Youth Group and the Kingdom of God

Well, despite all the odds, it is somehow already September again. While I must now enter a period of mourning for the loss of the Summer, I am excited to begin a new youth group year. I am officially into my third year of student ministry here, and I continue to look forward to what is still to come.

Throughout the past few weeks, I have been meeting with a number of new youth group leaders, which has meant sharing my philosophy of youth ministry fairly consistently. It occurs to me however that many of you are probably unfamiliar with it. I thought that the beginning of this year might be an appropriate time for me to paint the picture for you though. What is student ministry here at Beacon all about, and how can you be praying for us this year?

Acts 2:42-47 has long been my model for youth ministry. It is a picture of a fairly simplistic early church gathering that holds a huge number of implications. It explains that the followers of Jesus made a regular practice of eating meals together, praying together, reflecting on the scriptures, and recounting the stories of Jesus, and providing for the members of their company (or outside of their company) that were in great need. While teaching was certainly done within these meetings, the meeting itself was sacred, not just the teaching within it.

This was because the earliest followers believed that their meetings represented places on this earth, here and now, where the kingdom of God- the heavenly rule of Yahweh that Jesus had announced, had come. When men, women, slaves, freemen, jews, and gentiles ate at the same table it radically overturned the social order of Rome. The kind of servitude and humility demonstrated in their care was an anomaly to the empire, and the recounting of the life of Jesus was an announcement that the work was not done yet, and that this rule was expanding over the whole earth. Teaching, praying, eating, talking, sharing, it was all important, because it all was part of the kingdom.

This is what I like to have in my mind when it comes to planning youth group? Why do we do what we do? Is it to teach morals? Is it to offer Christian alternatives to unsavory secular parties? Is it to do silly things to entertain? No, the hope behind every youth group meeting is that, as a student, new or old enters, they recognize that they have entered a different kind of place, as if they were transported out of the American empire and into the empire of God. To be prayed for by a friend in small group, to be checked in with by an adult who for some reason cares about them, to hear about the good news of Jesus and the hope of a new creation, to eat and celebrate and play games together in an environment defined by joy and encouragement rather than harsh competition, it is all for the purpose of offering a more beautiful vision of what the world could look like, a prophetic one.

At the core of it, our purpose statement is summed up in three key words: We invite students into the kingdom to experience it, we equip them with the tools and words of Jesus to continue to manifest the kingdom, and then we send them out to expand it within the places they live and work.

Do we do this perfectly? Not at all, we are leaders and students still influenced by our own selfishness and American Empire habits, but that is why we need prayer this year and every year! Pray for our leaders and kids. Pray that God would transform those of us who claim Christ into people capable of well-representing the kingdom of God, and that this would happen regularly on Wednesday nights and beyond. Then, pray that those who enter student ministry without that vision would be struck by their time in it. That they would find something more beautiful than what their world has offered them, and that they would decide to follow Jesus and take part in the healing of their world.  

Dan Vandzura