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Why I share the gospel at every youth meeting

Why I share the gospel at every youth meetingI don’t do alter calls or invitations to come forward or anything, but I do make sure that I point every youth group lesson back to the gospel for several reasons.

1. It’s the foundation of everything else in scripture. In fact, we wouldn’t even have scripture in the first place if it wasn’t for the gospel. It’s the core, the hub, the center of everything we teach. Everything is dependent on the gospel. No matter what subject, issue, or passage you’re teaching, it all ties back to the gospel message. Don’t believe me? Watch Craig Groeschel of LifeChurch.tv do it with almost every message he preaches.

2. I’m not naive enough to think that all my youth group kids have made a decision to trust Christ. Actually, often the very opposite is often true. The church kids are the ones who are the most immune to the gospel. They mentally check out thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve heard this part before.” That’s why it’s important to always tie every lesson back to the gospel! I’ve found that some teens listen to my lesson just to try to figure out how I’m going to make the connection at the end. When I get there I explain the gospel in a way that’s relevant to the lesson we just discussed. In this way it doesn’t become redundant for them, but instead they get the gospel from a new angle every week.

3. The more my kids hear the Gospel, the more clear it is for them, the easier it is for them to share it with someone else, and the more confident they feel when doing so. When I do one-on-one discipleship with teen guys, one of the questions I always ask is, “If you had 30 seconds to share the gospel with someone right before they died, what would you say?” It’s surprising to me how many good, solid church kids have a perspective of soteriology that is totally confused. They often miss key elements such as sin, or the fact that Jesus was God. They know all the elements in their head, but they’ve never been asked to put all the pieces together. That’s why it’s so helpful for them to hear the gospel every week from me because it makes it more clear each time they hear it. Coincidentally, that helps them share it more clearly with others, which in turn boosts their confidence. Of course, that means I must first have a firm grasp on the gospel myself. Do you? Can you clearly answer my question?

4. Scripture expects that both me and my youth group kids share the gospel with others regularly. There are some things scripture expects from us whether we’re gifted in that area or not. For example, some people have the gift of serving, but every believer is still expected to serve others. Some people have the gift of giving, but every believer is expected to tithe. Some people have the gift of evangelism, but every believer is expected to share Christ with the lost people around them in one capacity or another. When we keep the gospel in front of our teens at youth group, it moves it to the forefront of their theological grid, and thus they are more apt to follow the Lord’s command in obedience to share Him with others.

Ultimately, it helps both the youth group teens and myself go deep and wide at the same time.

What kind of role does the gospel play in your youth ministry?


Posted on March 11, 2009

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  • great stuff, tim. a good youth ministry buddy (cwillz.com) and I were just chatting about this.

    the thing that is difficult is really nailing down what the Gospel is. I think to shorten it down to a simple sentence or something like that is pretty tough. Jesus sure didn’t seem to do that, he took what seemed to be simple material and expanded on it.

    or he took complex, difficult topics and turned those into short parables.

    share the gospel each week. yes. the whole gospel each week? i don’t know if that is possible….

    • Rachael

      The gospel is VERY simple. Not everything Jesus said was the gospel.
      The gospel means "the good news". Not everything Jesus said was good news. Everything He said was the truth, but not everything He said was the gospel. Please read the books of Galations(the Gospel 101, in my opinion), Romans, and JOHN.
      The gospel is this: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him, won't perish but have eternal life.
      That's it.
      There is NOTHING anyone of us can do to be saved except to believe on the Lord Jesus for our salvation. Our righteousness is like filthy rags to Him. That's why we needed Jesus, because He became our righteousness.
      SO, God made it easy on us…He did all the work, we just have to trust Jesus! THAT'S WHY IT'S CALLED THE GOSPEL….IT'S GOOD NEWS!!!!!

  • @adam lehman: I think the gospel is crystal clear: God and desires a relationship with us. Our sin separates us from Him and deserves the penalty of being separated from Him forever (i.e. death). So Jesus came to earth as God and paid the penalty in our place, rose again, and now offers salvation freely to whoever trusts in Christ alone for forgiveness.

