In children’s ministry and youth ministry, we all know the need we have to see transformation take place in the hearts of our young people. We desire to see God do something in the young people we pour our love and energy into. Here are a few tips to understanding how grace actually works.
First it is good to understand what I say when I talk about “grace”. I will define it in two different ways. Primarily, grace is the understanding of God’s benevolence towards us. It is the teaching that God loves, blesses, and seeks to save us regardless of our contribution to the relationship. It is the attitude of God towards His people apart from their works. As the often quoted Ephesians 2:8-9 states, “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And it is the gift of God, not a result of works…”
Secondarily, grace is also the power of God that affects change in the life of the child of God. It also contains the idea of God working independently of merit of mankind. In other words, grace transforms us regardless of how moral we have been. Grace is not just a theological concept, it is also the power of God affecting His people. An example where we see this in scripture is Titus 2:11 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled upright and godly lives in the present age”
So grace is both the intellectual conviction that God loves, blesses, and saves apart from our efforts and the actual power of God to change and grow as we are transformed into the image of His Son. It is conceptual and practical. It is belief and blessing, attitude and aptitude, and the heart of God towards us as well as its efficacy upon us….
Now for how it works in youth ministry….
1- Grace inspires what the law requires
When we preach grace to students, we give them a reason to follow in obedience. Love is a powerful motivator. As an example, when I wasn’t married, my parents (the law) required me to clean my room, keep decent hygiene, and mow the grass. I hated it and saw their rules as being oppressive and power-trippy. Now I do those thing all the time. My wife doesn’t require them of me, I want to do them because I love her. I want to do what is required because love is now my motivation. Grace taught intellectually gets applied practically in loving surrender to God.
2- It removes the burden of performance driven ministry
The burden of performance in youth ministry is tremendous. We often worry about pleasing parent, students, and administrative staff. In concentrating on those things, we begin to live in a man-centered world where the efficacy of ministry is based on our week to week performance rather than God-centered worship. Grace reminds us that God is already pleased with us because of Christ and that we are now co-laborers with God in the work He is already doing in the lives of our youth.
3- It creates dependency
The struggle of humanity since the Garden of Eden has been the continuous drift to living independent of God. This is the temptation of Adam and Eve, every youth pastor, and every student as well. Grace reminds us that apart from God we can do nothing. We needed God to be saved, and now we need God to walk it out.
4- It fosters faith
Grace puts the largest weight of responsibility upon God and not man. In seasons of struggle we look to God to be changed. When overwhelmed, we seek God for change. When life is good, grace reminds us that it is because of a faithful God and not a faithfulness of our own. Therefore all of our efforts and energy go into trusting God more, not trying to please Him enough to get what we need or want.
5- It empowers humility
Learning from the example of Satan, pride destroys. It destroys ministry, and individuals. When grace is properly understood and applied God’s people get more humble. They realize that there is precious little they can offer to God except our loving availability. We then live and serve as those that belong to Him rather than seeing God as debtor to us.
6- It accepts failures as opportunities to grow
As we grow in our understanding of grace we stop beating ourselves up for failing. Knowing that God loves and blesses apart from our performance enables us to see the times we fail as an opportunity to grow rather than a sum/total statement of worth or value. It gives us and the young people we serve room to grow and fail without the fear of condemnation.
7- It reminds us who is responsible to save
The change we long to see in ourselves is brought about by God and not our efforts. We all long for a “revival” among our young people. If you believe that to be a work of God and His effect on the people He touches by the Holy Spirit, you will pray to “The Lord of the Harvest.”
8- It deepens authentic worship
Worship is not just about theological proclamation it is also a soulful exclamation at the joy of knowing God. Jesus’ deepest condemnation of the religious people of His day was to rebuke them for keeping great theology, saying right theological proclamations, and having hearts that are “far from me”. The heart is awakened by grace. When we understand how deep and wide the love of God is, we worship with the whole heart in appreciation and affection not just theologically rich verbal expressions devoid of emotion.
Grace is the coal that fuels the fire of the heart of our ministries. May the grace of God be with you all.
Jeremy Nehf is the Youth Pastor at Heritage Christian Fellowship in southern Oregon. Jeremy and his wife Kristal have three children, Acacia, Elijah, and Eva. After planting a church in the town of Cave Junction, Oregon and pastoring there for 12 years, he joined the staff at Heritage and oversees the needs of Jr High and High School youth ministry teams.