Some of my very fondest memories involve my youth group.
Long bus rides fueled by road trip snacks . . .
Times of worship when the presence of God felt close enough to touch . . .
Retreats that changed me forever . . .
Friendship . . .
Camp . . .
The feeling that I belonged . . .
When I became a Christian the summer before my sophomore year of high school, Jesus and my youth group seemed like a package deal. I never experienced what it was like to try to follow Christ without the support of a wise, loving youth pastor, committed adult volunteers, and sixty of my closest Christian friends. (Until I got too old for youth group. Sigh.) The trajectory of my life was forever altered by the years I spent folded into a group of other Christian teens.
In other words . . . I love youth group! I hope you do too. But as amazing as youth group can be, for today, let’s consider why Jesus is better.
Tears in Our Nachos
Several years ago, I traveled the country interviewing girls for the book, Lies Young Women Believe. My mission was to identify the lies girls believe by asking questions and listening to their stories. I expected us to talk about boys. I expected us to talk about beauty. What I did not expect was that nearly everywhere I went, I met girls deeply-wounded by painful experiences in their youth group. Over and over, from California to Pennsylvania, in big cities and small towns, as I asked questions about youth group, tears welled up in their eyes. Sometimes girls outright sobbed, with tears puddling into the plates of snacks we munched on as we talked.
I became so perplexed that I called Dannah Gresh, one of the authors of Lies Young Women Believe.
“There’s something going on in the girls’ hearts with youth group,” I told her.
“Youth group?” she replied. “Really?!”
“Yes,” I said. “They’ve told me about boyfriend breakups and absent fathers with no tears. But when we get to the subject of youth group, someone always starts crying.”
Our curiosity was piqued. Why did the subject of youth group hit such a raw nerve for so many girls?
As we dug, the roots of a “youth group lie” began to emerge. Girls were looking to their youth group—and more specifically to their youth pastor—to be their connection to God. When that connection was interrupted, because the leadership changed, or friendship drama made them feel unwelcome, or scheduling conflicts forced them to be less involved, they didn’t only feel separated from the group, they felt separated from God.
Jesus, the Better Youth Pastor
Let’s open our Bibles to Hebrews 6:19–20.
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Focus your attention on two things:
- The point of an anchor is to hold something steady. This passage is talking about a kind of hope that can keep us steady.
- Jesus is our High Priest forever.
The writer of Hebrews is reaching back into the Old Testament. Melchizedek was a priest whose job was to point others to God. His name is recorded in Scripture because that work mattered, but we have a better, wiser priest—Jesus.
On their best day, our Christian leaders are flawed and broken. They will fail and disappoint us. While pastors, youth pastors, and mentors can help us grow in our faith, ultimately their job is just to point us to Jesus, the One who will never fail or disappoint us. Jesus anchors our souls. Jesus keeps us from being tossed around by life’s choppy waters. Jesus came so that we would not need a priest—an intermediary between God and us. We can go to God directly, anytime, anywhere. We don’t have to wait for the next youth group or church camp.
With this in mind, let’s rethink youth group.
What It Is and What It Isn’t
Let’s pretend we’re sitting together at your church, and we’ve just piled our plates sky-high with nachos. As I make a series of statements, do a heart check. Do you believe these statements are true? Or is your heart anchored to a less steady reality?
Youth group is a place to learn about God.
Youth group isn’t responsible for your spiritual growth.
Youth group is one opportunity to open your Bible regularly.
Youth group isn’t the only place you should open your Bible.
Your youth pastor is a gift God has given you to help you grow.
Your youth pastor isn’t God, nor is he your connection to God.
Your youth group is a place where you can confess sin and ask for accountability.
Your youth group isn’t able to forgive your sin or make you righteous; only Jesus can!
Your youth group is made up of broken people who need Jesus. People will ultimately fall short.
Your youth group can be a constant reminder of how much you (and others) need Jesus, who never falls short.
Your youth group is a place to serve alongside other Christ-followers.
Youth group is not a way to earn acceptance from God. There is no sticker chart in heaven. You can’t impress God by being at youth group every single week and signing up for every mission trip. Go to youth group because you love God, not to try to get God to love you more.
When we pursue a vibrant relationship with the Lord on our own, rather than looking to others to grow for us, our connections to other Christians grow stronger (not weaker). Our souls become anchored to Jesus, the only One who can really hold us steady, when we live in the reality that youth group is amazing, but Jesus is so much better!
I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about your youth group in a comment below. What are you doing this summer? What is your favorite thing to do with your Christian friends? But then, tell me why Jesus is better!