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(2) Teenagers may not hear about grace anywhere but at church.
Where else are teenagers going to hear about grace but at church or from someone who follows Jesus? Think about the many worlds the teenagers you work with inhabit. At school, it's study harder, get good grades, or you won't be an "outstanding student." At soccer practice, it's perform better or sit the bench. At the school musical rehearsal it's do well in your audition, or you won't get a part. Yet for some reason, it seems that teenagers all to often get the same kind of message at church: "Do better, try harder, and God will love you."
If we really understand grace, if we really value the fact that Jesus died on the cross for us as a gift so that we could have life, then why don't we talk about it more in our youth ministries?
What we celebrate reveals what we value. When you report to your board or your lead pastor how things are going, what do you choose to give them as highlights?
"We had over forty kids at the lock-in."
"We raised a lot of money at our 30 Hour Famine."
"Our youth group's Bible Bee team took second place at the state competition last week."
Listen, I understand that when teenagers are doing exceptional things for Jesus--serving others, spending tons of time an resources to go on a mission trip, telling friends about Jesus, or simply running the sound board at youth group--we should celebrate. But I wonder if we aren't celebrating the "good church kid" image so much that we're teaching them the way to get recognition and perhaps even be loved by God is to play the part. And if we're doing that, we telling them that God works the exact same way the rest of the world does: play the part, and you'll be loved and accepted. What if instead when someone asked "How are the youth doing?" we answered something like, "Awesome. Most of them are screwed up just like you and me, but they're learning that Jesus saves and Jesus heals."
What if every time we spoke to the teenagers at our churches, they heard about grace? What if not a week went by that we weren't excited about the fact that we were once dead in our sins, but that Jesus died so we wouldn't have to? What if the teenagers we lead understood how ridiculous and scandalous grace really is? I mean, why in the world would a God die for people who so brazenly rebel against him?
I'm not sure how important grace is in your youth ministry, but grace is important to me because I'm not interested in leading a group of teenagers who simply know how to play the part of the good church kid on Sunday's. I'm interested in helping teenagers know that no matter who they are or what they've done, God loves them and they can say "yes" to Jesus and his glorious gift of life for which he suffered on the cross. I'm interested in seeing teenagers understand so fully that they deserve nothing yet have been given everything by God, that their lives drip with grace and they spend their lives telling everyone they know that Jesus' gift of life is free for the taking.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV
UPDATE:You can read part 3 here.