Brian Cosby has written what looks to be a helpful and timely book on youth ministry in the local church. In Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry From an Entertainment Culture, Cosby contends that we can do better in our ministry to youth and families if we would depend less on the tools of the world and more on the God-ordained means of grace. In an excerpt from the book over at TGC, here’s how Cosby says it:
The absolutely amazing truth is that God has already supplied us with the means to nourish his people, and we find ourselves thinking we can do better. These include the historic “means of grace”—especially the Word of God, prayer, and the sacraments. Other ordinances of Christ, such as gospel-motivated service and grace-centered community—may also appropriately be included in this category (cf. Acts 2:42-47).
All too often, youth programs have turned to entertainment-driven models of ministry in order to bring in youth. Success has become the name of the church-growth game. The devastating effects, however, are not only seen in the number of youth leaving the church after high school, but also in a spiritually and theologically shallow worldview among many American teenagers. The irony is that these same teens actually want to grow and learn hard truths. They want to know how to think about suffering, how to pray, and why Jesus had to die.
This rings true to me. I have found teenagers craving more substance from their local church. More often than not, high schoolers (and middle schoolers) know there is more to life than our entertainment-driven programs demonstrate. And we have gospel-mandate to help our young people see above the tree-line of the culture’s banality.
Cosby is also rightly concerned about the tendency in the church to measure success by numbers. The more people, it is often thought, the more successful the ministry. Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, playing the numbers game should not even enter the equation. Cosby refreshingly calls youth pastors to faithfulness.
But as ministers in Christ’s church, our task is to be faithful to the Lord in the ministry means that he has given us and look to him to provide the increase. We are to plant and water the gospel of Jesus Christ—while God gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:7). It is easy to become numbers-driven because it makes a minister “look good” (if a lot of youth come, of course). But God’s not after looks; he’s after hearts.
This admonition, of course, is true not only for youth pastors, but all shepherds in the local church.
Cosby closes by calling us back to the true Vine, and finding our ministry sustenance in Him:
Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Apart from the Spirit taking the finished work of Christ and applying it to our lives, we can do nothing that would please or honor God. Here, Jesus calls us to a singular calling and focus—“abide in me.” As youth workers, our task is to guide youth to the true Vine, where they will find grace, salvation, and the Lordship of Christ. The means of grace are instruments and gifts that God has given his church for the increase of faith, hope, love, and joy in him. Youth ministry should always direct youth toward God, not man. It should always concern itself with bearing fruit as an effect of abiding in the Vine.
With all my heart, I plead with you to not be tempted with “success,” professionalism, or the fading fads of our entertainment-driven culture. Rather, pursue Jesus as the all-satisfying Treasure that he is and feed his young sheep with the means God has provided.
Cosby’s book represents the kind of thinking we are prayerfully looking for in our Pastor of Family Ministries at Immanuel. Please continue to pray for us as we actively wait on the Lord for the fulfillment of this vital ministry position.