7 Keys to Effective Youth Ministry


I’ve just returned from a week’s youth work at the Keswick Convention. It was great to see God at work through a great team, and I thought I’d write down (for my own benefit as much as anything) my reflections on what makes a good ministry among young people. Some of these are so obvious they hardly need listing, but for the sake of completeness (and so you don’t think I’ve gone mad) here they are:

  1. Bible. Young (and old) people don’t need my opinion; they need Jesus’ word. 2 Tim 3:16 tells us that all of Scripture is God breathed. We need to keep Scripture, well handled and well applied, in the driving seat.
  2. Prayer. One of the things I love about the Keswick teams is the amount of time devoted to praying for young people. E.M.Bounds said ‘It is a great thing to speak to people for God; it is an even greater thing to speak to God for people.’
  3. Worship. Teaching young people to worship is crucial to discipleship. I don’t mean teaching them to put their hands in the air or harmonize in the chorus. I do mean that teaching them to praise the beauty of Jesus in song, word, thought and action is critical if the encounter with God’s word is to end in the right place. Listening to God’s voice, as given in Scripture, is not an exercise that terminates in comprehension; it’s an encounter that should lead to worship.
  4. Mission. Relationship with God is not just for intimacy but for fruitfulness. There is a reason we’re still sucking air and we need to teach young people that they have a role to play in the mission of God. They don’t have to be ‘grown ups’ before God takes interest in how they witness to him in their studies, work, home-life, community involvement, and evangelism. If you don’t help them to work this out now don’t be surprised if their not missional as adults.
  5. Context. Good youth ministry is not confined to conferences and conventions (surprise surprise!). The best youth ministry happens in a localized context, in particular, the family and the local church. Youth ministries exist to support, equip, aide, and empower families and churches to help children and young people grow in grace.
  6. Culture. An awareness of cultural influences and narratives is an important part of equipping young saints to apply God’s word to their own situations. Burying our heads in the sand with ‘just teach them the Bible’ is naive and unaware of the ways in which culture deeply affects and influences all of us. Critical thinking and engagement are something of a lost art – an art to be recovered in training the next generation.
  7. Communication. All of this stuff needs to communicated in accessible and engaging ways. Teaching the Bible does not stop with ‘getting it right’; we have to get it across. Sometimes I hear people express suspicion about good communication as if the truth is being necessarily compromised or watered down. Yet we need to work on communicating in ways that get truth into heads, hearts, and hands.

No doubt I’ve missed some things. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive. What would you add in to this?

An Outline of Keller’s Book on Preaching


I’ve just finished Keller’s recent book on preaching – thoroughly enjoyable, insightful, and stimulating – a must read for any preacher in my opinion.

Here’s an outline that I typed up to whet your appetite

Prologue – What is good preaching

– preaching Christ
– preaching to the cultural heart
Chapters 1-2
– preach expository sermons and preach Christ
Chapter 3 – Preaching Christ
– preach Christ from every section
– preach Christ through every theme
– preach Christ through every figure
– preach Christ from every image
– preach Christ from every story of deliverance
– preach Christ through instinct
Chapter 4 – Preaching to the Culture
– Contextual communication
– accessible vocabulary
– cite respected authorities
– demonstrate understanding of doubts and objections
– affirm in order to challenge cultural narratives
– make gospel offers that push on the culture’s pressure points
– call for gospel motivation
Chapter 5 – Preaching and the Late Modern Mind
– Major cultural narratives
– rationality narrative – the natural world is the only reality; technology will provide the solutions to world problems
– history narrative – history is always making progress; the new is automatically better
– society narrative – the function of society is to preserve individual freedom
– morality narrative – we determine our own norms
– identity narrative – identity is discovered by looking within and ‘being ourselves’
– Engaging the narratives
Chapter 6 – Preaching to the Heart
– affectionately
– imaginatively
– wondrously
– memorably
– Christocentrically
– Practically
– Diversify your conversation partners
– Diversify whom you picture as you prepare
– weave application throughout the sermon
– use variety
– be emotionally aware – the ‘pliable moment’
Chapter 7 – Preaching and the Spirit
– combine warmth and force
– potential subtexts (first two bad; third inadequate; fourth the goal)
     – ‘aren’t we great’
     – ‘aren’t I great’
     – ‘isn’t this truth great’
     – ‘isn’t Christ great’
– Spirit-empowered preaching from the heart
     – powerful, wondrous, affectionate, authentic, Christ-adoring

Resources for the Atheism/Theism Debate


For those interested in some helpful resources that I used last night in the Atheism vs. Theism talk here’s a few bits and bobs:

  1. You can listen back to the talk here: http://www.graceinthecommunity.com/sermons/god/
  2. There’s a good debate between Christopher Hitches and William Lane Craig here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ehy37kdP2U
  3. Anthony Flew’s book, There Is A Godis both brief and lucid.
  4. Peter S. Williams, Faithful Guide to Philosophy has some good (but more detailed) stuff on positive arguments for theism
  5. Mark Lanier’s Christianity on Trial is also worth reading for those that like reading round this topic.

If you have limited time and resource I’d probably start with the first three in that order. Enjoy!

Real Theologians Read Chick-Lit

barthI’m still slowly but surely working my way through Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology. I came across a fascinating section the other day in which he talks about the possibility of over-eating in a theological sense. Interesting, I thought. What does that mean? Here he is in his own words:

“In the relationship of man to God’s work and word there may exist not only an unhealthy under-nourishment but an equally unhealthy overeating . . . as a novice, he has devoted himself to theology with the incomparable exclusiveness of a first love; and now he lives not only as a theologian in everything, but even entirely as a theologian alone, to the elimination of everything else. He has no basic interest in the newspapers, novels, art, history, sport; and so he reveals that basically he has no interest in any man. He is interested in his theological work and in his theological concern . . . Not only are there students and professors of theology who go beyond their calling, but also preachers who live hermetically sealed off within their congregations. They associate with other men only in an hyper-theological way. A dangerous business! . . . Concentrated theological work is a good thing, or even the best thing, but exclusive theological existence is not a good thing. Such existence, in which a man actually plays the role of a God unconcerned about his creation, must sooner or later inevitably lead to doubt, in fact radical doubt.”

So, perhaps reading a chick-lit is a step too far (but maybe not!?), but Barth is right. A theologian who has no interest in his fellow-man or culture is really no theologian at all, because he is disinterested in the creator’s creation. I think Barth would go so far as to say a failure to engage with culture is not just anaemic theology; it’s just not theology properly defined and conceived. So, there’s some theological justification to listening to the Ashes while I work!

The Culture Debate

Last week John Stevens and Joe Boot debated the issue of a Christian response to culture and cultural engagement. It was chaired by Dan Strange and put on by Christian Concern. I think the guys clearly set out the issues and had some positive interaction. It’s well worth carving out some time to watch. You can access it here: