I’ve often heard people say when speaking of youth ministry, that we need to dumb down our teaching to the level of competency of our youth. And really the only area in which this applies is teaching our students.
I want to be clear. I’m not writing this with an attitude of arrogance or a plan to go and teach biblical ecclesiology to our children’s church next Sunday. I do understand that there are some limitations to teaching theology – but they may not be the limits we think.
Theology is defined by the Church as “the study of God.” In my opinion, this is too much of a clichéd definition of the word. Although theology is the study of God, it is also much more than that. Reformed Arminian theologian, Roger Olson, defines theology in this light:
“Theology is any thinking, reflecting or contemplating on the reality of God – even on the question of God.”
If you’ve been in youth ministry for any length of time or are a parent, you know that children have questions. Especially as they mature, they ask the hard questions or what Olson describes as the ultimate questions.
Things aren’t any different in youth ministry. In fact, the questions may be more prevalent. Our youth are going through identity crises, gender debates, broken homes, mass shootings, and so much more and they want to know why things happen. This is why it is so crucial for two things:
- It’s crucial for the youth minister to be theologically trained. I’m not at all implying that every youth pastor should have a college degree to be theologically trained – I know not everyone has the means to do so. However, there are many resources to take advantage of that can give you adequate, theological training for your role. I’m convinced the pastorate is a job where learning is an imperative for the shepherd – whether he be shepherding adults or teenagers or children. One of the ways our learning affects our ministry is these difficult questions. When one of our sheep have a question, we should be able to answer the questions and if we don’t know, we should be able to find the answers.
- It’s vital to meld your theology into every area of your life and ministry. When you have learned theology, it is only knowledge until it is applied to real life situations. What you learn from your study of theology should affect the way you live, which should then affect the way you preach to your students. Theology encompasses all of life.
Living in a post-modern, post-truth culture, I believe it is imperative that we teach theology to our youth. Here are some reasons why:
1) Questioning our purpose demands a theological answer.
In his book, The Quest for Truth, Leroy Forlines offers up a convicting thought saying every single human being that experiences life on earth with eventually answer what he calls the “inescapable questions of life.” These questions are similar to Olson’s ultimate questions and are as follows:
- Is there a God? If so, what is he like?
- How can I know Him?
- Who am I?
- Where am I?
- How can I tell right from wrong?
- Is there life after death?
- What should I and what can I do about guilt?
- How can I deal with my inner pain?
No one can rid themselves of the asking of these questions. These questions deal with the purpose of life. However, none of these questions can be answered without some recognition of a sovereign Creator God and how we know him. Forlines argues that every person, either consciously or subconsciously, will ask and answer these questions for themselves. And through these questions, we see that every area of life can be referenced within the list and answered with a biblically sound, theological answer.
Our students have these questions. And most, if not all, of us have asked ourselves these same questions in some form or another. We all want to know our purpose in life and our answers for this should come straight from the Life-Giver himself.
2) Theology results in worship and awe.
When studying theology, there should be an automatic end result of worship, adoration, and praise to God for who He is and what He has done to save us. Theology is never an end in itself. Theology is the means by which we live. If theology does not provoke us to righteous living, we’ve not been affected by it. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians that
“If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
If we are simply learning theology to impress those around us, we miss it – or as Paul states, we are simply noise among people. Our theological vernacular does no good if we are not affected and changed by it.
But the result of the affecting of theology in our lives is a high view of God. Theology directs you to God’s sovereignty. Theology introduces you to God’s holiness and your depravity. Theology takes you on a journey of redemptive history and how God willing gave His son, Jesus Christ, to die in the place of sinners like you and me. Theology invokes awe and wonder on the mystery of the gospel and the One who redeems sinners for His glory and nothing else.
3) Youth Ministry is theological.
In his book, Taking Theology to Youth Ministry, Andrew Root gives a great argument for youth ministry being theological. But he doesn’t start with youth ministry, he starts with God. It is critical to understand that when we speak of theology in any light, we must speak of God first. In fact, theology cannot begin without God. He writes,
“..youth ministry is theological because its very purpose is to participate in the action of God.”
I believe this may the most important point. When we are ministering to youth, we are showing them how our theology and philosophy of ministry (specifically youth ministry) prompts our ministry actions. The most important element to out youth ministry action is to make sure it mirrors the commands in Scripture, made by God, for ministry action.
Theology provokes us to righteous living that glorifies God which then results in our ministries being gospel-focused and Christ-centered. Without the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center of our purpose and Christ at the center of our focus, our ministries are as Ed Stetzer once said,
“..holding tanks with pizza.”
Youth need theology to help them understand their purpose in this life and to help them answer the inescapable questions in life. You can help them do so by implementing a ministry that is gospel-focused and Christ-centered.
 Stanley J. Grenz & Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove, Ill., USA: InterVarsity Press, ©1996), 14.
 F. Leroy Forlines, The Quest for Truth: Answering Life’s Inescapable Questions (Nashville, Tenn.: Randall House Publications, ©2001), 1.
 Andrew Root, Taking Theology to Youth Ministry, A Theological Journey through Youth Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 55.