Gospel or Gimmick?

All of us do certain things to pull teens in to our ministries? Right?
I guess I could be wrong about that too, but that’s the hunch I’m going to run with.

Maybe before I jump into where I’m going, I will ask if you remember the book “The Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry” by Doug Fields written 15+ years ago? It, like its church counterpart was great for offering strategies to reach out to the unchurched and the churched.

I remember that they used a series of concentric circles to describe the different groups of people that they served. Each circle was labeled either “Core, Crowd, Community, Congregation or Committed” and each of the circle titles did a good job of describing the depth of the involvement and discipleship of those in our youth ministries.

The point that the circles offered to me was to use it as a tool to evaluate if the ministry I lead was pulling students into the center ring, so that they were experiencing deeper levels of discipleship. And if that wasn’t happening, it pointed me to see how perhaps they were staying closer to the fringe.

The reality I believe it led us to, was to think about ways to pull students in farther into their ministries. Right? At least, that’s what I got out of that concept.

It’s a concept that has or had its use and it’s a concept that has its own negatives but that’s not what this post is about.

And that gets me to what I’ve been thinking about…And that is, how do we do this? Is it with some gimmick or is it with the gospel?

Now I’m assuming that all of us share a passion for students to encounter the riches and depths of the gospel and that we all want to do whatever we can to offer them rich meaningful opportunities to be engaged in bible study, teaching times, and the like. So, there really isn’t anything controversial to discuss on that end of the spectrum.

However, I want to ask us a question of when is it appropriate to chase after things that might seem like gimmicks for the sake of our youth ministries and when might it not be appropriate.

Before I do, let me name specifically what I mean by gimmicks.

  • –  using games in ministry
  • –  using our budgets to subsidize events
  • –  all night parties and such

    So that’s the idea, gimmicks would be the things that we do that might seem to be other than the work of the gospel. But, does that mean these gimmicks are bad?

    I want to contend that we walk a delicate line balancing the gimmicks and that the gimmicks are as useful so long as they:

    – Draw students into our communities
    – Create opportunities for students to bond with each other
    – When they assist with students’ finances amongst other reasons.

    (Many more reasons could be offered as well)

    I would also contend that the gimmicks are not healthy for our ministries when we:

    – Depend on them

    – Abuse our financial resources by indulging those monies while sacrificing the ability to have used those monies for meaningful help

    – Build ministries of hype built around them.

    Learning the balance I believe is a huge task for all of us who invest in the lives of students because if our ministries are solely described by the gimmicks, the spiritual fruit of our ministry I believe is going to be less than stellar.

    It is a challenge that I dare you to consider because I believe if we don’t consider this balance we will embarrass the cause of the gospel.

    I would also say that thinking about this should challenge us to desire to do our utmost in presenting the gospel to students. I think that means:

    – Doing as much prep as possible towards all teaching and preaching – Taking as seriously as possible our calling to the gospel
    – Taking as seriously as we are able doctrine and theology

    Now, let me take all this to one conclusion.

    In 1st Corinthians 9, Paul offers us his philosophy of ministry which was to “be all things to all people.” I think that concept frees us up to not be guilty of caving into the traps that the gimmicks can lead us to, but so that these so-called “gimmicks” can be a part of our presentation of the gospel which shows up in our commitment to love teens, to foster them into meaningful community with each other, to enable and encourage their participation and so many other objectives that relate to them experiencing the gospel.

PS – By no means would I contend that I have at any length mastered this task, yet I pursue it as a part of my practice of ministry. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Please feel free to contact me at pastormark@wordoflifelbc.org or to call me at 507-665- 6393.

 

Rev. Mark Johannesen is pastor at Word of Life Lutheran Brethren Church in LeSueur, Minnesota.

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