Believe it or not, John the Baptist can teach us a great deal about youth ministry. Take a second and read the following passage from Matthew 3:1-12
1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ”
4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
There you have it . . . Matthew's account of John doing his thing in the arid land outside Jerusalem.
But what can it teach us about youth ministry, you ask? Plenty.
1. John was faithful to the call God put on his life. (vs. 1-3)
John the Baptist had the mission of preparing people’s hearts for the coming Christ. God gave him a task, a calling, and John followed through with it.
You have been given a calling, as well. You are where you are because God’s plan called for you to be there. Be faithful like John. Stay committed to your call.
2. John wasn’t concerned about being cool or chasing culture. (vs. 4)
John wasn’t a clothes horse. Camel hair wasn’t exactly “in” as far as Jerusalem style went. Locusts were a food source for the poorest of the poor. And the leather belt, coupled with his camel shirt, was most likely supposed to make his audience think of the stern message of Elijah. John wasn’t chasing culture. He wasn’t trying to be cool. If anything, his presentation was counter-cultural.
I believe it is important to couch the unchanging truth of the Gospel in the changing language of culture. But this is a far cry from chasing coolness. When it comes to presentation, so many youth workers spend so much effort mimicking culture. John teaches us that this isn’t exactly necessary. Which leads me to my next point . . .
3. In spite of being counter-cultural, John’s ministry was effective! (vs. 5-6)
Sometimes we run after the wrong things. When we preach the Gospel with clarity and boldness, the Spirit moves and lives are changed. This was true for John. It is true today.
4. John wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. (vs. 7-10)
John correctly called out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day. He knew his cause was just, and he wasn’t afraid to say it. We can’t be afraid to address broken systems, processes, or philosophies. We have to be willing to do the hard work of cutting through the clutter to clearly lead our students to Christ. The stakes are too high not to act.
5. John kept the focus on Christ. (v. 11-12)
It would have been easy for John to allow the spotlight to be on him. People were all but doing it for him. But he deflected the attention to Christ. We fail when we allow our ministries to be personality driven, or when we accept super-star status (no matter how small the stage). If we’re not using all of us to make more of Him, we’re blowing it.