One of the challenges in youth ministry is demonstrating the importance of centering our lives on God’s Word and in Jesus Christ in a way that compels the kids to trust and live out their faith. This may be one of the hardest tasks in the church for every ministry, period. Why is this task so difficult? The Bible says in John chapter 10 that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that His sheep know His voice. A sheep will only follow what it knows and is familiar with. A shepherd’s job is to lead, feed, protect, provide, and ultimately build a relationship of trust with the sheep. When this happens, the sheep know who they want to follow. Many eastern shepherds actually name each sheep individually from birth, and call it by this name for the rest of the sheep’s life. When called, this sheep will come to the shepherd. But sheep love to follow their friends. They are a gregarious animal. A gregarious animal lives in flocks or loosely organized communities. They don’t desire to be alone, and will tend to follow those close to them. Shepherds will use this to their advantage. When guiding a group of sheep, they will invest in a certain few, and the other sheep surrounding them will follow it.
Jesus says that He is the only Good Shepherd, not the only shepherd, and that His sheep know His voice. Other voices are out there. Jesus says the other “shepherds” are actually robbers and thieves. They come to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus came to give us life, and to give it abundantly. A good shepherd leads the sheep to abundant green pastures. Some shepherds are leading to depression, drugs, divorce, anger and bitterness, broken and dysfunctional relationships, pretentious religion, legalism, and suicide. Our youth are being bombarded with other “shepherds” that are robbing and destroying any idea of abundant living.
The youth of today are struggling with knowing and trusting the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Why is this? It boils down to one major theme, LOVE. I would like to point out two areas that have convicted me to this statement. Jesus says, “Love one another even as I have loved you. By this all men will know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another.” Jesus showed us what love is; a purposeful commitment to sacrifice for another human being. He tells us to do this for others.
Point Number One – The Body of Christ may not be showing the love that Jesus wants us to.
That may have stung when you read it. It stung me when I typed it. Demonstrating love is no easy task to do. Jesus never said love was easy. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” Showing the greatest kind of love involves laying down your life for others. It involves sacrifice. You may be thinking, “I do sacrifice for my friends and family.” Sacrificing for our friends and family is a part of the love Jesus taught us, but just a part. The Greek word Jesus used for friend is “philos”. It means an associate, neighbor, acquaintance, or friend. The love that Jesus showed went so much deeper than just His friends and family. He ate and drank with the tax collectors, the sinners, the poor, the sick, the abandoned, the outcasts, and the criminals. They were His acquaintances and neighbors. He not only loved them, but sacrificed for all of them to bring them into His family and make them His friends. He commands us to show that same kind of love not because we have to, but because we are able to. Read that last sentence again. You and I can love to that capacity! Jesus would not have asked us to do something we cannot do. Our youth need to be seeing a body that has greater love, not just for friends and family, but for all our “neighbors”.
Point Number Two – The body of Christ should be setting an example!
What does this next generation see when they go home from church? Do they see the same parents, families, and friends as they see during Sunday service? We as the church, the kingdom of heaven, need to stand out significantly from the rest of the world every day, not just Sunday. If the church looks and acts just like the rest of the world, the youth have no reason to care about the Bible or Christ. Better yet, no one does. Matthew 13:24- 30 tells us about the wheat and the tares. The parable speaks of a man who sowed wheat in his field, but an intruder snuck in and planted tares among the wheat.
Both the wheat and the tares began to grow. It wasn’t until the wheat started to bear grain that the man’s workers noticed the tares. Tares don’t produce grain. You cannot tell the difference between the two plants until the wheat bears grain. The workers asked if they needed to gather up the tares right away. The man told them to wait until harvest so that no wheat plants would be destroyed. Jesus relates the kingdom of heaven, the church, to this parable. It is up to the wheat to bear grain which reveals the tares. Church, we need to be bearing fruit to noticeably stand out from the rest of the world. Immature wheat looks just like a tare. Do our youth go home and see the fruit of the Spirit, or the deeds of the flesh? (Galatians 5:19-23)
Have we been letting other shepherds infiltrate, impose, and toxify the love that the Good Shepherd is trying to demonstrate through us?
Church, our youth need green pastures! So how do we communicate the need of the Good Shepherd? It can only be done by listening to Jesus’ voice. WE AS LEADERS, PARENTS, GRANDPARENTS, BROTHERS, SISTERS, AND FRIENDS MUST KNOW WHO OUR SHEPHERD IS AND WE MUST LISTEN TO HIS WORD. If you want to see the youth follow the Good Shepherd, we must first ourselves follow Him.
This generation is watching. They need to see us listening to Jesus. So I leave you to ponder this question with me. Who are you listening to?