[To see the companion post that goes with this article and presents a different viewpoint, visit: Arminianism and Student Ministry ]
UGH! I know, right! Calvinism?! Don’t bring that up on a youth ministry site. Keep that to yourself while you read a John Piper book or something. Youth Ministry can not be partial to a particular soteriology!
But why? This is completely my opinion and I know that there are all kinds of denominations and backgrounds that read YouthMin.org. However, for my ministry and my walk, Calvinism has been a thread that impacts a lot of what I do and how I live.
What you believe about how Christ saves his people will affect how you worship and live.
I learned about Calvinism my freshman year at Trinity College of Florida. For 9 months I wrestled and fought against it with everything I had in me. After months of debates and late night discussions the passage that convinced me wasn’t your typical Romans 9 or Ephesians 1 passage. It didn’t even have to do with Pharaoh’s heart being hardened. The passage that rocked me to submission for this theological positon was Romans 11:33-36.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
There was something from that passage that the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “it’s not about you. It is all about God’s glory!” After I took this passage in I reread all the typical “Calvinistic” passages and my eyes were open and it brought a new passion and joy inside of me that I hadn’t had since back when I first came to Christ. A mixture of relief and confidence that Christ is the one that saves people. Not my eloquence in words or how convincing my sermons can be but the power of the Holy Spirit making dead people come to life. I also had confidence and relief that I am secure. Christ has purchased me till his Kingdom comes and the Holy Spirit is my seal. I am in a proverbial Holy Spirit zip-lock bag that stays fresh until I am with Christ for eternity (Cheesy youth group analogy. Cheesy but it works.)
So ever since my first days of youth ministry I wanted to wed Calvinism and Student Ministry because since it has shaped my life so much in Christ I want it to shape others. Let me make this clear, I am not in the business of making good Calvinists. I am in the business of making God-fearing, Christ-exalting, Gospel-preaching disciples of Christ. With that being said, a proper understanding of theology is vital. If the kids know the theological why, they have a better chance of living lives that honor Christ and glorify God.
1. I understand the deceitfulness of Sin.
I have a group of mostly white, middle to upper class, home-schooled kids. My kids aren’t dealing with people offering them weed or parties on the weekend to get drunk. However, when I find out about a certain sin that is becoming pervasive in a student’s life, I don’t freak out. I will get upset because sin ruins lives but I understand that sin is deceitful and does not discriminate. On top of that, depravity sets the stage for me that when a student comes up to me with a particularly wicked sin that not even I would ever indulge in, Calvinism taught me that ultimately man’s heart is insanely wicked beyond our own comprehension and that sin can blind us from seeing the truth. The good news is no matter how wicked our heart can be, God’s grace is extremely greater in spite of us.
2. God saves, not me.
There is a lot of pressure for a youth pastor to be cool and relevant. We want to be the student ministries version of Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, or Lecrae. We may never say it but we think, “if I can give off this image then that will give me a better opportunity for them to come to Christ.” What Calvinism has taught me is that it is not your works that save you or even the sinner’s prayer that redeems man. There is nothing inherit inside you that the Lord sees favor in.
It is in spite of you that Christ died for you so that you can be saved. So if that is true then I don’t have to labor in the “cool” game to reach students. Me being faithful to God’s word and preaching the Gospel is enough. Seriously, it took a trip to World of Coke in Atlanta for one of my guys to see their desperate need for a savior and come to a saving knowledge of Christ (I will share that story another day). The point is that Christ saves people, not you. So that rough kid that you have said to yourself, “that kid will never come to Christ” might come to Christ not because you talk about the music he likes or the sports team he is in to but by the gospel being proclaimed and the Holy Spirit exchanging his heart of stone with a heart of flesh. So in other words, get over yourself.
3. The Lord is sovereign.
When I say he is sovereign, I mean he really is sovereign over everything. Even when things are not looking bright. Lately, I have been hearing about a lot of youth pastors who are out of work and have no foreseeable jobs in sight. Times are tough and good ministry jobs are few and far between in this economy. Moreover, we have students who are struggling and suffering. Students are dealing with physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Some of our students are coming from broken homes. Divorce is as high in the Church as it is in the world. Our students are going to be asking us, “why?” Saying “the Lord is sovereign” is not a scapegoat answer. Because He is sovereign! When My father passed away and my mom had her stroke putting her in a nursing home I had no place to turn to, and I had to become an adult quickly. I remember crying out to God, literally in tears, yelling at Him “why!” I came to the conclusion that God really is in control. All of these trials and tribulations that come our way are only in our way because God has allowed it to be. If this is so, God must have a reason for it to come our way.
We also know from Scripture that the Lord allows these things to happen for the sake of our sanctification (Romans 8:16-17) and to know Him better (Philippians 3:7-10). God is ultimately about his glory and name sake. The Lord is sovereign and He is for us (Romans 8:31). So if God is all about His glory and name sake (Isaiah 48:11) and he is for us, then we are in a real good place. God can’t turn against his own name, so him being about his glory is a very good thing for us in our time of trials and tribulation because we can rest assured that he won’t forget about us.
I understand that not everyone is a Calvinist and I intentionally didn’t spend the time defining Calvinism. You can do that on your own time. My heart in this is not to write a “me vs. you” article. This is where I fall theologically and these are 3 of the ways my theology shaped me and my ministry.
How has your theology shaped your ministry? What Theological background do you come from? We’d love to hear voices from different vantage points!