Word and Spirit in Youth Ministry: Balance

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There are a lot of unhelpful ways to talk about “balance” in youth ministry. Balance is helpful when it avoids destructive extremes. However, most attempts at balancing the Word and Spirit in youth ministry seem to be unbiblical. So before we attempt to figure out how to balance, we must begin with three views of “balance” that don’t have scriptural support.

The Wrong Kind of Tight Rope[1]

1. To be balanced does not mean being neutral (e.g., neither hot nor cold).  This approach says that if we are somewhat compassionate, somewhat a student of the word, somewhat into worship, and somewhat into theology, then we will have a balanced ministry: “Look at us, we have Word and Spirit figured out!” No.  This is standing on the wrong kind of tightrope. This form of Christian “balance” is an act that’s two feet from the ground. Close enough to the world that it’s quickly forgotten, and unremembered. This kind of neutral Christianity is stunted, and ineffective.

2. Balance doesn’t mean unity at the expense of Gospel truth. There are connoisseurs of culture who are willing to lose the bite and spice of theological cuisines in favor of some bland pasty theology – generally devoid of wrath, justice, or the effective love of God. Biblical balance does not soften hard edges. It allows the Gospel to be it’s full-bodied self. Starving God’s attributes for the sake of fellowship is not balance. Biblical balance can never give God a diet. The Gospel must keep its girth.

3. Balance doesn’t mean half-hearted commitment. Balance recognizes that if something is worth pursuing, it’s worth being made a fool for. The degree to which we get carried away, or stuff our feelings into bottles, doesn’t get to define balance. Degrees of emotion are not the problem because biblical balance isn’t an issue of personality. We are not tipping the scale in favor of “The Spirit” just because our students get excited in worship. We do not become more “Word focused” when we come to the text with dispassion.

Priorities

Therefore, biblical balance is, in fact, unbalanced. Unbalanced in the sense that Scripture sets our entire course. The Bible defines what emphasizing Word and Spirit means, not our emotions or personality. Balance is not compromising core doctrines, nor flattening all emphases to valleys, or raising all priorities to mountains. A Christian’s balance is an undiluted, blood-earnest obedience to Scripture’s priorities – and no other.

Balance comes from the Word establishing priorities, and our spirits submitting to them. Before we delve deeper into what it looks like to be a student ministry based on both Word and Spirit, this must be our grounding. The emphases of Scripture must become ours if we are to be biblically balanced.

[1] If at any point you say: “Ah, that was insightful.” Don’t credit me. What you are reading here is taken fromConvergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist by Sam Storms. He treats the issue of balancing Word and Spirit more fully from pages 102-105. With his permission, I am reframing his thoughts for student ministry. 

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