    Of course the theology of all that goes crazy deep, but that’s the gospel at it’s core.

    • Jon

      We should preach the gospel to ourselves every day, How many times is too many times for our kids and us to hear it. The more we hear it, the more we know and understand it. The more we know, the deeper our understanding becomes. All of the elements-grace, justification, righteousness, atonement, propitiation (expiation), sanctification (holiness), glorification-are all delicately woven together for a complete understanding (picture) of salvation and all that it includes. If they don't hear it all the time, when they leave youth group they will drift apart from it and instead of running to God in repentance, they will run from God and try to clean themselves up, something the Bible says we cannot do. So give the short version and part of the long version each week.

  • When it comes to preaching, I tend to follow the Spurgeon/Moody technique you’ve highlighted here… with every sermon make a beeline for the cross.

    I think you and I just disagree theologically about points 2 & 3. But there’s still room for friendship. :)

    But I have to admit that as much as I thought this was a good idea in my first few years of ministry, it really wasn’t appropriate with what I was doing all the time in youth ministry.

    I’m a firm believer that the good stuff, including sharing the message of salvation, is done in small contexts. (One on one, small groups, not big room teaching alone) I’d much rather my large group teaching raise questions in students minds then try to make every passage a Gospel presentation. I’m not even sure how you do that with some of the passages I’ve taught.

    So, I don’t entirely disagree with you. In “big church” when I fill the pulpit there is always a Gospel thread, though never an altar call. And when I’m asked to come places and preach… I’m with you dependent on what the context calls for.

    But I don’t really consider my teaching at youth group “preaching.” In the style of youth group that I’m effective in, my communication of biblical truth is just setting up an amazing small group time.

    I guess what I’m saying is that your post is frustrating to me because it only points to one format of youth group. It seems you’re making the assumption that your readers preach?

  • @adam mclane: You know me — always up for a bit of controversy even when I’m not looking for it. ;-)

    Your points are valid and well-taken. Thanks. I actually don’t really “preach” at youth group — it’s always a guided discussion. Since our sr. high meetings are bit too large for a discussion with the whole group, we go back and forth between me teaching for a couple minutes and them discussing in smaller round-table groups. We usually go back and forth about 3 or 4 times before we wrap it up and I close by taking a minute or two to point it back to the cross.

  • Noah Weston

    1 Cor 15:1 “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you _the gospel_ which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
    3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.”

    There’s the gospel in less then 1 minute.

    1 Cor 2:1-5 “…For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified…”

    If it was good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me.

    Isiah 55:10-11 “…So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please…”

    His word will accomplish His purposes.

  • Mike

    I’m with you 100%.
    I don’t always do an invitation or altar call. How do you handle a call for response? A simple “talk to an adult if you have questions” statement?
    A lot of times, I think that is sufficient, plus making aware how they can communicate with you/the leadership…

  • Chris Bartley

    When I first started out in youth ministry we would have games and a very lame lesson and some food. Then one of my friends had a student pass away in a car accident and he said that they had a great Sunday night meeting and he was so glad that he had gave them a chance to meet Jesus at the cross. Ever since then I share the gospel every time because like you Tim, I dont wnat to assume that everyone at there has a relationship with God.

  • @Mike: Yeah, usually something like, “We’d love to talk with you more if you have questions or feel like you’d like to receive this free gift tonight. Talk with one of the adults or with the friend who brought you tonight.”

    @Chris: Wow, that was like a blast of harsh reality for you guys, huh? I just do my best to come at the gospel in context of whatever we talked about that evening rather than doing the same canned speech each week, ya know? Hopefully that way it doesn’t become dull and cause kids to mentally check out when it comes up. For us, that hasn’t happened (yet?).

  • AMEN!!! Thanks for this post. It’s awesome to see I’m not alone in this way of thinking.

