A Christ-centered youth ministry has to do with what you celebrate. What you celebrate and how you talk reveals what’s at your core. It reveals what you desire. The question is: What do you desire? How does your desire relate to Jesus and Jesus’ way?

When we talk about desire, we know our desires are impure and distracted. We know our will is fragmented, even the renewed will that comes through faith. It’s important to recognize this. We see this in Jesus’ disciples, too. Faith is, after all, not a checklist toward perfection, but a turning with hope. It is receiving and being filled with new life and a new lifestyle. These come from Jesus.

To center on Jesus is to desire Jesus. It is to desire the gifts Jesus offers, like forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy and justice. We receive these from God. To be centered is also to desire what Jesus taught and did, living these in our contexts. These are things we act upon in faith, trusting that what Jesus says is good for all creation. Collectively, desiring all this is called, “seeking first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33).

It’s my perception that we are good at proclaiming the gifts that are ours in Jesus, but we are poor at desiring what Jesus desires. How can we desire and build a life Jesus offers, teaches and does?

Look at the Fruit

First of all, look at your context, your setting. Examine your ministry as it is. You will know the good by the fruit it produces, even if the fruit is small (cf. Matt. 7). Ask, “Are participants receiving what Jesus offers? Are they practicing what Jesus taught and did?” Your ministry won’t be exact, so take this thought for example:

“I don’t expect us to live up to the Sermon on the Mount. But I do expect us to fail in such a way that people watching us will know what we’re reaching for, what we’re failing at. By now I don’t expect us to be as united with each other as Jesus is with the Father, but I do expect us to live in such a way that outsiders will be able to tell that being united with each other is what we intend to be about.”1

Do you feel your ministry is aiming in the same direction as Jesus? Again, what you celebrate plays an important role. It’s good to ask, “What did Jesus celebrate and why did he celebrate it? How can we embody this in our ministry?”

Jesus Calls the Shots

By now you realize that a Christ-Centered ministry allows Jesus to call the shots and determine the metrics of success. A Christ-Centered youth ministry sounds like Jesus, looks like Jesus and goes where Jesus goes. You’d be very close to a “win” if your people asked, “What does Jesus want in this ministry?”

How to build a Christ-Centered Youth Ministry

Here’s the catalyst question: “What does Jesus want? How do we learn this?”

To learn Jesus, your mind must be immersed in the story of Jesus. Read the Gospels. If you, a leader, picked up a Gospel and read it straight through, either in one sitting or broken down, you would see ministry fruit growing. Ask yourself, “What is Jesus saying and how is he calling me to receive and live this?” Asking, “What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?” is enough for 10,000 years of youth ministry. Just let God speak through the text, especially the Gospels (the Gospels are where we get Jesus in the most direct way). Then, bring this into your youth ministry context. Through your experience, walk with the kids you care about. Open the Gospels together and ask, “What is Jesus saying to us, for us and for others? What can we do about it?” Just enter this simple adventure together. Be awake in prayer and alert in Scripture. You will notice what God is up to in your context. You will be trained to see how Jesus lives and then you will notice where Jesus would go if he were you.

A simpler start is with the Sermon on the Mount. Read the Sermon in one sitting and ask the same questions. Know all the while that you are a called and saved Child of God and that God desires you to practice the new life you’ve been given.

This, friends, is processing the mind of Christ within you.

Finally, as your ministry is nourished on the word of Christ, it will grow and go where Jesus went. The fruitful ministry has little to do with how many youth come or how much buzz there is in the air. Instead, you will see your ministry centered on Jesus’ desire for the Father’s kingdom to come and will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. When you see the will of God being enacted, when you have discerned how to declare Jesus alone as king in your context, you will see fruit from being centered on Jesus. This can happen in a group of three or a group of three hundred.

Yes, this fruitfulness is beyond an attendance measurement, even though that’s helpful. It’s an inclination of the heart. When your people desire to not just grow a ministry or create ministry buzz, but incarnate the good news of redemption for the poor and poor in spirit, then you will be close to practicing a Christ-Centered youth ministry.

And what is the fuel for all this? The fuel is the continual gift that Jesus gives us in His word of promise, in the nourishment we receive in the Supper. It’s from Jesus that we learn the paradox: the call to die is also the call to live, for dying to self is the way to life, and the way of true life is to pour self out for the sake of others. This is Jesus, friends. When we see this as truly good news, we will then be centered.

  1. Alexander, John F. (2012–07–01). Being Church: Reflections on How to Live as the People of God (New Monastic Library: Resources for Radical Discipleship) (p. 6). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.