Youth Ministry Isn’t About Youth Ministers

The second Monday of each month I gather with several pastors in the area to pray, confess my sin, and fellowship together.  During our last meeting, my mentor brought us to 2 Corinthians 4:1-6.  It was an incredible reminder of what we’re to be about as ministers, and I believe it’s particularly relevant to those of us working in youth ministry.

In chapters 1-3, Paul defends his ministry amongst the Corinthians, reminding them that the power of his ministry is from God–not from himself.  He goes on in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 to write:

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

How often are we tempted to be God’s PR filter–to tamper with God’s word to soften the hard truths, gloss over the parts that make us uncomfortable, or tweak the passages we feel need help?  But our ministry isn’t about us or what we want to be true–it’s about faithfully proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ as Lord.

How often are we tempted to think that we can “win” others to Christ, as if we could change hearts and behaviors with our own cunning?  But our job is only to faithfully witness by openly stating the truth of the gospel.  The results of our proclamation are not up to us–that’s the Spirit’s work.

How often we are tempted to proclaim ourselves–our passion, our insight, our efforts, our creativity, our humor–in an effort to try and make Jesus “cool”.  But the youth don’t need us–they need Jesus and the power of his Spirit.

How often do we forget our utter dependence upon the grace of Jesus and the power of the Spirit in ministry, foolishly thinking we somehow earned the right to be ministers of our own merit?  But the light of Christ shines out of the darkness in our hearts.  We were graciously given whatever knowledge of God in Jesus we have by the Spirit.

I find incredible freedom in this passage.  It reminds me that from start to finish, my ministry is to be about Jesus and his grace at work in me and through me by his Spirit.  It’s okay when I feel weak.  It’s okay to feel like I have nothing to give.  For this, too, is part of our message–apart from Christ we are weak, we are nothing.

Later on in his letter, Paul will write down one of the strangest truths in gospel reality–a truth that comes directly from the mouth of the resurrected Jesus.  Having grasped something of his insufficiency and weakness–and having repeatedly begged for the removal of his weakness–Jesus says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

And so Paul continues, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecution, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

As we minister to youth, my prayer is that we will remember that it’s not about us.  May we grow in our dependence upon God, learning to embrace our weakness so that the power of Christ may rest upon us in the ministries he’s given to us.

Let’s us remember along with Paul and Timothy, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6a)

And–praise God!–God’s grace is sufficient even for our youth, so let’s be ministers utterly dependent upon God’s grace.

Mark Howard serves as Pastor to Youth at Trinity Presbyterian in Covington, GA. He holds a masters degree in theology from Wheaton Theological Seminary in Wheaton, IL.

Mark Howard was a youth pastor for five years before joining Elam Ministries, an organization that seeks to strengthen and expand the church in Iran and surrounding areas. Through Elam, he's had the opportunity to work with Iranian youth as well as talk with American churches about God's work in Iran. Mark has his M.A. in Theological Studies from Wheaton College Graduate School and serves on Rooted's steering committee.

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