Appetite and Ability to Study God’s Word

Series | Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry

The third mark of health in our series is:

A healthy student ministry has people with an appetite and ability to study God’s Word.


Many passages reveal the importance of God’s Word in the life of a believer and in the life of a church. For example, as soon as the church started to gather in the book of Acts we find four things that were most important to them:

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship and to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

While fellowship, the ordinances, and prayer are critical to spiritual health as well, devotion to doctrine is conspicuously absent in many churches and particularly absent in most youth ministries. Craving Scripture is commanded for everyone.

So putting away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk of the word, that by it you may grow up to salvation. (1 Peter 2:1-2)

Desire for God’s Word should be natural and innate in those who have been born of God. Just as a person is born again by the Word (1 Peter 1:23), so they should continue to crave and feed on Scripture for spiritual growth. Therefore, the apostle Peter commands Christians to long for the pure milk of the word. The imperative applies to every believer, old and young.

This is more than simply reading the Bible. We’re promoting a hunger that isn’t satisfied with scraps; a longing that causes someone to linger over God’s Word until it is at home in their heart.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

An appetite for the Book is distinctively characteristic of an individual’s spiritual health and by extension the health of any ministry, especially ministry to young adults.

Craving God’s Word is important not only for growth, but knowing Scripture is valuable for ministry.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The word profitable describes something that is useful and beneficial. In this context, the benefit of Scripture’s inspiration is to provide inerrant direction and counsel for shepherding and service. God’s Word prepares and enables a person for every good work. Many ministry problems would be solved by looking to and learning from the Bible. Many youth pastors would be patently armed for youth ministry if they knew more about the Bible than skateboarding and contemporary Christian music. Many students would be ready to use their spiritual giftedness if they continued in what they had learned from God’s Word instead of building their buddy list on MySpace.

So why don’t more student ministries focus on Scripture? Perhaps it is because *studying Scripture takes time and work.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

A worker is someone who does WORK! There are no shortcuts to Scripture insight; it takes study. This work requires diligence. The phrase do your best describes the importance of zeal and eagerness in this effort. And while this verse primarily applies to the teacher, the importance of rightly handling God’s book is relevant for everyone. A healthy student ministry must train staff and students so that they would have ability to study (and obey) with accuracy.

And finally, feeding on Scripture is to be nonstop.

Feeding on Scripture should take place during times of corporate teaching, even in (I might say, especially in) student ministries.

Against this are some who suggest that student ministries should get rid of preaching altogether. They may even go so far as to suggest that someone can get too much teaching. But passages like Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1, and Deuteronomy 6:7; 11:19 exhort day and night teaching and meditation. (The only danger from too much teaching is sleeping during it! Acts 20:7-9).

Leaving God’s weapon sheathed because students can’t handle it is self-destructive. That is why all spiritually dynamic student ministries teach biblical truth and urge young Christians to apply it. God’s Word changes lives, so a healthy student ministry will wield the Sword, not fall on it. A robust student ministry will exalt God’s Word, endeavoring to faithfully proclaim the whole counsel of God. A healthy youth ministry will have students and staff people who are hungry for Scripture, not pop-psychology or self-esteem seminars.

Not only should feeding on Scripture take place when the ministry gathers but it should also happen during regular times of personal study. It is inappropriate and injurious to go days without eating. Each student must eat Bible-meals in between group meetings. If the word of Christ only visits on Sundays it is not richly dwelling in you.

Jonathan Edwards wrote about Scripture intake with relevance for both youth pastors and their students:

If God has made it the business of some to be teachers, it will follow that He has made it the business of others to be learners. For teachers and learners are correlates, one of which was never intended to be without the other. God has never made it the duty of some to take pains to teach those who are not obliged to take pains to learn. He has not commanded ministers to spend themselves in order to impart knowledge to those who are not obliged to apply themselves to receive it.

A healthy student ministry must have people ravenous for, and skilled in understanding, God’s Word.

Godly Leaders

Series | Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry

*Here is the second mark of a healthy student ministry:

A healthy student ministry has people who are godly leaders.

We cannot bypass the principle of godly leadership and still expect to see God’s blessing. Holiness is the primary ingredient for leaders in the church.

It is staggering to consider how many churches–and youth ministries in particular–select leadership. A man (or woman) is not to be a leader in the church because he is the best businessman, has innate leadership ability, or has a large bank account. In student ministries specifically, leaders aren’t chosen because they can snowboard or play Halo or whatever. Those with worldly gifts and talents are not God’s best tools; God wants and uses righteous instruments.

