By Joshua Reichard
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Only He who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes.” Bonhoeffer embodied this statement throughout his life. He stood for truth during WWII, which cost him years in prison, separation from his betrothed, and finally death. Bonhoeffer knew that if he was going to be a witness for God, then he had to abide in Christ, be a faithful example, and love others. Student ministries can stand to learn a lot about faithfulness from a man like Bonhoeffer. As a student minister, it is your duty to make sure that your ministry embodies the gospel so that others may see the beauty of their risen King and Lord.
Faithful Student Ministries Embody the Gospel by Abiding in Christ (John 15:1-11)
“Apart from Jesus, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Jesus is serious about the importance of abiding in Him. If we fail to abide in Jesus, then we will fail to bear fruit. The goal of student ministry is simple and straightforward: to make disciples of the Lord Jesus. We will never succeed in this if we do not abide in Jesus personally, or fail to encourage our students to do so as well. For this reason, it is pertinent that we have a solid grasp of how abiding in Jesus connects us to fruitful ministry efforts. Let us briefly look at John 15 to understand the weight of abiding with Christ.
Throughout this passage, Jesus refers to himself as the vine and to us as the branches. As the branches, we will either grow or be pruned. How do we grow and thus avoid being pruned? The answer begins by considering what kind of branches will get pruned. Picture a lush green vine covering the side of a house. Every branch and shoot on this magnificent vine are linked together, intertwined, and somehow connected to the root vine. The root vine (Jesus) sends life to the branches so that they may grow and cover more of the house. However, if a branch rejects the water (that Jesus is giving), it is given it will not grow or bear fruit. God will, therefore, cut that branch off and cast it into the fire. Rejection of the truth and self-reliance leads to the vine dying, and that death can greatly damage a student ministry. We must hear this: Jesus gives us John 15 so that we may not be cast into the fire.
The reason John 15 is a fundamental passage in our ministry is that it reveals to us where our strength comes from. It comes from Jesus. Jesus gives us the ability to make disciples when we abide in Him. We abide in Jesus by understanding our state as sinners (Romans 3). We abide in Jesus by trusting that He wants to bless us (John 15:7). We abide in Jesus by bearing fruit. Therefore, we can’t guage our success on how well our programs run or even how many students we are attracting. Rather, focus on abiding in Jesus. This will ensure your ministry is successful because it is built on the foundation of Christ.
Faithful Student Ministries Embody the Gospel by Being an Example to all (Phil 3:17-21)
In Philippians chapter 3, Paul says, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”
Paul calls us to observe and to follow his example because growth comes from imitating others. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Remember your leaders. . . Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” It is essential that we look at leaders of the past and present so that we will be encouraged in the faith. Paul looked to men like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus who embodied the faith and love of God in all of their trials. As leaders and Christians, it’s our duty to display the gospel in action and in word. We do not walk in shame like those who set their minds on earthly things. No, we set our minds on our citizenship in heaven. In verse 21, Paul exhorts us to see that one day we will be transformed by Jesus. The fact that our citizenship is in heaven should cause us to live out the gospel. We have the hope of eternal life, and we should proclaim it!
Why does Paul in verse 17 ask us to follow his example? Paul set aside all of life’s fleeting pleasures to embrace a never-ending joy. He stood up to public shame; he dedicated himself to prayer and scripture reading, and he took on discipleship with joy.
It is crucial as a leader in student ministry that your life is one that honors and pleases God. How many students see your life on a weekly basis? One, five, twenty? It is critical that you live a God-honoring life. Remember: there is not a single person who can fully display all of God’s attributes, but we can grow in Christ-likeness with the help of the Holy Spirit. The world is full of people emulating the deeds of the devil. Do not add to this downward spiral. “But rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity show yourself an example of those who believe.” During the time I spent serving youth groups, five middle school boys looked up to me like a big brother. Every second they were with me or even hearing about me, they were analyzing and emulating me. Every mistake I made, they made. Every godly thing I did, they did. Now, seven years later they are serving God and are active members in their churches.
Faithful Student Ministries Embody the Gospel by Personifying Love Matt 22:34-40
In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus has an incredible interaction with the pharisees: “But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:34-40 paints a beautiful picture of how Christians are called to treat one another. In this passage, Jesus is responding to the Pharisees question by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with all of your being. The second is like it; love your neighbor as yourself. According to Jesus, every other commandment hinges on these two commands.
Why? God is not primarily concerned about us keeping a certain amount of rules or our daily amount of Bible intake. What God desires is our utmost love for Him, not just a feeling. God has commanded love, and due to the fact that one cannot command a feeling—we must conclude God is commanding action. God is demanding that we show our love for Him BY loving others. You see this is shattering to the Jews and even to us. God is not pleased by lifeless obedience. He calls for a fully committed love. Consider Sam and Boromir in Lord of the Rings. Sam and Boromir both promise to aid Frodo in taking the Ring to Mount Doom. Only one of these men actually helps him to the end. Why? Sam’s love for Frodo was unconditional in that he would stay by his side until the end. His love was ultimate. Boromir never truly committed himself to Frodo. His committment was merely external and the fruit of this was on display when things became difficult. Commit yourself to Jesus like Sam committed to Frodo.
A student ministry has to understand the incredible responsibility that is placed upon it. Having fun is not the goal. Having students follow the rules is not the goal. Behavior modification is not the goal. The goal of a student ministry it to remain faithful to God. By abiding in Christ, providing/encouraging godly examples, and loving people as ourselves we will ensure that we are remaining faithful to God’s word. A ministry cannot succeed for the kingdom if they fail to see the power in these things.
Embodying the gospel is not an easy task. You won’t be an expert after reading this blog. My prayer is that our desires would change. We should desire to abide in Christ, we should long to be a faithful example, and we should find joy in loving others even if it costs us something.