One of my most despised youth ministry jobs is reconciling the budget and all the receipts that go with it. I currently have six-months’ worth in a small pile on my desk. It is true, I have been procrastinating. But I know it is important for me to get on with this job of reconciliation for the sake of the finance team and ministry budget. The finance team needs to know what has been spent, and what has come in. The receipts are examined, the figures are counted, and the result is either reconciliation or the realization that there is money missing somewhere. There’s no grey area for reconciliation. Either yes, the finances have been reconciled, or no, the finances do not reconcile and we need to work out why and what that means going forward.
The fact is, we are not reconciled with God until we recognise that Jesus has paid all our debts and all out of pocket expenses that we have with him. In faith, we call upon Christ to pay that which we can never pay. It doesn’t matter if we believe it is little or a lot, we are not reconciled to God until we know for ourselves that Christ has died for us and reconciled us to the Father.
In youth ministry, it is vital to show young people their need – like in imbalanced budget – for reconciliation with God. This starts with acknowledging we are separated from God because of sin, that we as humans have very stark differences from our Maker that require reconciliation. As we’ve already discussed in this series, we are incapable of accomplishing that reconciliation in our own strength. As much as we try to do so through ‘being good’ and focusing on our behavior, the account is still unbalanced. And so one of the central, magnificent messages of our ministry is helping our young people marvel at the reconciliation available to them through Christ.
This reconciliation is achieved because of what God has accomplished. Where we could not, he does. The truth that God has done something so great for people so small reveals the enormity of his love for us. God has provided through his Son Jesus the opportunity for wholeness, holiness, and blamelessness in his eyes. And this comes at the cost of Jesus’ life through his sacrificial death on the cross.
When talking to the church in Colossae, Paul writes about how we were once alienated and hostile toward God, but that through the cross – the death and resurrection of Jesus – we have been reconciled to Him.
Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him— if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard. This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become a servant of it. (Colossians 1:21-23)
One of the worst feelings within the realm of personal relationships is when someone is upset with you, or when you are upset with someone else (if we hold no empathy for a situation like this, then perhaps we need to take a hard look at how authentic our relationships really are). When there is a broken relationship – with a spouse, a partner, a colleague, a child, a friend – restoring the relationship will require reconciliation of our differences.
In human relationships, reconciliation is often done through each party coming together, acknowledging their wrong actions, and apologizing for what they have done and the hurt they have caused. It is similar in our relationship with God. We come to God and acknowledge our wrongs – our sin – and we apologize and repent of them. We seek to turn from our sin and live in the way of grace. For God takes our sin, he has dealt with it on the cross, enabling us to be reconciled and live in grace.
Reconciliation with God is one of the great gospel truths, another facet to the gospel diamond we as youth pastors need to remind ourselves of on a regular basis. And Paul here reminds us that what we once were is not what we are now.
In youth ministry we call upon our students and their families to recognize this gift of grace God has given us through Jesus. It is great that we can have a fun time, enjoy each other’s company, learn more about God, and find a place to belong as a community. But we also need to put front and center the truth that there is a need to reconcile with God. When we call our students to God, we call them to come and receive all these benefits. The gospel is a gospel of hope that delivers us from separation and alienation and reconciles us with the God of the universe, the lover of our souls. What was broken has now been finally and forever repaired.