Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith… (1 Peter 5:8-9)
What was the focus of your high school youth group? It seems that youth groups are often organized around the trinity of food, fellowship, fun. Parents and other church members, meanwhile, turn to youth groups as bastions of safety amid a world that leads young people into temptation at every turn. In other words, the youth group becomes a place where we can send that notoriously susceptible demographic of pre-teens and teens to keep them out of the wily clutches of the prowling devil and to help them find a constructive purpose for their lives.
Certainly, providing wholesome, alternative activities is a noble goal for a youth group. The bonds and support systems that arise from such activities can be fruitful for a lifetime. And in a society where prosperity, materialism, and postmodernism have left many people wandering aimlessly and searching for meaning in all the wrong places, a focus on helping young people find a Godly (rather than worldly) purpose for their lives can be a great outreach tool. So is it bad to be a “purpose-driven” youth group? Well…not necessarily. We dare not lose sight of the great Reformation insight so hard-won by Martin Luther, that “One thing and only one thing is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ.”
Programs come and go…enthusiasm wrought by youth gatherings mounts, peaks, and fades…but the Word alone stands forever as the one thing necessary to lead us into life everlasting and guard us from the “unholy trinity” of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. As Luther reminds us in the great Reformation hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,”
Just one Word suffices, and only one Word will do:
Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpower us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
Hes judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.
Luther (along with his medieval contemporaries) had a vivid understanding of how very real the powers of this worlds prince are. In any age and at any age, we resist the Tempter’s power in one way only: by relying on that one Word, and so we had better be growing in the discipline of the Word and prayer. There’s nothing inherently safe for our youth (or any of us) in a church building, or catchy programs, or numbers. Yet when we are steeped in the Word, and teach our youth to be as well, we need not fear to find the devil lurking at every turn. Rather, we can take the prudent outlook urged by Luther, who compared the devil to a dangerous but chained dog.
The devil is real, but praise be to God, we live in the Reality of the Victorious One whose name is the one word that chains the his power!