Where Else Will Teenagers Find the Word of Life?

I have been involved in a litany of debates and discussions with both parents and student pastors about how to best reach youth for Christ. To tell the truth, more often than not, the outcome of those interactions has been discouraging. The discussion is full of love for Jesus and our kids, but there are so many competing techniques, flaws, and obstacles to the various approaches of ministry proposed that the conversations often end in disagreement and/or the feeling of being overwhelmed and without a solution.

If you love Jesus, and you have any connection to youth, you likely know the heartache of longing to show your kids the beauty and life-giving love of knowing Christ while feeling outmatched by the distractions and resistance of the world around you. We say “Amen!” to the Apostle John when he proclaims, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). But how can we compete against all that the world throws at our kids? How can we get their attention when they have entertainment and communication on demand? How can we show them the beauty of life with Christ when the world will offer them support and encouragement in anything they want to do?

When I was feeling overwhelmed thinking about the immense responsibility of discipling students, it was the bright shining light of Gospel-centered ministry that brought me hope. I most clearly see this hope spelled out in all its simple glory in two places of Scripture.

In John chapter 6, when Christ declares that he is the bread of eternal life, many people turn away from him. Those who love the benefits of following Christ, but not Christ as Lord and savior, fall away. Jesus asks his disciples if they too will leave him, and it is in Peter’s simple and beautiful response that I find some of my greatest hope in Gospel-centered ministry: “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:68-69).

Where else are we going to go? We love our kids and want them to have redemption in Christ. It is he alone who has the words of eternal life. Christ and his Word are the only thing we can offer our kids that has any power to bring dead hearts to life and make disciples. Why would we ever try to give them anything less? We must never doubt God’s love or power. He is our good shepherd who has redeemed us in his love, and he is their good shepherd who will complete every good work he has begun. He is as trustworthy with their souls as he is with ours.

Likewise, Paul says this twice in his letter to the Romans. Why should we pursue Gospel-centered ministry? Because, “[We are] not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

Why does it matter so much that we pursue Gospel-centered ministry? Paul has answered this for us: “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:13-14).

We are not ashamed of the Gospel. We want our kids to know Christ and have eternal life in him. Gospel-centered ministry is the only way to give life to our kids.

All of us involved with youth and Christian ministry of any kind know the desire, the burden, and the command to train up the next generation in all that is good and life-giving. Let us consider the opening lines of Psalm 78 (vs 3-8), a Psalm given the title, Tell the Coming Generation:

[These] things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generationthe glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacoband appointed a law in Israel,which he commanded our fathersto teach to their children,that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn,and arise and tell them to their children,so that they should set their hope in Godand not forget the works of God,but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers,a stubborn and rebellious generation,a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

Technique is part of teaching, but it must always be subservient to the Gospel. We must spend far less time seeking to imitate CEO’s, successful head coaches, and secular thought leaders, and instead focus on preaching the Gospel of Christ according to his Word. There isn’t a single program or gripping form of entertainment that the world doesn’t already offer infinitely better than we can. Nobody but Christ can offer the words of eternal life.

The irony is, we already know there is no hope apart from the Gospel. It’s because we love Christ so much that we are so desperately seeking to show him to our kids. The easy yoke of Christ is that it is in him and his power, not ours. God has declared that Scripture itself is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of Godmay be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Let us trust in what we already trust. I believe in Gospel-centered ministry because it is only the proclamation of salvation in Christ by his death on our behalf, according to his Word, that can offer any hope, any life, any healing, any redemption, any peace, or eternal life to the students who have been placed in my care, and whom I love.









Luke Paiva has a B.A. in English and an M.Ed. from The University of Tennessee Knoxville, and is currently working on his MDiv through Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been married for sixteen years to his wife Johannah, and has four children – Jack, Benjamin, Lucy, and Grace. He began his career teaching high school English and has returned to the classroom after a decade in law enforcement. He currently teaches Biblical Studies at a Christian high school in Nashville, TN.

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