Godly leaders are those with deacon qualified character. When Timothy stayed in Ephesus, he had the responsibility of bringing the church to spiritual maturity. The apostle Paul knew Timothy couldn’t do it alone and that he needed godly leaders beside him.

Titus faced the same challenge in Crete, and Paul gave him similar advice. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 Paul gives a profile of the kind of people that are to be leading the church. They are to be:

  • above reproach
  • devoted to their wives
  • temperate
  • prudent
  • respectable
  • hospitable
  • able to teach
  • self-controlled
  • not self-willed
  • not quick-tempered
  • not pugnacious (not a punch-throwers)
  • not contentious
  • gentle
  • not materialistic
  • managing their household well
  • having a good reputation among unbelievers
  • lovers of good
  • just
  • devout
  • and not new converts

Those are the qualifications given in Scripture for leaders in the church. They indicate the kind of people God wants to lead His church. A church should not accept just any volunteer; it should elevate godly ones. While not everyone on the youth staff will be an elder or deacon/deaconness, these are the spiritual characteristics that must be promoted and pursued.

Godly leaders are also those committed to sacrificial service. This involves their:

  • time
  • talents
  • and treasure

The sacrificial service of a leader is above and beyond the sacrificial service of a non-leading Christian. And since every Christian follower is called to lose their life, giving up everything to follow Christ (cf. Mark 8:34-38), how much more the leaders.

This above-and-beyond commitment is alongside of responsibilities to family and work. The family is not equivalent to the church, so serving one’s family is not synonymous with one’s “ministry.” Neither is a person’s vocation equivalent to the serving the body, regardless of the spiritual opportunities provided by the position itself.

There are other ministries in the church that someone can serve in, even “deacon” in, using their spiritual giftedness, discipling, while following Christ that will cost a person less than serving in a leadership position in a student ministry. But we should stop making apologies for how much is asked of leaders. We ultimately answer to God (and to a lesser degree, to the elders, the parents, and even the students themselves), therefore, it is not a responsibility to take lightly. We show how valuable we think the ministry is by how much it costs us to serve. Ministry that doesn’t cost anything isn’t very precious.

The consequences of our work are eternal. We’re engaged in a spiritual fight. Our work demands commitment. If a youth ministry doesn’t have leaders who measure up to God’s standards, there will be problems from the start. So we must labor to make sure that our leaders (staff and students) are biblically qualified and clearly identified. Leaders don’t just appear with the push of a button.

Part of the Local Church

Series | Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry

*I retaught my series on the Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry almost a year ago. The introduction is here and without further ado the actual marks finally begin.

A healthy student ministry has people who are part of the local church.

The Old and New Testaments are completely silent about Student Ministries. There are no verses that describe ministry focused on young people. Based on this alone, we might conclude that student ministry is at best a-biblical, that is, it isn’t found in the Bible. But though no verses support or provide instruction for this particular ministry, there are also no scriptures that condemn or prohibit it. Apparently student ministries is not anti-biblical either. So should there be such a thing as student ministry, and if so, where does it belong?

The New Testament does have much to say about the church and her role. Of course, a church is a body of believers that gather together in a local place for corporate worship, mutual edification, and biblical instruction for observing everything Christ commanded. In particular, Paul defines the work of church leaders in Ephesians 4:11-16 as strengthening and equipping believers to do the work of the ministry.

This responsibility of the church is to equip every believer. No national, cultural, gender or age restrictions exist, providing a rationale for focused shepherding and discipling of students. In light of Ephesians 4:11-16, student ministry exists to strengthen and equip students to do the work of the ministry. Done properly, student ministry is just a focus on the few to reach the many within the context of a local church.

Churches typically have other ministries aimed at specific groups of people, be that children’s’ ministry, women’s’ ministry, etc. These particular ministries are not essential for equipping the saints but they can help to target “each part of the body” (Ephesians 4:16) and “every man” (Colossians 1:28). Colossians 1:28 was not actually written for youth ministry; it is Paul’s objective for the entire church. Presenting “every man” complete in Christ is a huge task and student ministry exists to reach the “every man” among the Junior High and High School students as God enables salvation and sanctification. But it is only under the umbrella of the entire church that student ministry makes sense.

Though I’m certain there are more, here are four brief sub-points important for being part of a local church.

