Teenagers are hungry for the glory of God and they don’t even know it (John 4:10).
Often in student ministry, we lower the bar for our teenagers. We assume that they are coming to our gatherings merely to enjoy games and hype instead of Christ and him crucified. In reality, teenagers are searching for a joy that is greater than the cheap pleasure the world is offering them. They are walking (or being dragged) into your church looking for what is captivating. Will we show them the captivating glory of Christ, which can actually satisfy their wandering soul (John 6:35)? Or will our gatherings continue to remain filled with silliness while our teenagers remain in their sin?
If we long to see our students find their highest joy in Christ alone, then they need to be fed the Word of God through faithful expository preaching in our student worship gatherings. Here are four reasons why:
1. The Gospel is the Remedy to Their Broken Lives.
Your students enter your church with enslaving addictions, shattered relationships, and paralyzing anxiety. They need help. They need hope. Thankfully, every text in the Bible exposes something about our human condition that needs to be redeemed so that we become more like Christ (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Therefore, when they sit in your student gatherings, positioned under the faithful exposition of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will bring to the surface an element of their brokenness that the wounds of our Savior can heal (1 Pet. 2:24).
This allows teenagers to see how the living and active Word of God sets the agenda by sovereignly exposing their broken need of the hour, and then we are able to directly apply the healing balm of the gospel to their life. They will begin to see the gospel as the reality they live in every day.
2. The Word of God has the Power to Transform Their Life.
If we do not want our students to be conformed to this world, but transformed into the image of Christ, it will only happen as they hear and respond in faith to the Word of God (Rom 10:17; 12:2). Because “all Scripture is breathed out by God” we are charged to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 3:16, 4:2). When the Word of God is proclaimed over our youth in a way that is faithful to the intended meaning of the text, our teenagers come into direct contact with the very voice of God (Heb. 3:15).
Our students need to reckon with the very Word of God because He demands something of them. He demands that they deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). Our students will not be transformed to follow Jesus if all we do each week is play around for 50 minutes, followed up by a half-hearted, proof-texted, ten-minute devotional. This does not produce fully devoted disciples of Christ who will give their lives to bring the gospel to their neighbors and to the nations. But when God’s Word is truly preached, the glory of Christ is truly seen, and they are transformed into His image (2 Cor 3:18).
3. The Savior is the Center of the Book in Their Lap.
Students often do not know how the Bible fits together. Your teens will often see the Bible as a compilation of fascinating stories about their biblical heroes. They do not know how these heroes are all connected or why they are even in the Bible in the first place. They are not given to us so that we can preach to our students to “have courage like David!” or “be bold like Moses!” No, these “heroes” are to point us to Christ who is the Hero of the whole Bible (John 5:29). When you faithfully expound God’s Word each week, you are discipling your students on how they are to read and understand their Bibles on their own.
Your students will begin to connect dots they never knew were connected, to see themes they never knew existed, and to see how all the shadows point them to the Substance. The light of God’s glory will shine on their hearts as you show them how each passage finds its center in the person and work of Christ (Luke 24:27, 44). Preaching in this way produces teenagers that will treasure God’s Word because of the riches they find there.
4. The Sunday Morning Worship Gathering is More Important.
One of the struggles in student ministry is that many of our youth are not joyfully engaging in congregational worship on Sunday morning. Examine your student worship gathering. What is it centered around? What do you spend the majority of your time doing? When we spend more of our energy creating student gatherings to attract more teens and less energy thinking about how they are discipling our teens, we cater to the low expectations our culture has placed on teenagers: more games, funny videos, dark rooms, loud music, topical and short dialogues.
We need to raise the bar for our students so that they come expecting to get more of Christ. We need fewer games and more gospel. Therefore, our student gatherings should be a training ground for worshipping with the congregation on Sundays. We can teach them how to listen and respond to the 40-minute sermon of their Senior Pastor on Sunday morning by letting them “practice” as they listen to us unfold the word for 30–40 minutes on a Wednesday night.
What if instead of catering to the lower attention span of a 13-year-old, we helped strengthen their attention span through weekly practice? Brothers, if you are faithful to preach with a passionate demeanor that shows the value of the truth you proclaim, you may be amazed at how strong a teenager’s attention span can be. Your Senior Pastor will thank you, your church will be strengthened, and God will be glorified.
Let us not believe the lie that our teens are too immature to listen to expository preaching. If our teens are studying the Pythagorean Theorem in school, they can hang with you as you preach expositionally through John, Ephesians, and Ruth. Be patient with them. Ask Christ to strengthen you. God will give the growth.
When we finish our race in student ministry, may we be able to say with confidence to our students, “I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).