The fourth session was led by Steve Wright, Assistant Pastor of Student Ministries at Providence Baptist Church. (I previously interviewed Steve — here is part 1 and part 2 of that interview.)
Wright explained that he came to Providence really wrestling with why youth leaving for college were so shallow in matters of the faith. He asked the question: What would it look like if churches equipped families to have a daily encounter with the gospel?
In his first decade of ministry, Wright confessed, he leaped onto the never-ending treadmill of bigger is better. For many, this allure comes with gimmicks like shaving the youth pastor’s head, giving away iPods, swallowing goldfish, blow-up games, give aways, and bringing “Christian” celebrities to events. Many student ministries apparently seek to “entertain” students to the cross. Perhaps even more sadly, some senior pastors actually tell their student ministry associates, “Don’t consider telling the parents they need to disciple their kids. They won’t do it. It is our job.”
Many voice the concern that a family-equipping student ministry model makes it difficult for kids to invite their unchurched friends. Steve had four points by way of response.
I. WHAT IF WE TAUGHT OUR STUDENTS THAT BIBLICAL OBEDIENCE IS REQUIRED OF ALL STUDENTS?
The Great Commission does not end with informing the nations of Christ’s work, but with making discipling of all nations, teaching them to obey everything that Christ commands (Matt. 28:18-20).
II. WHAT IF WE TAUGHT THAT ALL CHRISTIANS SHOULD LIVE IN A DISTINCTIVE AND WINSOME MANNER?
What if Christians were actually different with respect to their dress, their speech, and their behavior? Colossians 3:5-10 explains that Christians are to put to death what is earthly and put on the new self.
III. WHAT IF PARENTS’ PRIMARY OBJECTIVE WAS TO SEE THAT THEIR CHILDREN’S LIVES WERE GOSPEL-SATURATED IN EVERY ASPECT? (Eph. 1:7-9)
IV. WHAT IF WE TAUGHT THE TRUTH OF A GOD WHO SENT HIS SON TO RESCUE SINNERS FROM A LITERAL PLACE OF TORMENT AND GRACIOUSLY GIVES ETERNAL LIFE? (Luke 12:4-5)
Steve illustrated his point by noting how offensive it would be to try to add beauty to a bride at a wedding by running back to her as she stood in the entry way to modify her hair or add some cheap ornaments before she was “ready” to walk down the aisle. Yet we do that when we make youth ministry a show, as if we need to add free iPODS to the gospel offer. The beautiful bride is the gospel. And she needs no extra props.
As Wright noted in his book reThink:
“Bigger is better in today’s church-growth prevailing thought. Many times the invitation to meet Christ at the foot of the cross seems much less appealing than the new tricks of the trade that some churches are embracing in the effort to be culturally relevant. Student ministries today look to gimmicks, giveaways, hype and featured artists as ploys to attract teens rather than calling people to biblical repentance and obedience. Let’s face it: the gospel becomes a tougher sale when many of our churches seek to offer a buffet of ‘spiritual’ options with an unbridled consumer desire.”
Perhaps we should reconsider the traditional paradigm for student ministry, since:
1. We now are seeing students abandon their faith like no other time in history.
2. The divorce rate among Christians is equal to or higher than the rate among non-Christians.
3. We are finding that we are moving students from program to program to program and then, when they graduate, they “graduate from God” because they have been taught and trained to love events and programs rather that loving Christ.
4. We have more workers, more activities, larger budgets, more staff, larger buildings, and still more students leaving the church and abandoning their faith.
Steve explained that there were two assumptions that he made when he went into ministry.
Assumption #1: The model of spiritual formation that many churches embrace and have adopted was effective.
Assumption #2: This model was entirely biblical.
But over the years, Steve noted, he’s made a few observations:
OBSERVATION #1: OUR CURRENT MODEL OF SPIRITUAL FORMATION IS NOT A GOOD CONDUIT OF THE GOSPEL.
A. Our current model fosters a “spiritual drop-off” mentality.
i. Our current model says the home will not or is not capable of spiritual formation and therefore, student pastors must do it all
ii. Acts 2:42-47 shows a very different vision.
B. Our current model isn’t seeking to produce fruit that will last.
i. Our current model defines ministry success as how many members attended, how many were baptized, etc. I am all for reaching the masses, BUT the call is to make disciples.
ii. STATS- no one wants us to read them, but seriously, what if they were ½? ¼? Would we feel better? Remember the parable of the Lost Sheep?
iii. John 15 describes this Biblical picture (John 15:13-16). (“fruit that will last”)
By defining success by “how many”, the emphasis is on short-term results.
OBSERVATION #2: GOD HAS GIVEN US TWO PRIMARY INSTITUTIONS THROUGH WHICH WE ARE TO LIVE AND PREACH THE GOSPEL: THE FAMILY AND THE CHURCH.
As pastors, we have been entrusted with and called to shepherd, guard, and protect both the family and the church. Whose job is it to spiritually develop children? The Scriptural Answer: Parents.
All of us would acknowledge that we are in partnership with parents. But in reality, many student pastors really just tell parents what they are going to do. But a true partnership with parents solicits input from parents.
What’s been happening is that parents are seeing youth pastors carrying the ball and everything looks fine at the time. Then, student ministers go to hand the ball back to the parents, and they don’t know what to do about it. Likewise, a lot of young pastors coming out of seminary today do not have a theology of family. So they don’t recognize the importance of parents raising their kids in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.
Our spiritual forefathers were able to speak with clarity on the responsibility of the family. Shouldn’t we?
Steve then briefly unpacked his theology of family:
1. God created man and woman unique but in His image (Gen. 1:27).
2. God blessed man and woman with the gift of marriage, sex, and family (Gen. 1:28; 2:24).
3. God gave man and woman the primary role of spiritual disciples for their children (Deut. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:4).
4. Within marriage, God calls the men to love their wives and calls the wives to willingly submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-25).
5. God’s design for marriage is to be lifelong as it is written that God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16).
6 God seeks to use Christian marriage as a testimony of His commitment as the bride groom to His bride (the Church) (II Cor. 11:2-3).
7. God’s design is for families to unite and partner with the local church for the mutual purpose of discipleship (Heb. 10:25, Acts 2:42-47).
Steve confessed what his faulty, five-point, family theology used to be:
1. Parents don’t relate to their children as well as I do [verse? Oops?].
2. Parents don’t want to spiritually train their children [verse?].
3. Parents aren’t as trained as me! [verse?]
4. Parents would rather I do it!
5. Parents are too busy these days.
OBSERVATION #3: FAMILIES MUST BE ENGAGED WITH THE GOSPEL MESSAGE.
A. This engagement starts with us.
What do we do if we go to the parents and they don’t want to embrace their responsibility? Nehemiah faced a situation like that. He repented, fasted, mourned, and prayed (Neh. 1:4-11). He included himself in a corporate act of repentance. Many times student pastors don’t want to talk about family worship because they themselves do not practice it.
B. We need to display humble, transparent leadership (I Peter 5:12 – God opposes the proud).
Youth pastors need to teach these principles to others with depth and patience – need to move forward as a unified church leadership team. Invite others to join you on this journey. Allow God’s Word and grace to guide you. Remember how grace would behave.
Can you imagine how freeing ministry could be when things aren’t based on budget, charisma, our speaking ability, the “it” factor, a church building, gimmicks, or the “stuff,” but if our ministries rested on ONE GREAT TRUTH: The faithfulness of God to honor His Word?
Related: Steve mentioned a man named Fred Broome who transparently shared his early attempts at family worship.
Update: Message Audio in MP3 Format