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.