Why Expositional preaching? Why not small groups or something more relational. To be sure those are needed and have the power to change kids’ lives. When I talk to other youth pastors and family pastors the biggest need that shines through is not relational connections. I think we do that well. It isn’t relevance as most youth pastors are more in tune with where their kids are at. Those are both huge and important.
The challenge for those who lead youth in this current culture is that our kids, and even us if we’re are not careful,l are obsessed with fame and overly-focused on self. Where this is most damning is when we import this mindset in how we approach scripture.
For the sake of clarity when I say “expositional preaching”, I don’t mean only preaching through books of the Bible, although that should be done far more than it is currently being done in youth ministry. What I mean by expositional preaching is taking a passage of scripture and working through the text to discover what this passage meant to the original audience and then through that text how can we see Jesus. To be fair not all topical preaching is egocentric, but much of it starts from the wrong place. It asks “What do my kids need to know?” rather than “Who do my kids need to behold?”
Michael Reeves, in his excellent book on the Trinity, explains our need to look for Christ in the Word reveled to us through the Spirit.
“When you see that Christ is the subject of all the Scriptures that he is the Word, the Lord, the Son who reveals his Father, the promised Hope, the true Temple, the true Sacrifice, the great High Priest, the ultimate King, then you can read, not so much asking “What does this mean for me, right now?” but What do I learn here of Christ?” Knowing the Bible is about him and not me means that, instead of reading the Bible obsessing about me, I can gaze on him. And as though the pages you get caught up in the wonder of his story, you find your heart strangely pounding for him in a way you never would if you had treated the Bible as a book about you.”
The Bible is mainly God’s story not ours. It is what he has done for us in Christ by his Spirit. When we teach our kids tips to live a better life we unwittingly make the Bible about them, not about the saving work or Christ. When we make the Bible about us we think certain parts are boring, unimportant or even antiquated. When we read the Bible with the fresh eyes of desire for our Beloved, even the most difficult books of the Bible come to life.
For example, I was reading through the read-through-the-Bible plan killer otherwise, known as Leviticus. I came across this passage.
Leviticus 14:1-7The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,2 “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing.He shall be brought to the priest,3 and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look. Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person,4 the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn andhyssop.5 And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water.6 He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water.7 And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field.
When you read through this thinking, “How does this apply to me today?” you would generally skip it because it’s old and not applicable and we currently love our pets with a unholy passion. We would never think about how we could preach this and would scoff at the suggestion. When you look at this passage in light of Christ and what he has done it becomes more than a somewhat strange story of the death of a small bird. You see this story pointing to Christ. We see in this story, if we will exegete it, a story of God’s covenantal love for his people. We have an incurable sickness for us – sin. In this story, it’s leprosy. We see the price for our sin is and must always be death. For only the death of an innocent can remove the death of the guilty. We see an innocent bird slain and another bird having it’s feet dipped in the blood of that innocent bird who died. This passage is not about us primarily, it’s about Christ who was killed in our place and it is when we have been dipped in that ever precious blood of Christ that we are set free. He was punished. We go free. That’s grace. It’s completely free but never cheap. It cost God the Father his only son. We sinned, He took our punishment, we go free. That is the beauty of the gospel.
Youth pastor, I beg you preach the gospel, preach expositional sermons. Wrestle with God’s Word until it changes your heart and your kids’ lives. They need it, but you need it more. Our culture is in desperate need of more expositors of the Word and fewer relevant, culture-aware comedians with a pulpit. Youth pastor, your primary job is the holiness of your youth. Agonize over that.