  1. Following Christ. As part of a local church students need to follow Christ. On one hand this is so basic, yet on the other hand we never want to take it for granted. As part of the Body we must follow the Head. Anything we do apart from following the Head misses the point of being a part of the whole.
  2. Submitting to the elders. Elders are given by God to oversee the local body. Students are responsible to submit to the direction and priorities the elders set like the rest of the body. Elders are given to guide and protect, so wandering from their oversight is inappropriate and dangerous.
  3. Pursuing the same goals as the whole body. A philosophy of student ministry should not contradict or compete with that of the overall ministry. Though some practical differences may exist, there should be no disconnect between what happens in big church and “little church.” The goals and practices of student ministry should be consistent with every other ministry.
  4. Serving others outside of student ministries. Whether helping lead in children’s’ Sunday School or service projects for families in need, students are a necessary part of the body that must work properly the makes the body grow.

Because student ministry is only healthy as it is part of a local body, student participation in “big church” worship is important as well. The youth meeting does not and cannot replace the entire congregation’s worship services. Anytime the church gathers, students should be a included.

Though it should be obvious, this also means that healthy student ministries are not isolated from the older members, those with wisdom to share and to whom the younger should watch as examples. Para-church ministries that attempt to make disciples in an isolated context away from the church are missing out on the blessings and benefits of being part of a local body.

Being part of a local church is #1 on the list for a reason. Too many youth pastors and student ministries try to do their own thing and try to be so different from what’s happening in the rest of the church that inconsistency and ineffectiveness abound. Student ministry is not finished until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, grown up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. In order to do this, students must be connected to the rest of the Body. Though churches don’t need student ministries to be a healthy churches, healthy and proper student ministries must be part of local churches.

The Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry

Series | Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry

*It was four years ago–July 11, 2001 to be exact–that I preached my very first message at Grace Bible Church. I was exhilarated that Wednesday night as we began to lay out the course for our student ministries. A lot has happened since then, both in individual lives and in the ministry, but there are some things that are still the same.

In particular, the primary principles–our priorities and philosophy of ministry–have remained constant. If you remember, my first two messages were on The Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry. Those defining marks have not changed since the start.

And it is time again to pause from our regular teaching schedule and evaluate the condition of our student ministries department by reconsidering these marks. It is important to make regular assessments because we don’t ever want to stray too far from our primary purpose. We always want to remember what we’re doing here. The reason we’re here, my objectives as pastor, the goals of our staff, all of those should be explicit and evident.

I’d like to assume that everyone already knows our primary purpose and what we’re doing here. I would really like to take for granted that every student and staff person knows the reasons for, and objectives of, one28. Though there are probably a number of ways to say it, the point, the goal, the purpose, the reason of our ministry is to present every person complete in Christ.

I know that I refer to our aim on a frequent basis and it obviously comes from Colossians 1:28. All of us ought to be ready on a moment’s notice to show that verse to anyone who asks about Christ or about our church or about one28 itself.

The idea of completeness in Christ is what consumes everything that we do or, at least, it should be consuming everything that we do. Whether it is Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights when we all meet together, small group Wednesdays or service opportunities, retreats or short term missions trips, everything we do in this ministry falls under the banner of seeking to present every person complete in Christ. For some that must begin with evangelism and salvation. For others it means edification and equipping for the lifelong sanctification process.

We want to see young men and young women become spiritually mature men and women loving God wholeheartedly and following Him purposefully. As basic as that is, and as much as I hope you know that, it is fruitful to remember that foundation because we are often distracted by so many other things. We can get so preoccupied and busy, even with church stuff. But spiritual growth doesn’t happen just because you are at church. It doesn’t happen by just hanging out with other believers. It’s about pursuing Christ and seeking to become more like Him, then helping others to do the same. So my job is all about being committed to seeing every one of you become more and more like Christ. Christianity itself is about being Christ-followers and Christ-lovers and this ministry is devoted to help that happen.

As far as our corporate ministry goes, it is advantageous to have some measuring stick, some evaluation tool to help determine if our organization and our organism (as the body of Christ) is doing all it can to present everyone complete in Christ.

So this series on the Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry is something that I started with when I came here and something that we will continue to work through on a regular basis. In fact, every staff retreat we set aside time to walk through a ministry grade card, where each staff person grades our fulfillment of each mark. Then as a group we talk through areas of strength (and how to excel still more) while also identifying areas of weakness to overhaul.

These are some of the things that are closest to my own heart, some of the deepest and strongest passions that I have for our ministry. These are things that drive me and push me–that consume me. For those who are new or for those who haven’t been paying attention or even for the old-timers who need a refresher, hopefully this series will boost your appreciation for why we do what we do.

So what are the things that determine whether this ministry in this local body is healthy or not? I want to suggest that a healthy student ministry has people who:

  1. are part of a local church.
  2. are godly leaders.
  3. have an appetite and ability to study God’s Word.
  4. pursue spiritual maturity.
  5. are passionate about discipleship.
  6. pray for spiritual things.
  7. place a high priority on the family.
  8. pursue spiritual fellowship and service.
  9. seek to glorify God in everything.

For further reference you can check out Mark Dever’s 9 Marks ministry. And for your information, it is just a providential coincidence that both of us have 9 marks.

Recommended Reformation Resources

I finished preaching through the Reformation solas again and wanted to put together a list of recommended resources for further study, similar to the online Edwards resources list I posted after this past Snow Retreat. Unlike that list, however, I’ve also included some books that are not available to read online.

See more about the Reformation Wall


Reformation general:

Sola specific:



  • Five Solas | This is the place to start for Reformation resources on the internet.


I also preached on the Pillars and Preachers of the Protestant Reformation at the 05SR.

  1. Post Tenebras Lux: After Darkness, Light
  2. Sola Scriptura: The Ultimate Authority and William Tyndale
  3. Sola Fide: The Ultimate Issue and Martin Luther
  4. Sola Gratia: The Ultimate Cause and Ulrich Zwingli
  5. Solus Christus: The Ultimate Advocate and John Knox
  6. Soli Deo Gloria: The Ultimate End and John Calvin

The Precious Possession of Diligence

Many of you know that my dad passed away early Monday morning, April 17. We travelled to Ohio for his funeral last week and soberly enjoyed the time we were able to spend with my mom and sister as well as other family and friends. I had the privilege to speak for a few moments at his memorial service and the rest of this post is the substance of my message.

Fathers and sons have a special connection, and the relationship between my dad and I was no exception. I absolutely loved my dad and it seemed right for me to honor him today even if for just a few minutes.

There are many things I owe my dad.

Dad taught me to love the game of baseball. He instilled me with a passion for mowing the yard to make it look good. He taught me about generosity, never letting any of my friends pay for lunch when we went out and occasionally sending that $20 for pizza when I knew they didn’t have much to spare. He taught me about the power of respect, gradually increasing both my freedoms and responsibilities which only made me want more to grow up and be a man like him.

But there is one lesson I learned from my dad that excels every other in my mind. In fact he is not just an example to me in this area, he will forever be THE standard. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this lesson is that he never once talked to me about it. This is a lesson I learned entirely by observation, watching him day in and day out.

The biggest thing I owe my dad is the lesson of DILIGENCE.

Everyone has a basic understanding of what diligence is and most of us know how rare it is to find. Diligence is defined as careful, or better yet, persistent, work or effort. We might call it hard work, tenacity, tirelessness, or perseverance. A person like this is often known as a “fighter” or we might say they have “stick-to-it-iveness.” But whatever we call it, that’s what I learned from my dad.

There is not a week of my life that goes by when I don’t think about my dad’s diligence. When I’m tired or just tired of doing something unenjoyable I remember his example.

He was diligent in his work. As a self-employed draftsman he did whatever was necessary to make his clients happy and provide for his family. He worked out of our house most of my life and I could count on him being at his table every morning–listening to his country music–day after day, year after year.

Not only that, he was diligent to be at every one of my sports games. He missed none of my games until I was 16 and traveling with a summer baseball team in Tennessee. Otherwise I could count on him being there. When I moved away he was faithful to support neighborhood kids or Triway teams or family friends. As long as there was even a glimmer of health he was there.

There were other areas of faithfulness too. He was diligent to get our family to church every week. He was diligent to shine his shoes every Saturday night before church. He was diligent to recycle. He was diligent to walk when he could. Diligence was the pattern of his life.

Most of all he was diligent for the last 14 years in his will to live. Since open-heart surgery in the fall of 1992 he battled uphill against heart disease, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, staff infections, broken bones and other problems that racked his body from head to toe. I suppose most of us were surprised God’s grace enabled him fight this long.

I cannot read the following verse without thinking of him:

A slothful man does not roast his prey,
but the precious possession of a man is diligence.
(Proverbs 12:27, NAS)

Diligence was my dad’s precious possession and is the one thing I most hope to inherit from him.

The only regret I have for my dad was also my most consistent prayer request: I wanted him to experience more Christian joy. There’s no doubt that there were seasons of little joys for him. He did have a great smile and a laugh that welcomed you into any story. But in spite of all the difficulties and pains that seemed inescapable to him I kept praying that he would experience sweet, Spirit-produced joy in Christ.

Joy is what he’d talk about if he were back with us. If he were here, knowing what he does now, I’m sure he would love to tell us about the sweet and sovereign happiness to be found in Christ alone.

