In practice, too many youth leaders portray a subtle skepticism about the power of the Word of God to change lives. I’m still shocked that I continue to receive invitations from youth pastors to preach to their students. I’m convicted that I have nothing to offer students to whom I preach but the hope of the gospel and the truth of the Scriptures. I don’t share a lot of stories. I’m definitely not trendy or cool in their eyes. I am simply a messenger who God has tasked to carry a message to parents, adult leaders, and teenagers who desperately need to hear it — the message of the gospel.
Here’s what I’m surprised (and convicted that I’m surprised) to see: the simple message of the gospel and the Word of God preached still change people’s lives to God’s glory and the advancement of his kingdom.
It seems there is an unwritten rule today that states that effective youth communicators must depend upon humor in lieu of the Bible. Many seem to believe that communicating to students and biblical exposition are mutually exclusive. Some even believe that preaching must be replaced by or propped up with drama or technology. Now I love drama and technology, yet Christian chic need not replace Christian truth. What students need is not the latest quote from a celebrity on Twitter or some movie that just came out; they need the unsearchable riches of God.
Understand that most of the time the word preach is used in the New Testament, it simply referred to a verbal witness of the gospel — someone speaking the gospel to someone else. We need parents, youth pastors, adult volunteers, and peers who will speak and teach the gospel and the Scriptures to students. We must be serious students of the Word who mentor teenagers to become serious students of the Word if we are going to pass a biblical foundation to the next generation.
The Bible and the gospel are sufficient to engage any doubt, question, or trend that surfaces in the culture in which our youth live. Youth pastors and parents must be familiar with the philosophies and issues confronting our students. In addition, we must help our students apply biblical truth to everyday life and everyday questions. (Hint: you can’t do this without youth pastors and parents who know God’s Word.)
It’s time, then, to stop giving our children a heritage of biblical illiteracy. Parents, youth pastors, and volunteer youth leaders should teach youth that biblical truth is nothing to fear. We should take on their hardest questions and doubts. It will take a team of parents, youth pastors, and adult leaders who are serious students of the Bible and diligent disciplers of teenagers to help build a biblical foundation for the members of Generation Z.
And if teaching the Bible also includes preaching the Bible, so be it. Youth do not hate preaching — they hate boring preaching. So do I. They can’t stand services devoid of life and passion. Neither can I. They need to see how truth connects to the real world and be challenged to live that truth.
We don’t need to preach less; we need to apply more. We don’t need an attractional model of youth ministry. We need a model that focuses on parents, youth pastors, and youth leaders making disciples of students — teaching, preaching, and demonstrating the Scriptures.
(This article is an excerpt from Tim McKnight’s new book Engaging Generation Z: Raising the Bar for Youth Ministry. It is used by permission from Kregel Academic. You can purchase the book on Amazon or at any major book retailer.)
Tim McKnight is Associate Professor of Youth Ministry and Missions and Director of the Global Center for Youth Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina.