Whatever Happened to Sin? The Message in Today’s Youth Ministry.

There is a lot of conversation floating around the youth ministry world these days around the topic, “What is our message?” More particularly, “What do we say about sin?”

Is our Gospel a negative message? “You are a dirty wicked sinner and better get saved from the hell you deserve!” Or a more positive Good News? “You really are a nice person. God loves you and all the other nice people-who would be even nicer if they only knew the niceness of God.”

Actually, in most circles we don’t much hear the clichéd negative message anymore. If there is a motto in youth ministry today it might be, “Lower the bar.” Make it simpler, more approachable, less scary, less commitment…less message. “Less is more”, seems to be in the water of youth ministry.

What do I think the message ought to be?

Having done rural, suburban and urban youth ministry, with rich, poor and middle class kids of virtually every ethnicity, it is obvious that context matters as to what needs to be emphasized in our message. Urban kids involved in the underbelly of our culture know that they are sinners. As a group they tend not to believe that God could possibly love them, given the things they have done. On the other hand, suburban kids, who have been told that everyone deserves a participant medal and are steeped in the philosophy that God is really lucky to have them on His team, those kids could use a good message of “you aren’t really all that.” Don’t we in youth ministry tend to give students the message they most expect but least need to hear?

Youth pastors tend to fall into two camps: those feeling the compulsive need to convert people, and those apathetically giving up on Jesus’ call to invite those outside the faith into discipleship. How can we be faithful without being compulsive? Overall, I like it when we proclaim a message of positive realism.

Positive realism really is the Christian story. There is a reality to brokenness that is undeniable. But there is a positiveness to what God wants to do in the world in us and through us. One can be patient with people if we actually believe the Christian narrative: God made us for himself, and, although we have wandering hearts, God is wooing us back and taking possession of that which was always his. Jesus died for our beauty not just our brokenness, and God is now calling us to a role in his transforming work and, in the end, it will all turn out for Good.

That is a message to take to the streets, my peeps!