The Gospel And Youth Ministry: Trend or Movement?
Unless you've been in a bunker (c'mon, you don't REALLY believe in that Mayan Calendar 2012 stuff, do you?) you've probably noticed the increased focus (from virtually every corner of Christendom) on The Gospel. It seems no matter where you look across the landscape of the American Church, there is someone defining, refining, or urging a return to the Gospel.
Books. Conferences. Curriculum. Videos. Church Marketing Campaigns. Sermon Series. Etc.
Now, don't think for one second that I'm saying this trend is bad or wrong. That's NOT what I'm saying, not by any stretch of the imagination. But what I think I'm saying is that it does seem to be a trend. Or at least it feels like one. And maybe this is where I'm somewhat cautious. Or uncomfortable. Let me explain . . .
We have a basic understanding of what a trend is. Trends seem to fall in two major categories: let's call them innovations and reclamations. Innovative trends are just that: a new technology, a new application in fashion or music, etc. On the other hand, something like Retro fashion, or vintage design would be an example of reclamation. It's the revival of something that once was, except with a more modern twist. (Something like Instagram is an interesting blend of both innovation and reclamation.)
So, if we're following this logic, this trend of renewed emphasis on the Gospel seems to fall in the reclamation category. A return to the essentials, of you will. I say all this to arrive at this simple point: the increased emphasis on the Gospel has a lot of the same trappings of so many other secular trends I watch. And I guess on some level, I'm curious about the motivation behind what we're seeing.
How much of what we see is trend? And how much of it is a movement? An awakening?
I think maybe the simplest answer boils down to one of motivation. For many, this increased emphasis on the Gospel is born out of an accurate assessment of Christianity and Christians. For these individuals--these writers, pastors, and influential leaders/ministries--this is a remedying of what they perceive to be an unhealthy or unholy path the Church has been on. For these men and women, the heightened emphasis on the Gospel is movement, not trend. But for some, any Gospel focus they embrace is done as the embrace of a trend. It's an answer for waning interest or passion on the part of church-goers or consumers. It's a move to be seen as relevant. It's hitching the "cart" of lagging attendance and/or sales (book sales, conference sales, curriculum sales, etc.) to the "horse" of the message of the day.
Does this resonate with you? Do you see these two camps?
A Gospel-focus is never a bad thing regardless of motive. This is what Paul was saying in Philippians when he addressed the sinister motives of some who preached the Gospel. Paul says, Hey, what do I care why they preach it? . . . "The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice" (Phil. 1:18). And so, maybe we shouldn't care about the motives. Maybe we should simply rejoice that the Gospel is being preached. Period. But I do find myself wanting to humbly offer a word of advice to those who see the Gospel focus as a trend, a growth strategy, or a way to appear relevant.
Here's what I'd like to say to those institutions and individuals who talk about focusing on the Gospel but don't make any attempt to adapt their ministry methodology or philosophy: Don't expect a ton of results. It's not that the Gospel isn't powerful. We know that it is. God moves, oftentimes in spite of us. The Gospel brings results. But, if we're not couching the timeless truth of God in practices and language relevant to our immediate cultural context, a renewed Gospel focus is just another coat of paint on a crumbling house. If we're chasing a trend, even if that trend is God-centered, I believe a lot will be left on the table.
But embracing a movement? Being part of an awakening? Now that's something different.
I don't want to be chasing the newest way to talk about God and the Church. I want my church and our youth ministry to be on board with what God is doing today. And I know you want this too. So, the questions that come to mind are something like these:
- What do you think? Trend? Or Movement? Newest marketing Church marketing campaign? Or an Awakening?
- Does your senior leadership appear to be aware of this trend/movement? How about you?
- What if you were being shown a need for a return to Christ-centeredness in your ministry or church. What would a renewed Gospel focus look in your context? How does your programming or philosophy need to change to embrace it?
- What would your motivation be for wanting to embrace an increased Gospel focus?
- When you think about the Gospel as it pertains to your students, what do you see? A deficit? A passion? What would they say?
So, what are your thoughts? Am I off base? Am I making too much of this? I'd love to hear from you . . .