Youth Ministries Need a Gospel Anchor
Being a teenager is difficult because almost everything changes. A handful of students face the challenge of new classes, schools, cities, states, and countries. Many cycle through different phases, friend groups, and fads.
For Gen Z, uncertainty is everywhere. They are not sure about their identity, their grades, their social standing, their family dynamics, their financial security, or their future beyond high school. Sadly, for many teenagers, you can add church to that list.
The youth group experience for many teenagers is different now than it was before. The arts, athletics, and academics are pulling young people in different directions; it is common for teenagers to miss Sunday and mid-week church gatherings. This over-emphasis on extracurriculars can start even before elementary school, and it becomes more prevalent in jr. high and then high school.
Everything is shifting—including teenagers and their relationship with the church.
Youth Groups Change
Youth ministry is transitional by nature. When seniors finish high school, they leave. Youth groups change each year because older students graduate, new students come in, and of course the existing students are always changing too.
In a world where not much is certain, youth ministries are often no better. Many youth groups have youth pastors that cycle through like a revolving door (there are many reasons for this). I’ve heard of students who were under a different pastor every year of their time in youth group. This means that each summer, students and parents cross their fingers as they wait to see who the new youth pastor will be in the fall. Like I said, church and youth ministry is not immune to the jarring tides of change.
When there is no consistency in leadership, it becomes difficult for safety, trust, stability and depth to flourish. Rhythms and routines are almost impossible to build in because they are often determined by the individual youth pastor. Passing the baton seamlessly from one youth pastor to another is a rare sight. And sadly, leadership transitions are often accompanied by more turnover, grief, and frustration – not just for students and their families, but for everyone involved.
Jesus Is The Same
In our cultural moment – where uncertainty reigns, where everything seems to be changing, and where teenagers today are at an all-time high of experiencing loneliness, depression, and anxiety— there is hope. Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
The teenage years are transitional years and youth group is a transitional ministry, but all that can be held together by someone who doesn’t change; someone who remains. Jesus is immutable — He is faithful and true.
It is sobering for me to know that I am not the first youth pastor at the church I serve at and I will hopefully not be the last. From a long-term perspective, the saying is true that “we are all interim pastors.” What is comforting to know is, although the students come and go, volunteers may pass through, the church itself may relocate and I may even transition one day, but Jesus is the same.
As long as there is transition and change, we and our teenagers need stability. The one person whom we will undoubtedly always meet at church is Jesus. He will always be there for us. He lived, died, resurrected, and ascended – all of which means that we can now have an on-going relationship with Him, unhindered by our sin and failures. Even in the most difficult seasons of life, His presence and providence can provide strength, joy, and peace.
The Gospel Anchor
One of the perks of living in California is being able to see the ocean. As I look out, I see the waves coming in and out, back and forth; each one different than the one before, constantly changing. I realize that is what it’s like to be a teenager — maybe that’s why Oceans by Hillsong was such a powerful song. It’s as if our students are getting tossed about by the waves, and what they need is something to keep them steady, something stable and true.
Hebrews 6:19 says that “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” Teenagers need an anchor when the waves are crashing; we all do. Jesus is the anchor that can provide stability in any circumstance—especially in the teenage years.
The gospel reminds us that who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the cross will never change. Our past may be broken and dark, but the gospel says that we are forgiven and free. Our present might be unclear and rocky, but the gospel proclaims that we are accepted and loved. Our future can be uncertain and scary, but that does not change the fact that we are known and redeemed.
We cannot change the gospel. Our decisions, actions, and circumstances cannot and do not change what has been done on our behalf. In fact, it’s just the opposite: the gospel changes us. We can walk out in faith, have peace, and be holy because we have an anchor.
As Matt Boswell puts it,
“Christ the sure and steady anchor while the tempest rages on, when temptation claims the battle and it seems the night has won, deeper still then goes the anchor though I justly stand accused, I will hold fast to the anchor it shall never be removed.”
We do not know when things will happen, how things will turn out, or who will be there, but we do know that we have Christ. When waves, winds, and storms come, let us drop our anchors deeper and cling on tightly to Jesus. Perhaps this is the very reason why God allows so much change in our lives to begin with, to point us towards what never does.