It’s an age-old tradition in this country that the two subjects you’re not supposed to talk about in a group are religion and politics. For those of us that are in relationship with Christ Jesus and His Church, we don’t have an option on the first subject. I pray our words echo that of the disciples in Acts 4:20, “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Regarding that second subject, politics, it is easy for us as Christians to become too embroiled in the political realm, to the point of being so focused on it that our hope turns to the government instead of to Christ alone. That being said, studying politics, especially in an election season, can be a useful practice in learning more about the culture around us that we are to impact in the name of Christ.
Here’s one trend that I believe youth workers can learn from: the tendency for politicians to be saviors. You can hear it in the rhetoric of nearly every candidate even for local office, but especially in the national elections. Almost every speech follows something along this same line of “we need saving and only I can save us. Here are the problems and here is vaguely how I am going to save you from them. Remember, that other person you can vote for can’t really save you. Only I can! In fact, that other person is a big part of the problem and you need saving from them. Vote for me and I will bring change/hope/greatness. *Pause for effect* I will save you!” There is a reason why most candidates use this savior rhetoric: we as a society are constantly looking for a savior. But just like the Jews in Biblical times were looking for the wrong kind of savior (they wanted a political and military leader), we tend to look for salvation in all the wrong places.
There are two important applications for us as youth workers. First, we need to fight that same natural tendency to be seen as the saviors of our church or youth ministry. The hard part is that oftentimes, that is what we are asked to do. Congregations may say or think “we need to focus on our youth because they are the future of the church, so let’s bring in a person or train someone here as a designated youth worker. They will (magically) bring in all these kids and families and that will save our church!” It’s all too tempting to take up that mantle of savior and all the accolades and recognition it brings. But I am certain that is not what Christ meant when He said to “take up your cross daily and follow me” (Matthew 16:24), especially considering the words immediately preceding that oft-quoted phrase are “he must deny himself.” We must be clear about one thing, there is only one Savior of the church and His name is Jesus. “Saving the church” has already been taken care of, so don’t make it your job. Long-term revival or restoration does not happen based on the following of a savior-like personality, but in following the one Savior Jesus and making His Word the foundation of the whole church. Leading a youth ministry with humility instead of self-grandeur is the key. The goal of a successful youth ministry is not for people to say “what a great youth leader we have,” but for them to see the ministry going on and say “what a great God we have in Jesus Christ!”
Secondly, the most influential leaders are successful not merely due to their skills or charisma, but because they have surrounded themselves with a great team. A politician can have the greatest platform in the world, but if they don’t have a team around them that is willing to work together to put that plan into action, then they can’t really make an impact. As youth workers, we need to surround ourselves with a great team, and I believe we have a clear way to find that team: the youth! You’re already all gathered together regularly, so include them as a part of the decision making. Give them responsibility, leadership, and opportunities to use their gifts. Instead of taking credit for all the work that the team has done, point out all the great ways that God is using these young people! They are not the future of the Church, they are the Church today along with all who call on the name of the Lord! Lifting others up and encouraging them is not only the right thing to do, but will keep you humble and from accepting that mantle of “youth ministry savior” even when it’s trying to be forced upon you.
In the midst of a tumultuous political environment, there is clear hope for Christians as we impact this broken world. So many people are looking for a savior! We as the church have found (or been found by, more appropriately) what they are looking for. Our job as youth workers is to work with young people to boldly declare the message of the only Savior this world will ever know, the one who keeps His promises, and who loves you enough to die for you. In Christ alone is the hope of you, your congregation and its youth ministry, this country, and this world. I pray we can be an echo of John the Baptist’s words regarding Jesus in John 3:30 where he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” That’s my vote for your youth ministry this year: more Jesus.