[To see the companion post that goes with this article and presents a different viewpoint, visit: Calvinism and Student Ministry]
My fellow YouthMin.org contributor Frank Gil hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “What you believe about how Christ saves his people will affect how you worship and live.” He springboards from there and shares how his view of God, particularly Calvinism, has shaped his ministry from top to bottom.
It is absolutely true that Youth Ministry is not just about knowing great games, having the perfect pizza to student ratio formula, or being able to wrangle a few unsuspecting volunteers into the lock-in that will nearly kill them. Youth Ministry is…MINISTRY. That means, at its very core, Youth Ministry is about pointing people, mainly students, toward a life-altering relationship with Christ. This means the most important aspects of ministry SHOULD be teaching, mentoring, and discipleship. All of these key ingredients MUST be driven by a sound theological base and clear understanding of doctrine. If not, students will be confused, disillusioned, and leave with more questions than they had before they came. I would argue that Youth Ministers need to be extremely prepared doctrinally, because many times, students will ask questions that adults are too comfortable to ask.
With that said, it is important to realize that almost all of us come from a slightly different perspective, worldview, and even theological background. Frank specifically mentioned Calvinism as his theological tilt. I, however, happen to be a zero-point Calvinist. I used a picture of Calvin as a dartboard in college (just kidding, it was Tom Selleck). I grew up in the Christian Church / Churches of Christ. I studied at Taylor University under 5-point Calvinists, but found their views of many passages in the Scriptures to be inconsistent with mine. I was much more at home where I finished my schooling – at Johnson University in Knooxville, TN.
Through many years, lots of reading, and the occasional “debate,” I have a clear and consistent theology that directs and guides everything I do and say in ministry. Despite the fact I come from a different perspective, Frank and I are colleagues, friends, and co-laborers in Christ. And I respect that he has a method to the madness. While this is not an anti-Calvin or anti-Frank post, I did want to mention a few key tenets of my theology that direct my ministry.
1. God is Creator, all-powerful, and to be praised.
Psalm 66:4 says, “All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.” And of course, we are reminded that Creation is the most powerful vessel through which God conveys His greatness. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen…” This truth is vitally important in Youth Ministry, because students are particularly vulnerable to attacks on their identity. By focusing on God as Creator, it is a simple and yet invaluable transition to the fact that THEY are a perfect Creation of God, unique and beautiful, and designed for His glory. I believe this is the foundation upon which ministry to students must build.
2. It is God who saves, but He gives us the freedom to choose.
You’re thinking about that Calvin dartboard again, aren’t you? Free will is central to the way we do ministry in my church. We believe strongly in 2 Peter 3:9, which says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” While God graciously and lovingly sent His Son to die for us, I believe it is completely possible for someone to hear that message, understand it, and choose to walk away from it. While God does 99 percent of the work of salvation, there is still a part of the process where we must choose Him. Because of this, we offer students the opportunity to respond to the Gospel every week. In the words of Joshua, “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
3. Baptism is a part of the plan of salvation.
This is a basic part of Restoration Movement doctrine, and is probably the most distinct element to our denomination. I won’t go into an entire diatribe about why I believe wholeheartedly in this, but will devote one question to it. If Jesus did it, then commanded it, the apostles practiced it, the authors of the New Testament recorded it, and the hearers of the Gospel in Acts responded by doing it, is it possible that it’s more than just a sign of obedience? We believe a student is sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of Redemption when baptism is complete (see Acts 2:37-38). For this reason, we put a lot of emphasis on this. We encourage students to pursue it, to ask questions about it, to study it, and when they are buried with Christ, we celebrate like CRAZY!
4. Holiness is vital.
If you ask a Calvinist about a man who has been saved and then rejects God, they will argue they were never saved to begin with. I would argue that they walked away from their salvation (see Hebrews 6:4-6). Funny how we are both saying the same thing – that the person needs Christ. Holiness is a crucial part of the Christian walk, and we work hard to communicate that to our students. Matthew 5:48 says simply, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” And Hebrews 10:26-31 is some of the most straightforward holiness stuff in the New Testament. God expects a lot from His people as they reflect Him to the world. Yes, His grace is vast, but students need to know that the expectation is high, and that God values integrity.
These are just a few of the key ingredients in our theological youth ministry. Yours are probably different, which is totally okay. But what are your key beliefs about God that drive you and your ministry?