A model for youth ministry

I was once a guest missionary at a missions conference at a midwest church. A friend of mine was also a guest missionary at this conference, and he had the privilege of speaking before the youth Sunday school. For the first five or so minutes of class, the youth pastor/leader talked about all the fun things that were coming up: “We’re going to do a fundraiser carwash, and it’s going to be fun. We’re going to go do _________ ministry, and it’s going to be fun…” My friend, who had a rather decadent pre-Christian life and was radically and abruptly transformed by the gospel, then started his talk before the students with, “Before I was a Christian, I had a lot of ‘fun.’ Now I have joy.”

I was reminded about this as I was reading a Christianity Today interview of Richard Foster today (Foster is the author of Celebration of Discipline). Here’s Foster’s answer to one question:

What were the key influences in your early Christian faith?

One was a youth pastor at that church; he was very serious and didn’t go in much for the fun and games. He took us through a two-year study of the Book of Romans; I mean a real study. In terms of anchoring me theologically, that was great.

A second was Bonhoeffer and his writings, especially The Cost of Discipleship. His writing was the only place I could find serious engagement with discipleship. And that probably saved me from abandoning the faith. If all this stuff I read in the Gospels were really true, then that should change everything, but when I looked at the churches in my youthful idealism, I didn’t see it. But I saw it in The Cost of Discipleship. And then, of course, his story was compelling because of his own martyrdom. So I clung to that. I still have the old book, taped together.

I’m all for having fun (I’m still having fun in my mid-40s). I’m even more for serious study of God’s Word and meaningful discipleship at all ages.

Grace and Peace

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