What Is the Place of Bible Study in a Youth Ministry?

One of the things that I enjoy most in life is sitting down with a group of high schoolers on Sunday nights and teaching them God’s Word in a way that is faithful to the meaning while helping them apply it to their lives.  We are currently studying the book of Philippians, and I love the challenge of studying the meaning of the text, seeing the universal principles in it that God is teaching, and then helping teenagers apply it.  We have a small group time after our time of Bible study, and I get energized hearing them wrestle with how what they have heard applies on the baseball field, in their high school hallway the next morning, or in their relationship with their parents when they get home.

Brian Cosby has written a helpful book, Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry fron an Entertainment Culture that reminds us of the importance of having Bibgiving up gimmicksle-saturated, Gospel-centered Youth Ministry that takes the Bible seriously.  Cosby writes:

Doctrine should never be separated from worship and the “so what?” question.  Doctrine should inform students why they should do well in school, and how they can fight the temptation to gossip about another teen…indeed, the truths of God’s Word should be the lens through which they view all of life–from homework to movies, from dating to parents. — pp. 99-100

I can’t imagine having an opportunity for teens to regularly gather together and not encouraging them to believe the gospel and live the gospel through taking time to teach God’s Word.  Youth Ministries are never more fulfilling their mission than when they support Christian parents by supplementing what their teens are already being taught at home, while also reaching out to those who come from unbelieving homes by consistently, passionately teaching what it means to know and follow Jesus from the Bible.  Anything less is subliminally teaching them that it’s OK to build their lives on sinking sand (Matt. 7:24-27)!

Often when the importance of the Word of God in Youth Ministry is brought up, there is a concern about the place of games.  I heartily believe that both have a place in Youth Ministry.  In our context, our Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers enjoy free time over ping pong, pool, and foosball before we begin each Sunday night, and an organized game after worship in singing, Bible Study, and small groups (including prayer).  In fact, I have told our Children’s Ministry workers, “You must have fun if you work with children,” and the same goes for Youth Ministry.  Teenagers love to have fun together, which is part of fellowship for them.  But there does not need to be a dichotomy between having fun together and taking the Bible seriously!

Peter confessed to Christ, “You have the words of eternal life…” (John 6:68)  In order to have a Family Ministry that has an eternal impact, we need to study those words of eternal life together regularly.  Twelve year olds and eighteen year olds need this Word just as much as everyone else.

What Are Two Things Teenagers Need from a Youth Ministry?

I have been thinking recently about Youth and Family Ministry, and I am thankful for what Austin Duncan has written regarding Youth Ministry in Evangelism: How to Share the Gospel Faithfully.  As I read these paragraphs below I wanted to shout, “Amen!”  Two things (not exhaustive, but certainly primary) that teenagers need from a Youth Ministry are:

1) The Scripture to be taught at a level they will understand.  This includes a great emphasis on the Gospel.  What more important message could we possibly offer them for their lives now as well as for the rest of their lives?  Nothing.

2) To be a part of the church as a whole.  This includes involvement with their parents and the rest of the church.  There is no switch that can be flipped when they leave the Youth Ministry that will make them *now* productive members of the church.  They should be part of the church body now.

Thank you Austin for explaining this so clearly and passionately:

“The Scriptures themselves are the most important tool for the youth pastor.  There is no other way for a person to come to Christ except through the preaching of the gospel, and there is no place where the gospel is presented more clearly than in the Scriptures.  When a youth ministry is built on verse by verse teaching of the Bible, the students learn how to live and what to believe.  As a God-ordained side effect, students also learn how to study and interpret the Bible for themselves as they watch Scripture rightly divided and properly explained … Teenagers in the youth group need this message [the Gospel].  They do not need cultural relevancy, and they certainly do not need a youth leader who really “gets them.”  They need a minister who will explain to them that they will not get to heaven on the coattails of their parents’ Christianity, that God hates sin, and that the most important issue in the universe is not if they are going to make the soccer team, but if they are reconciled to God.  Have they turned from sin to the Savior?  Have they embraced, in faith, God’s perfect sacrifice of His dear Son?  Is Christ’s life theirs?

…It should not be possible for students to faithfully participate in a youth ministry but not participate in the church. … The youth must be involved with adults in serving missionaries, participating in neighborhood outreach, and visiting the elderly.  Above all, they should be a part of the corporate body of the church in worship, fellowship, and service.  One of the reasons that young people withdraw from the church is because they grow out of what it has to offer them.  Eventually, they will tire of games and skits, and look for something more profound.  A key to student ministry–for a lasting student ministry–is to get young people involved in the church because they are in love with the gospel.  Then, if they leave the church, they abandon an integral part of their lives.  Church no longer is a place that serves them, but a place where they belong.

Isolating our teenagers from the rest of the body of the church is bad for everyone involved.  Just as the foot cannot say to the hand that it is not part of the body, so the youth cannot say that he or she is not part of the body of believers (1 Cor. 12:15).  Serving the church is how Christians are called to use their God-given gifts, as this is where believers live out the New Testament command to love one another.  Teenagers must be taught to have affection for the church, to care for its needs, and to devote themselves to its health and growth.”

From Chapter 15, “The Youth Pastor as Evangelist: The Church’s Most Fruitful Evangelism,” in Evangelism: How to Share the Gospel Faithfully, ed. John MacArthur (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 213-215.

The question always comes up when advocating an eternal perspective in Youth Ministry, “Can you still have fun while doing this?”  Of course!  As I know Austin himself lives out (I have known Austin for 9 years), this is all done with grace–and fun.  But although we laugh a lot with teenagers and may do many fun activities with them, we need to have enough vision and love to give them what they need: God’s Word and the Gospel, and to help them be a part of the church, the body of Christ.