An Imperfect Theology of Student Ministry

My final for my Christian Education and Formation with Youth is a ten page paper centering on my theological understanding of student ministry. Though I am up to about eight pages, I feel like I am spinning my wheels and perhaps veering into cliche-ridden territory. This is my attempt to write my way out of that.

The heart of student ministry is what the heart of every ministry should be: Jesus. The life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ is what gives us our name, our purpose, and our hope. It is a simple answer but it is nowhere near simple in execution.

One of the problems is we layer things on top of Jesus to make it more palatable for students or perhaps to make it more palatable for us. We try to make Jesus cool with lights, music, bells, whistles, mirrors, and smoke. There is nothing wrong with those elements in and of themselves. I am a firm believer that we should use whatever tools we have on hand to communicate the message of the gospel. Paul’s speech at Mars Hill in Acts 17 is a touchstone for this incarnational type of message.

Yet there are times that I think Jesus gets lost underneath the flash of it all. If by making Jesus cool, we are unintentionally trying to make ourselves look cool by association.

On the other hand, we might pile Jesus up with all of these extras of theology or specific scripture interpretations. Again, do not get me wrong. Student ministries should teach theology and how to interpret scripture. But sometimes I think we fill in too many blanks because the blanks make us incredibly uncomfortable. So the next thing you know, the saving and beautiful grace of Jesus is at risk if a random verse in 2 Chronicles is proven to not be one hundred percent historically accurate.

The trouble is all of this is done with the very best of intentions and there is a great deal of good within it as well. It makes it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. I am certainly not the person to draw lines as far as what is too much or too little relevance, theology, or interpretation.

That is why I have to come back to Jesus. I have to go back to the start of this faith. Simplify things back to the roots. When I look at the story of Jesus, I see something that resonates with what I have learned about students this past semester.

The thing that has been impressed upon me the most this semester is that a great many adolescents feel like they have been abandoned. They feel like their schools, churches, and even their parents only care about them if they perform a certain way. So they try to cope with this abandonment through a myriad of ways: some seemingly innocuous, others decidedly dangerous. They form de facto underground communities with peers to give them a sense of belonging. They feel like they do not belong.

Jesus loved those that felt like they did not belong. He loved the rest as well, but repeatedly we see him dining with those that felt abandoned. He reached out to those that could not perform in the way that would earn the acceptance of the institutions around them. Again and again, those people got it. They understood that they did not have it together. They were all too aware that they needed God’s grace. They were grateful in the utmost when such an incredible opportunity presented itself to them. And that grace transformed their lives.

That is where it has to start. It is not about feeling good about ourselves, being cool, getting a ticket punched to heaven, or cheap grace. It is about a God that loves us so much that He was willing to go to whatever lengths to reach out to everyone so that we might truly live as were were meant to.

I sometimes have doubts, but I believe deep in my soul that resonates. Before we talk about discipleship, church participation, or anything else, we have to talk about Jesus. We have to talk about how we cannot pull ourselves together on our own. Yet through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, it is possible for us to be made right before God.

I will not have Jesus perfectly figured out, but that is where I have to start and that is to where I have to constantly return.

To Jim on His 3rd Birthday

A World of Hurt