  • Wes

    And it will be the gospel that will make all the difference, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” Romans 1:16
    Way to be faithful Tim!

  • Tim,

    I hear you mate! We try to do the same thing no matter what the context. I agree with your reasoning, and it is up to us as youthworkers to discern the best ‘natural and normal’ way to present the gospel in our main meeting, small group or events…

    Andy Stanley (and others), say that we need to give people easy steps to take in their faithwalk. A step must be “easy, obvious and strategic” (Stanley). However, I wonder if we make it that way sometimes? Presenting the gospel is the clearest step we can give students. And I agree, it helps our Christian students understand how to present that next step to their peers…

    Question: Are we afraid? I think that many of us have grown up seeing the large group gatherings or ‘crusades’ where thousands of people made a commitment to Christ without healthy follow up, (or lack of natural ‘next step’). History has shown us that students struggle to maintain a healthy faith without being plugged in. As a result, I think many of us have become afraid when we read post like this since we worry that the ‘old way’ is being taught… However, what Tim is talking about here is in the context of his own youth ministry where good follow up is happening and students are being given next steps to make. It is up to each of us to figure out how we each apply this to our own contexts.

    Thanks Tim, I agree with what you are saying mate! Keep the challenging posts coming!

  • Here is just some food for thought in relation to your central thesis.

    Whenever consistently presenting the gospel the minister need to be fully aware of the context that is surrounding the gospel proclamation.

    Maybe in your context you can get away with clearing articulating the gospel week in and week out. However I cannot. Your approach was my approach when I first started out in youth ministry in MN. Once I moved to CA, my methods desperately had to change if I wanted the kids to take me seriously. This is why I am a Fuller Theological Seminary Youth Institute idol worshipper. They saved my butt and challenged me to really think theologically and contextually in the way I minister the Gospel.

    I think the best and most effective evangelism is where the message of the mission of God is proclaimed and performed. I think we do a really great job proclaiming the Gospel, but very rarely perform the power that is infused in the Gospel. We are so quick to share the good news, but are we really showing them the goods. This is why I am huge advocate that kids show them the good news of Jesus before they start blabbing about it. I rather have non-believers see the remarkable transformation happening in my students than them getting on their school loud speaker proclaiming Jesus.

    Do you really think this is true? “The more my kids hear the Gospel, the more clear it is for them, the easier it is for them to share it with someone else, and the more confident they feel when doing so.”

    At least in my experience the more I dive into the themes of the Gospel the more I realize I don’t know. It is crazy. The gospel is soooo profound, deep, simply, complex, mysterious, and upside down. I think it takes a while for the gospel to really incarnate itself within us. I think the exact opposite is true: the more my kids hear and live out the gospel, the more complex and real the gospel becomes to them. Over time the gospel starts to really take shape and internalize in them, which brings more questions.

    ps I would hope that you would get more subscribers as you theologically articulate yourself in relation to youth ministry. This is great stuff.

  • @jeremy zach: “This is why I am huge advocate that kids show them the good news of Jesus before they start blabbing about it. I rather have non-believers see the remarkable transformation happening in my students than them getting on their school loud speaker proclaiming Jesus.”

    I totally agree. This post was about the speaking part, not the “being” part. But yes, we need to both live it and speak it. Living without speaking just makes us “good people,” and speaking without living removes credibility from our words.

    “At least in my experience the more I dive into the themes of the Gospel the more I realize I don’t know.”

    lol! Dude, I so know what you’re saying. In fact, that’s why I went to seminary right after Bible college, because the more I learned, the more I realized how much I really don’t know. And even at seminary, the more knew, the more I felt like how much I really don’t know. God’s Word (and in our context here, the gospel) is SO deep, profound, and mysterious, like you said, and it does bring more questions. However, I do understand the parts that says to proclaim Christ, so I proclaim Him while publicly wrestling with the deep intricacies of that.