I think he’d tell us that he missed out on living in this kind of joy, the kind purchased for us by Christ on the cross. He’d express godly sorrow for so much despondency and point us to Christ who died not only to set us free from the wages and eternal penalty of our sin, but also from the dreary, joy-killing power of sin in this life.

I believe my dad would urge us to live in verses like:

Though you have not seen Him (Jesus), you love Him. Though you do not see Him now, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

This is the kind of joy he knows about now. This is the kind of joy he’d want us to live in now.

No matter the trial, if we submit to Jesus we can be freed from the concerns of this life to live in the joy of making much of Christ. Jesus is better than life and He promises eternal joy to anyone who will leave their earthly attachments and love Him with their whole heart.

As I close this morning, I saw a Christmas card I wrote my dad in 1995 that he kept it displayed in his room. Though I used the word perseverance back then it carries the same sentiment as diligence. Here is part of what I wrote:

One word that describes you more than any other is PERSEVERANCE. What an absolute pain in the neck to always be physically less than the best and mentally lacking in desire. Yet you get up every day and press on. Thank you. Your example has not gone unnoticed!

…One day, tomorrow or next week, or at least Heaven, WILL BRING ABOUT THE TURNING OF THE TIDE.

Thank you for not giving up and for always being faithful to God and us.

The tide has finally and gloriously turned for my dad. He no longer needs to fight, persevere, or work with diligence. Instead of indescribable pain he has inexpressible joy in Christ. I pray that each one of you have this experience, and hope, of joy today as well.

The Best Online Edwards Resources

In spite of the fact that the 06SR is over, I am hoping that many of you will desire to learn more about and from Jonathan Edwards. While curious readers may already have clicked through my Edwards delicious tags, it seemed like an annotated list of Edwards resources available online might help get you started.

Edwards' gravestonePhoto thanks to Tony Reinke

  • Jonathan | This is the self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Edwards Web Site,” and even though it hasn’t been updated in quite a while, this is the best place to go for some of JE’s scientific and personal writings. You can also view most of JE’s major works unabridged, such as Original Sin, The Religious Affections, Freedom of the Will, and of course The Religious Affections. Sometimes the site is down, but it’s worth a quick look.
  • JE on | is one of the most helpful Bible/theology collection sites on the web in my opinion, and their page of Edwards materials does not disappoint. This is the best place to start, not only for primary Edwards material, but especially for biographical sketches and articles about his theology.
  • JE on the Bible Bulletin Board | This site is by far the best place to go for Edwards’ own writings on the web. It is organized by category and all the documents are in the same format. BBB is the first place I go to check for JE sermons and shorter works.
  • The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University | There is not a lot of content available yet at the Center, but if they upload half of what they claim, this will become the place to go period. I did find their biographical timeline the most complete available online.
  • JE: The Life of a Master Preacher | This is a (small) online exhibit that includes some pictures and brief biographical information.
  • A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards | This is a free online book available for pdf download from the Desiring God web site. The book includes chapters by various authors (like Piper, J.I. Packer, Mark Dever, Donald Whitney, etc.), originally presented at a conference by the same name held in October of 2003–Edwards’ 300th birthday. This is a terrific introduction to JE and his passion for the glory of God.
  • Of course if you’d rather listen than read, most of the God-Entranced Vision of All Things seminars are available as mp3 files. I listened to all of these messages prior to the retreat; many of them three or four times while I was jogging. Piper also has another message on Edwards, The Pastor as Theologian that was from an earlier pastor’s conference.

The above are not the only internet sites with JE material out there, but they are the online resources that I used and would recommend most. The audio and sermon notes for my messages at the 06SR are also available online.

The Religious Affections of Jonathan Edwards

  • Session 1 – Shock and Awe – An Introduction to Religious Affections
  • Session 2 – Logic on Fire – Jonathan Edwards and The Religious Affections
  • Session 3 – Heat and Light – The Nature and Importance of Religious Affections
  • Session 4 – No Sure Signs – Inconclusive Signs of Religious Affections
  • Session 5 – Known by Fruit – Distinguishing Marks of Religious Affections
  • Session 6 – The Body and Blood – The Examination of Religious Affections and the Lord’s Table

Why Go to Church?

*I’m normally don’t enjoy email forwards, but this one was different. It was sent to me by my friend and fellow one28 staffer, Chuck Weinberg.

A Church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. “I’ve gone for 30 years now,” he wrote, “and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.”

This started a real controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:

I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this…they all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”

Thank God for our physical AND our spiritual nourishment!