Thursday, June 4, 2009

Stephen Ray's philosophy of youth ministry

This Sunday, we'll be presenting Stephen Ray for church approval as our new Minister to Youth. Those of us who served on the Search Committee were very impressed by his commitment to Christ, his passion for helping teenagers know God and His word, and his overall vision for youth ministry. But I'd rather you get a sense of it for yourself. Here is Stephen's philosophy of youth ministry:

It’s kind of tricky to provide a biblical basis for youth ministry philosophies, because youth ministry as we know it today didn’t exist in biblical times. It’s a pretty modern invention. But still, based on the overall framework of the church, we can infer a couple of things about how youth ministry should be done. Number one, youth ministry isn’t supposed to be “mini-church” for teenagers. In other words, real Church is when EVERYONE comes together in a common setting with common goals, working toward those together as a family in Christ.
Youth ministry is pretty much supposed to be a chance for students to go even deeper into God’s word and relationships with each other in an environment that specifically addresses the challenges and spiritual goals of teenagers. Second, youth ministry is really done best in the greater context of family ministry. In other words, the youth minister’s job is much more like a coach than a baby-sitter. He equips the student and the student’s family with all the tools necessary to ensure the spiritual maturity of the student. Youth ministry should be way more like an orchestra performance – and less like a concerto.

Here goes…

Truth is an interesting concept these days. For most people, one person’s truth can differ from another person’s truth and yet, everything can be alright. But for the Christian, this issue of truth is much simpler…and more difficult. It is simple because we define truth simply as the Word of God. It is difficult for many reasons, the first being that belief in this Truth doesn’t accomplish anything. It is the application of this Truth that brings about change in the life of a believer. When it comes to teaching truth, I believe that teenagers can digest seminary level biblical and theological training as long as it is packaged appropriately. They need to be challenged. They need to be pushed. For it is in this Truth that they discover the love and redemption of God. There is no Truth greater than that.

When a believer professes faith in the Gospel, the Holy Spirit comes into his/her life and begins a transformation, making the person progressively more like Jesus. We’re so used to hearing people say things like, “I was saved when I was 12”. Really, salvation isn’t something that takes place in a single moment. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning is when you first decide to become a believer (justification). The middle is this process of transformation (sanctification). The end is when sin is eradicated and we are completely redeemed and enter into community in the Father’s presence (glorification). As Christians, we’re in the middle. Truth and transformation go hand in hand. They cannot be separated. It is the application of Truth that serves as the catalyst for the Spirit bringing about real transformation in the lives of believers.

We often think of faith as being a very personal aspect of our lives. But for the family of God, we are called to love each other and live life together. Isn’t it interesting that the overwhelming majority of New Testament letters are not written to individuals, but to communities, in order to be read aloud during worship? That’s because God wants us to understand how important community is to Him. We, God’s people, are way more effective in edifying each other and reaching unbelievers when we work together as a unified community, rather than as individuals or divisions. In the same way, we are called to love each other, grow together, learn together, solve problems together, serve together, and reach the lost together. With this in mind, teenagers shouldn’t approach youth ministry (or any other ministry, for that matter) with a consumer mentality, being only interested in what they can get out of it. Rather, students should be just as concerned with how they can function as a small part of a huge, God-centered whole.

The greatest display of love comes through serving, deliberately placing yourself in an environment or activity where you consider the needs of others as greater than your own. Pastors serve churches by spending hours in prayer, quiet time, sermon preparation, hospital visitation, counseling, etc., because they care more about their parishioners than themselves. Parents serve children by working hard in order to ensure a more successful and prosperous life for their children. Coaches serve players by spending hours in practice drilling plays and helping athletes develop their weaknesses. Jesus served humanity by dying a criminal’s death in order to redeem those who would believe. In the same way, we are called to serve. And more than that, to practice the attitude of a servant at all times, placing the needs of others above our own and not allowing discomfort or shame to keep us from practicing this sacred call.

If my friend went to Best Buy to get a new big screen TV, and they were having a crazy sale, letting 42” Plasma screen HD TVs go for like $100, the first thing he would do is call his family and friends so they can get in on the action. It’s human nature to want to share good news. So why not the greatest news there is? The literal translation of the word “Gospel” is good news. However, I really feel like the reason that Christians might be so hesitant to share the Gospel with unbelievers is because they themselves aren’t really all that impacted by the news – it’s like “alright news” or something. If news is truly good or great, you can’t wait to share it because you want others to experience what you’ve found. The only thing is – if you aren’t experiencing the great things that come from good news, then either you won’t share the Gospel at all, or what you do share isn’t the Gospel, but really your discouragement with the Gospel. In order to share good news with others, it has to be “good” in you, first.


Anonymous said...

Preach it. I appreciate the idea that youth ministry is not "mini-church". Also, share Stephens' belief that youth are ready to go deep and be challenged. So very exciting!

Karen M.

Anonymous said...

I love your application as "coach", because youth pastors are coaching individuals at THE MOST CRUCIAL time in their lives. No other age makes such defining and life changing decisions. I am anxious for you to be an official part of our ministry Stephen!

Anonymous said...

How blessed we are to have Stephen not only as a leader and mentor to our youth, but as an integral part of Westbury. Thank you, God!