that God is not good, cannot be trusted, and is against them. The need for repeatedly showing God’s interest in their life, His goodness, His mercy, His kindness, His gentleness, and His generosity is the backbone of the reformation of the marred belief system.

Discipleship-making goes nowhere without a complete revolution in the belief system of an individual. We should aim and pray for movement from these false beliefs to a place where the heart embraces the reality that we are needy sinners living in a world ruled by a gracious and good God who longs to live in relationship with people. The mission of breaking down the false belief system and building a new foundation, rooted in God’s Truth, is the work of a youth minister.

Cameron Cole has been the Director of Youth Ministries for eighteen years at the Church of the Advent, and in January of 2016 his duties expanded to include Children, Youth, and Families. He is the founding chairman of Rooted Ministry, an organization that promotes gospel-centered youth ministry. He is the co-editor of “Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practice Guide” (Crossway, 2016). Cameron is the author of Therefore, I Have Hope: 12 Truths that Comfort, Sustain, and Redeem in Tragedy (Crossway, 2018), which won World Magazine’s 2018 Book of the Year (Accessible Theology) and was runner up for The Gospel Coalition’s Book of the Year (First-Time Author). He is also the co-editor of The Jesus I Wish I Knew in High School (New Growth Press) and the author of Heavenward: How Eternity Can Change Your Life on Earth (Crossway, 2024). Cameron is a cum laude graduate of Wake Forest University undergrad, and summa cum laude graduate from Wake Forest with an M.A. in Education. He holds a Masters in Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary.

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