I’m not the stereotypical trendy youth pastor (honestly, I don’t know many who fit the stereotype). I don’t live on the cutting edge of innovation. But I do have an iPhone, a Macbook, I blog, and I just recently got black-rimmed glasses. I generally tend to adopt things that are new once they aren’t really “new” anymore and have proven their worth, otherwise I fear that I’d be wasting my time in order to be a pioneer of something that’s gone and over before you know it.
My point in telling you this is simply to say that I don’t fear change and adopting something once I’m confident that it’s actually helpful and productive for more than a fleeting moment. For example, I still haven’t gotten on Twitter since I don’t see many teenagers tweeting. It might take a few months or it might take me a few years to be convinced of something’s worth. It doesn’t take too long to be in ministry to realize that there are a number of “Ministry Bandwagons” that you could hop on: Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry, Postmodern Youth Ministry, Contemplative Youth Ministry, Emergent Youth Ministry, Family-Based Youth Ministry, Traditional Youth Ministry, etc. etc. etc.
A lot of these different ministry paradigms have something to offer (some more than others), but you can’t possibly do them all. So which is it? How many times have we known someone who’s gone to a conference, come back, and then worked to completely overhaul his/her entire ministry?
A few years back I attended a seminar where Alistair Begg was asked about how he addresses cultural “hotspots.” I loved his response. He basically said, “There’s always some circus going through town, but it’ll go away soon enough and then another one will come. I simply preach the Gospel, so when the circus has left town the Gospel is still present.” I loved that response, and I agree with him. That doesn’t mean that we ignore that there’s a circus, but it means that our ministry remained centered upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
His example was that he never preached directly against the DaVinci Code while it was everywhere. He simply kept on preaching the Gospel and when Scripture addressed something to do with the DaVinci Code then he’d point it out so people were aware of it, and then he’d move on. And then the DaVinci Code moved on. He didn’t have a church-wide initiative to have all the Small Groups study all the faults and heresies in the DaVinci Code, he kept them focused on studying Scripture.
In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s lectures on preaching he taught that preachers must not try to make the Gospel relevant, but instead, they must work to testify to its relevance. The Word of God makes itself relevant to our world when it is rightly understood and proclaimed. This has made all the difference for me in my ministry.
None of us who are in ministry want to live on the bandwagon, hopping from one thing to the next to the next. We want to be culturally relevant, but we must strive to do so because the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation… even today in the midst of whatever cultural hotspots may flare up.
There are lots of great youth ministry books and resources available, and we should learn as much as we can from them. But please, don’t hop on ministry bandwagons. Don’t try to be someone else and copy someone else’s ministry. Be the pastor or youth pastor that God has called you to be.
In order to keep myself from being misunderstood, let me give a few examples of what I DON’T mean:
- DON’T ignore application. The Gospel changes lives. It isn’t simply an idea or concept to be learned. It is the power of God for salvation. God changes lives.
- DON’T ignore culture. Media has enormous power over people today and it’s constantly speaking into their lives. If we are not teaching people to discern the truth from lies then we’re simply neglecting our spiritual responsibility. We must be in the business of helping people see the power of the Gospel to redeem culture.
- DON’T ignore the needs of your people in particular. Don’t ignore people’s heart-cries. If someone’s mourning, comfort them. If someone’s sick, give them hope.