Keeping Christ Personal
It is no secret that over the last several years our society has become increasingly opinionated and passionate about their beliefs. Political groups have been staging demonstrations in DC, protests have broken out on what seems like a daily basis, and everyone with an internet connection has opinions to share. As youth pastors, leaders and workers, those called to minister to our teens find ourselves in the precarious situation to address issues resulting from a fallen world in a way that reflects Christ. How do we balance the onslaught of political, social and moral issues bombarding our teens everywhere they go?
The hypothesis I offer is that our relationships with God are individual and as such we, as youth ministers, should be driving the discourse with our students towards how the individual student interacts with others and not so much focusing on ‘How Christ would vote’. To prove this hypothesis out, let’s look at how our relationships with God are the result of individual behaviors and rarely due to large-group issues or activism.
Our Grace Is Individual
Grace in undoubtedly an individual gift from Christ to each created person on this earth. When Peter gave what is considered the ‘first sermon’ in Acts 2, the people asked how they can all receive the gift of grace. He responded, “turn from sin, return to God, and each of you be immersed on the authority of Jesus the Messiah” (v38). What we see here, and in other passages, is that the decision to accept the gift of grace must be made by the individual, not by a group on an individual’s behalf.
Let’s bring this back to the issue at hand: does engaging our students in political discussion or humoring the social dialog on national issues benefit the individual decision of a believer to accept Christ? By acknowledging that grace is an individual issue and not a national one, our students are provided a stark contrast of God’s design versus the world’s design of a perfect world through legislation and governance. The difference between those with grace and those without is that we acknowledge that no solution of man will ever fix the border crisis, healthcare, minority relations or any other problem caused by the injection of sin into God’s perfect plan. If we focus on individual grace, we are focusing on the only solution.
Our Faith Is Individual
In Matthew 16:24, Christ says, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him say ‘No’ to himself, take up his execution-stake, and keep following me.” Christ paints the perfect picture of faith by emphasizing the personal decision each believer must make: we must all, individually, pick up our crosses and follow Him. It doesn’t say we must carry our cross with the assistance of the right political party or social platform and it certainly doesn’t say we must carry our cross and ensure that the mechanisms of man are making cross-carrying easy for others. This passage explains that our faiths are our own, independent of circumstances or surroundings.
This is a very different message from that of society. Society wants us to believe that our stance on political and social issues defines us as individuals. We know this is not true. Our identities are founded in Christ and Christ alone. If this is true, we know that our walk with Christ and the faithfulness with which we serve is founded in our ability to love God and love one another (Matt 26). Our faith is a violently individual thing and the message to our students in the face of punditry and political debate should be to not let their desire to participate in the arguments of this world distract from their individual walk with Christ.
[bctt tweet=”Do not let the desire to participate in the arguments of this world distract from your individual walk with Christ.” username=”ys_scoop”]
Our Ministry is Personal
While the ministries of Christ, the apostles and the prophets often addressed groups, cities or even nations, their lessons applied at a personal level. Paul’s letters to the Philippians, Galatians and Ephesians focus almost exclusively on the issues common in those churches as experienced by the individual. Christ’s sermons discussed the relationships between God and man. Even the messages of the prophets to entire nations often took the form of a dialog between an individual ruler and a prophet or priest.
The focus on ministry throughout the Bible is inherently personal. The problem with spending a large amount of time on political commentary is that it rarely gets to the level of addressing how God interacts and relates to the individual person. While many positions taken by religious leaders are noble and rooted in scripture, the question youth ministers must ask themselves is if they are encouraging students to reach individuals for Christ by discussing a particular stance on a political or social issue. When faced with a discussion on a large-group issue, I often attempt to bring the conversation back to how individuals in my youth group interact with peers they encounter daily. In this way, we seek to encourage their personal ministries to mirror the personal ministries of those throughout the scriptures.
It’s Not About Platforms, It’s About People
When faced with a situation where a student is asking about a particular political or social issue during Bible study, it is natural for us to get a bit uncomfortable and wonder what the “right answer” is on a particular subject. Some of us might not be uncomfortable at all and feel we have exactly the correct answer. Regardless of our stance on a particular issue, addressing the issue at a national or group level seems to miss the mark. Grace is an individual’s decision to turn from sin. Faith is an individual’s decision to walk with Christ. Ministry is how an individual reaches other individuals to make similar decisions to turn from sin and to follow Christ.
My father has a phrase that he still uses to this day: “You got to keep ‘the main thing’ the main thing.” When posed a tough question on social and political issues, responding with ‘how God looks at [insert issue]’ takes our eyes off the main thing. God wants us to love God and love each other. We do that by introducing people to grace and discipling them in their faiths through our own personal ministry. The next time I am asked about a sensitive subject rampant in the news, I pray God gives me the wisdom and strength to help my students keep ‘the main thing’ the main thing rather than distracting them with temporary answers to temporary issues facing a temporary world.
Joseph Pack is the student ministry coordinator at Bowling Green Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Virginia. Joseph’s emphasis with students is drawing distinctions between faith as the world sees it versus faith as is taught through the Word. In his day-life, he is an aerospace engineer for the US Navy. Joseph’s messages, commentaries, and contact information can be found on his blog at SaveTheGeneration.com.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.