Orthodoxy in Student Ministry

This week I read a great blog from The Gospel Coalition on the foundation for student ministry. We can build our ministries around lots of things that may not be helpful, but for the student minister who is concerned about the big picture, I would submit that the foundation for ministry should be a commitment to the truth of Scripture: in a word, orthodoxy (right belief/doctrine). I believe orthodoxy in student ministry is important for 7 reasons:

  1. Orthodoxy is Formative – Student ministers recognize that they serve in a very unique and also very special context. They have the opportunity to work with people who are the crossroads for many of the most important decisions of their life. That includes college choice, career objectives, marriage, mission, and more. But central to that is the development of their worldview. I define a worldview as “the lens by which someone observes and interprets their life and what happens around them.” Forming a Christian worldview is more than simply giving cliches and slogans for answering the critics they will meet in college. It goes much deeper to the core of the student: what they value, what they pursue, what they know, what they feel, what they aspire to, how they respond to sin, how the interpret the 6 o’clock news, and what kind of legacy they want to leave. Orthodoxy enters the scene by giving truth as the foundation, and by building on truth the emotions and the will are engaged as well to build not only a “good kid” but a mature disciple. How do you do this? Teach the Bible, don’t stray away from difficult passages, read good books and give them to students, have honest discussions with them about how Christians respond to the world around them.
  2. Orthodoxy is Corrective – In many ways orthodoxy serves as a red pen to point out mistakes and offer correction. Postmodernism has eroded any concept of right and wrong and reduced it to how the individual decides it. Biblically, truth serves as a standard of not only doctrine but behavior. So a student ministry built on orthodoxy is able to give a corrective response to not only wrong beliefs but also wrong behaviors. Again, if orthodoxy drives us to greater love of God and love of neighbor, correction is necessary. This correction is always done in love, but orthodoxy provides an opportunity to work through errors towards repentance and greater faithfulness to Christ. We can correct a child who answers 2 + 2 with 5 because we know the right answer to be 4. In the same way we as student ministers can correct false teaching and wrong behavior because of a firm commitment to orthodoxy.
  3. Orthodoxy is Relevant – Truth never goes out of style. Fads come and go, but there is a certain sense of immortality to truth. Isaiah 40:8 declares that while grass dies and flowers fade “the word of our God will stand forever” and Jude 3 commands the church to carry on the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” This thread of truth speaks through the ages. The important decision to make as a student minister is to allow truth to shape practice, not practice to shape truth. We speak truth into a particular context, not the other way around. So student minister, stand firm on orthodoxy. Read old dead guys. Dig through church history. Read biographies. I had a student read Pilgrim’s Progress written over 400 years ago and her comment was “I couldn’t believe how much it relates to my life.” That’s the beauty of the Gospel, it speaks just as clearly to a hipster in a local coffee shop with plastic glasses as it does to the WWII vet who still drinks McDonalds coffee and loves the sound of a pipe organ.
  4. Orthodoxy is Worshipful – Here is another key distinction, we don’t worship orthodoxy  in student ministry, but we instead see truth as a means of greater worship. When we see Jesus as He is gloriously depicted in Scripture and we recognize the wonderful truths of the Gospel (for example, ponder for a minute substitutionary atonement – that the perfect and holy Christ would take the place of us – put it in student ministry terms, Jesus takes the place of the girl-crazy, porn-addicted, Monster-drinking, spastic high school guy in your crowd; or He dies in the place of the self-destructive and vindictive ‘mean girl’ who shows up occasionally). When we really dwell on truth and how powerful it is, our response is not pride but instead humility. We see truth and we respond as Isaiah did when he said “woe to me, I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips!” And then, God tells him to rise and not only forgives but commissions and sends! How incredible! Doctrine, orthodoxy, and truth are not dead or boring but living and vibrant!
  5. Orthodoxy is Wise – Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, speaks about the necessity of building on a firm foundation by comparing the wise man and the fool. The fool builds his house on sand, which cannot hold. The same goes for those who build on either the wrong foundation or on no real strong foundation. Truth as the starting point for faith and practice keeps us from falling into the latest trappings of pragmatism or of theological creativity. Wisdom is the pursuit of that which is timeless, without cultural boundaries, and which points to the Savior. In student ministry, it means building everything around the biblical witness – worship services, priorities, core values, event planning, calendar, how you teach, what you teach – at the core, why you exist as a student ministry.
  6. Orthodoxy is Urgent – If what we believe is really true, then there is no need to waste time. Penn (from Penn & Teller) received a Bible from a guy after a show he did. This is the response of Penn (an atheist) about the urgency of Christians and the act of love this guy showed him.  
  7. Orthodoxy is Love – We sometimes fail to see the link between that which is true and that which is loving. At the core of love is the desire to see the best for someone else, the object of the love. So for me as a dad my desire is for my son’s best, as a husband for my wife’s, and as a pastor for my church’s. A proper view of truth should drive us to love not only God but one another more. While I was on the treadmill yesterday I was listening to a sermon from Mark Driscoll who made a really great point when he said “God doesn’t need your good works, your neighbor does.” If we truly love God and are committed to orthodoxy, then we have a responsibility and loving obligation to love & serve those around us. Truth should not cause us to be callous, cold, and shut off – if that is the case then I’m afraid truth is not being pursued.
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