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  • @ Tim i don’t think the “speaking” and “being” part should be separated. If we are just speaking the themes of the gospel it is just lip service. If we are just doing the good works then we are just good people. Therefore this is why the proclamation and the performance of the Gospel need to be side by side.

    I think our 21sts existential postmodern students can easily get disillusioned by the weekly gospel presentation because the presentations has been used and abused for the last 20 years in YM. It is like you are selling them a product they have never seen, experienced, or witnessed before, which is why students easily become cynical and skepical.

    Again the weekly speaking of salvation may work in your context and that is great. Personally I wish it did in my context. That is why I firmly argue that the words of salvation need to be coupled with the works of salvation. Kids need to hear, see, witness, and experience the Gospel.

    Also you have to admit that the preaching salvation method every week is a very modernized and late 1980s method of youth ministry–youth ministry 1.0 if you will. Marko does an excellent job in his book speaking to these themes. Marko wants to see more YM that are more contexually, missionally, and communally driven.

    Frankly, this is why 4 years ago i decided to abandoned the YM 1.0 proclamation ym philosophy. In a sense the salvation message (or getting kids saved) becomes the focus of the youth meetings. I think our 21st century needs more than just salvation opportunities every week. F

  • @jeremy zach: “i don’t think the “speaking” and “being” part should be separated. If we are just speaking the themes of the gospel it is just lip service. If we are just doing the good works then we are just good people. Therefore this is why the proclamation and the performance of the Gospel need to be side by side.”

    Yeah, I totally agree. My post isn’t trying to separate the two — it’s just focusing on one aspect of it in our ministry.

    “Frankly, this is why 4 years ago i decided to abandoned the YM 1.0 proclamation ym philosophy. In a sense the salvation message (or getting kids saved) becomes the focus of the youth meetings. I think our 21st century needs more than just salvation opportunities every week.”

    Again, I totally agree. I LOVE marko’s book, YM 3.0. I’ve processed through it multiple times already and am currently doing it again both with other YPs in my community and, starting next week, with the other pastors on staff at my church. Just for clarification, although God wants to see kids saved even more than I do, I wouldn’t say it’s the focus of every youth meeting by any means. It’s more of a reminder at the end of our conversation/discussion together that this is what’s at the core of whatever we’re talking about: God created us for a relationship with Him, our sin cut that off, but forgiveness is freely available because He paid the penalty in our place. To me, it doesn’t feel like it falls into a 1.0 mentality at all. Maybe I’m not communicating this very well… Sorry!

  • @jeremy zach – I agree with you that they shouldn’t be separated. however I prefer my students telling their friends about Christ. Too often we hide behind the “lifestyle evangelism” model hoping people WILL see the difference and come up and say, “Man you are different. I want what you have. How do I get it?” Unfortunately it doens’t work this way. Jesus was the most confrontational verbally about the Kingdom of God.

    I know you are arguing out of a balance and I agree with that. I’m just saying too often we fall into this unBiblical model of lifestyle evangelism becuase we are too scared to be verbal about it. It would be great to be perfectly balanced. I would love that more than anything. But for my students who aren’t yet balanced I want them speaking the Gospel before showing it.

  • @ Chris Day
    I hear ya. Incarnational evangelism and witnessing is a slower process and you don’t get an immediate response. I am always impressed with Jesus because He showed the people who he preached to–the holy goods before he verbally confronted people about the Kingdom of God.

    In my context the bull horn evangelism approach has greatly failed and has produced a lot of spiritual wounds. I would rather have someone say….you are “different” than “you are a prick.”

    I just want Christians to put money where their mouth is…that is all…..

    My incarnational evangelism strategies have been developed out of deep spiritual wounds. I don’t think the incarnational evangelism model is unBiblical. It is found in John 1. YoungLife does an excellent job with knowing how to be an incarnational witness. I know some younglife people who literally befriend a group of students for 9 months because they drop the Jesus salvation bomb.

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  • @jeremy zach Just curious of how you proclaim and perform the gospel every time you are with your youth? What does it look like?

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