What You Say About God Without Saying Anything

I’ll admit I find myself thinking, “I wonder how I look tonight?” as I give a message to students during their programs.  Part of it’s wondering if I have something stuck in my teeth because I just woofed down a slice of cheese pizza and then part of it’s wondering, “How do they see me? Am I like a brother, father, friend, or teacher to them?”  I don’t know I might be the only one, that thinks about it, but it’s a question I think a lot of youth ministers should ask themselves.  Why?
We represent Christ.  I’m not saying food in the teeth is going to ruin the image teenagers are forming of Christ in their hearts, but how they see us and our ministry can have an impact.  While our behavior and that of our ministers should be held accountable in the portrayal of Christ, so should the dynamics of our ministry.  Especially in these areas:

  • Content: One of the most memorable images from the movie Dogma is the statue of Buddy Christ.  As funny as that image is, I wonder how often we do that ourselves.  I know we may not make Him out to be goofy, but do we neglect to tell our students about Christ the healer, the fighter or obedient son?  Do we make Him seem too angry or too happy?  Is He compassionate or judgmental?  If we don’t review the curriculum and content that we use, we could be limiting Christ.  By not telling as much of the whole story as possible, we prevent our students from knowing the many characteristics of Christ.
  • Programming: Is your ministry small group based or large group worship?  Is it planned by events or is it missional?  I’m not saying youth ministries need to do everything; however, if we narrow it down too much we could limit how Christ should be experienced.  Worship builds honor, fellowship builds relationship and discipleship builds obedience.  If your ministry is all about worship you may miss out on the relational.  If you make your ministry is all about learning the rules you could paint a picture of a judgmental Jesus.  While each ministry is going to have it’s own style, it’s important to expose our students to a variety of ways of how we can connect with God.
  • Systems and Structures: Now this is an area I’m not sure we think about a lot, but broken systems and misaligned structures can show others that we don’t take our faith seriously.  You could preach until your face turns blue, but if you don’t have your stuff together, then no ones going to take you or Christ seriously.  I’m not saying we are putting on a performance, but if your questions for small group aren’t prepared, if you don’t practice your talks, if you lose permission forms for trips, your sending a message of, “What I do isn’t really important.”  By putting value into your ministry, you are showing the value of Christ.

Think about why people leave church.  It’s because of some experience.  It’s because someone told them painted a narrow vision of Jesus.  It’s because no one ever told them the many different ways they could connect to Christ.  And when we define Christ we define God.
As youth ministers we’re responsible for painting a fair picture of God.  I know we can’t define Him completely but we can definitley mess it up.  To avoid this mess it’s important to stay on top of our structures, review our content and change up they way we do ministry.

What other areas of ministry do we paint a picture of God? 
What practices can we take to make sure we aren’t defining Him in a limiting manner?