Several years ago I walked around a shopping mall with a student who was weighing the cost of whether he would walk with Christ as a disciple or go the way go the world. He had a new, non-Christian girlfriend and the question of whether or not they would sleep together loomed.
Before this experience, I would have asserted that the basic function of youth ministry is discipleship-making. That is the Great Commission and primary function of the Church, right? Nobody would argue with such a standpoint. However, this conversation with the teenager uncovered for me that there is a deeper layer beneath discipleship-making that serves as the foundational purpose of youth ministry. I think youth ministries function to reform and overhaul the false belief system, which all students (and people) inherit as a product of original sin.
A distorted worldview constitutes the biggest obstacle in the formation of disciples. This young man called into question the validity of the scriptural position on sexual abstinence. He proceeded to offer rationale for why premarital sex is not immoral or harmful, based on his thinking. In the midst of this was an absence of the idea that God had his best interest in mind while constructing His Law.
This rebuilding project centers on three primary areas: revelation, self, and God. Just like Adam and Eve, kids believe that authority for truth lies within the subjective, the self. They do not believe that they can trust God’s Word in the same way that Adam and Eve disregarded the warnings God issued about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Moving them in a direction of understanding that truth comes through what God has revealed in His Word serves as a starting point in the rebuilding effort.
In regard to their view of self, teens naturally believe that they can handle life apart from dependent relationship with God, or that they can be “like God.” God is there for help when they need Him but generally they can handle life on their own. Helping kids understand the depth of the problem and nature of their sin, as beings desiring to live apart from God, brings them into an accurate understanding of self.
Finally and most significantly, they believe that God is not good, cannot be trusted, and is against them. The need for repeatedly showing God’s interest in their life, His goodness, His mercy, His kindness, His gentleness, and His generosity is the backbone of the reformation of the marred belief system.
Discipleship-making goes nowhere without a complete revolution in the belief system of an individual. We should aim and pray for movement from these false beliefs to a place where the heart embraces the reality that we are needy sinners living in a world ruled by a gracious and good God who longs to live in relationship with people. The mission of breaking down the false belief system and building a new foundation, rooted in God’s Truth, is the work of a youth minister.
Cameron Cole is the chairman of Rooted: A Theology Conference for Student Ministry and the Director of Student Ministries at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL. He is a candidate for a Masters in Religion from Reformed Theological Seminary.