2 Timothy 2:2 instructs us to commit sound teaching to the next generation “so that they will be able to teach others also.” We consider youth ministry to be the spiritual formation of the future leaders of the church, that they might be examples in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith, and purity (1 Timothy 4:12). We seek to be God’s instrumental means of ministry, that the Holy Spirit might use us to form godly dispositions, spiritual habits, biblical thought patterns, and virtuous character traits in the lives of teens. Luke 2 reminds us that Jesus Himself grew “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Similarly, our youth ministry is designed to be multi-faceted. The ministry includes regular instruction during Sunday School and Wednesday night youth meetings, small group prayer and sharing times, service opportunities, outreach activities, winter retreats and summer camps, mission trips, and various social and recreational activities.
Our Youth Group meets each week under the leadership of Pastor Paul & Alne Hartog on Wednesdays at 6:45 p.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m
Our youth group’s winter retreat to Kansas City, KS was a blast! Of course we had a great time goofing off and fellowshipping with one another, but undoubtedly the best part was the sessions. In a culture where we are all so busy, it was wonderful to spend a weekend devoting our time to what really matters—the Word of God!
The topic of the three Bible sessions was Love—how appropriate as we enter February, the love month. But the “love” the world celebrates, displayed by red hearts and rich chocolates, is not the love that we studied or the love that is taught in the Bible.
Chris Cox, the youth pastor at Oak Grove Baptist, our host church, taught the first session, which was focused on the love of God. The key text was Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were first sinners, Christ died for us.” He led us through history, showing how God displayed His love to us, and how we as mankind chose not to accept it.
Man is the only thing that God created in His image—as a reflection of Himself. When we sin (miss the mark), we no longer reflect Him, for He is holy. This infinite offense deserves an infinite punishment, that is, an eternity spent in hell. “But God”—whenever that phrase appears, pay attention, something BIG is about to happen—loved us so much that He didn’t want us to be separated from Him forever. He wanted us to spend eternity in heaven with Him because He loved us!
Now, in order to understand and appreciate this love we have to understand how sinful we are. It is not that we are so lovable and sweet and good that God says, “Oh, they’re so wonderful! They may have a few faults, but I think I will love them and make a way for them to live in heaven with Me!” Not at all! We, the masterpieces of God, the creation on which He chose to bestow His image, sinned against Him, reviled Him, chose to try and live our own way.
But even though we decided that His image wasn’t worth reflecting, He gave us another chance in His Son, Jesus. Jesus came to earth as a baby, born of a virgin so that the human sin nature was not passed on from an earthly father, and from His infancy, was a perfect, holy reflection of God. But men couldn’t stand this carpenter from Nazareth, whose only “fault” was that He claimed to be God, which He was! So they tortured and killed Him in the most gruesome and agonizing way possible—crucifixion. But we cannot blame that generation for His death, for we are at fault as well. Every man and woman that ever was and ever will be born is guilty of His death, for everyone has sinned, and it was our sin that nailed Him to the cross. He bore our sins on His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24) and our sin was so awful that God Himself turned away from His own sin, unable to look upon it.
Dr. Paul Hartog, our youth pastor, shared this quote with us, “We are more infinitely sinful than we have ever recognized, but God is more infinitely loving than we could ever imagine.” The key to understanding God’s love is to see how sinful we are. That He would even dare to love us—in all our depravity—shouts of His Awesomeness! “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
What an incredible deal! All we have to do, though we have lived all our lives in sin, is to believe in Jesus, that He died and rose again, and repent from our sinfulness, and we can have everlasting life—eternity in heaven with God! Once we are saved, the reflection of His Holiness is restored because of Christ’s death for us, covering our sins and causing us to stand before God!
Now that’s love, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10)!
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). The second session was also taught by Pastor Chris, and was on the topic of our love for other believers. “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Our love for other believers is the evidence of being a child of God. Selfless love isn’t natural. We love one another because God showed us how to love when He gave His Son.
Lay down your life and selfish preferences. Don’t just love in speech—love in deed! Don’t be a ‘clanging cymbal Christian’ (I Corinthians 13:1). This was a shorter session so I don’t have as many notes on the session, but I remember Dr. Paul’s follow-up very clearly, because it was distinctly challenging. If we really love everyone in our youth group with the love Christ showed to us…why don’t we reach out to them?
Each of us had a piece of paper and on it we wrote down what it was that was keeping us from reaching out to those we don’t know very well. Then we wrote down what would encourage us to reach out. Dr. Paul collected the papers and read to us the results. It was very interesting to see what kinds of things keep us from going out of our comfort zone; things such as pride, fear of rejection, social differences, etc. But all these things are covered by love, aren’t they? Jesus ate with known sinners (Matt. 9:10) despite the injuries to his own reputation, and we can’t even go talk to someone with a different background than ours?
It was a very convicting discussion, and we are each trying to make the changes necessary in order to reflect the love of God in our own lives, our youth group, and, ultimately, our whole church.
“Does love impact evangelism?” That’s how Pastor Aaron Patton started the third and final session. He used the 1 John 4:7-10 passage to apply to the way we reach out to unbelievers. God is the source of love (see 1st session). If we are trying to imitate God as “little Christs,” then there are five components of this love that demands evangelism.
1. Love is Sacrificial – True love gives that which you love or value, not your extras, leftovers, or garbage. It’s got to cost you something to be a sacrifice. Don’t let business keep you from sacrificing; you have to sacrifice your time.
2. Love is Limitless – God gave the best, His only Son. Loving will probably cost you more than you want to give. You need to come to the point that there is nothing that you would not give up.
3. Love is Relevant – He came where I was and did something that was meaningful, that would actually help. You have to step out of your comfort zone and go into their world.
4. Love is Provisionary – It’s done something for us. Don’t be too busy to love.
5. Love is the Hope for Transformation – Love changes lives! There is no other change you can really believe in!
We partner with God (how cool is that?!) in the ministry of evangelism; He is the One who opens the eyes of their hearts. Pastor Patton shared a couple practical tips on how to evangelize. 1. Listen to people—find them interesting. 2. Learn from them—how the world thinks, why they do what they do. When you show them genuine, unconditional love, then they will be willing to listen to you tell them about God’s love for them.
Love is one of the most powerful motivators. When we really understand what love looks like, it will change our lives, if we let it. But that’s the issue isn’t it?
Will we let the love of God, demonstrated through His Son, change us and give us the ability to love others—believers and unbelievers—with the same, unconditional, limitless, sacrificial, selfless love? We were faced with that choice on winter retreat, and now that choice is up to you.