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The Catalytic Cross (or “Why I don’t think some people liked my Youth Specialties talk last night”)

Greg Stier
Greg Stier

I just got back from Youth Specialties (the largest attended youth leader training organization in the world.) YS brings together all sorts of youth leaders from all sorts of denominations to equip, refresh, provoke and entertain them for four days. They also bring together a rather eclectic array of divergent teachers, preachers and artists to minister to these hard working heroes.

For the general sessions YS has had far righters such as Jerry Falwell (may he rest in peace) to left of centrist station “ers” such as Rob Bell (may he NOOMA in peace) and just about everyone in between. I had the privilege of preaching to on the main stage last night.

I could tell as I was preaching my message that some in the audience were responding in a very positive way and that others…not so much. My sermon was on the centrality of the message of the cross to effective ministry in a postmodern culture. My text was 1 Corinthians 1:10-18. Here were my main points and a little of the content that I was trying to communicate.

1. The message of the cross unites our efforts.

I reminded the audience that whether they were Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, non denominational or other denominational if they have put their faith alone in Christ alone then we were united in a kind of communion of the soul by the torn body and shed blood of Christ. Whatever someone’s philosophy of ministry is (“I am of Doug Fields” or “I am of Ron Luce” or “I am of Duffy Robbins”) if they have put their faith in Jesus then we are blood brothers/sisters in Jesus.

The cross unifies our efforts without compromising our theology because on top of Mt. Calvary all of the great doctrines that make Christianity Christian come together. As we look up to the body of Jesus on the cross we see the deity and humanity of Jesus. We see the Trinity (Jesus filled with the Spirit calling out to the Father). And, of course, we are reminded of the salvation of offered through faith in his sacrifice for our sins. But we also take a 360 degree panoramic view from Golgotha and we can see the empty tomb in the distance in which he would soon be buried and soon after conquer death from. We see hundreds of prophecies from the Old Testament that were literally fulfilled in his life and his death, thereby confirming the reliability of the Holy Scriptures. When we take a glance to one side of Jesus we see the reality of heaven as we view the thief who believed in Jesus and as we look at the other side of the cross as we see the reality of hell for the sneering thief who rejected Jesus as being the Savior of mankind.

Rather than an ecumenical movement where we just hold hands in the name of Jesus, pour honey all over each other and sing “Kum-ba-yah” the cross demands we hold on to the core truths of Christ (salvation, redemption, the Trinity, the Kenosis, the resurrection, heaven and hell) and reject a forced unity based on anything less.

2. The message of the cross clarifies our priorities.

Paul said, “Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel.” Christ sent me not to _______ but to preach the gospel (you fill in the blank.) Christ sent me not to blog, coordinate activities, go to more meetings, counsel teenagers…but to preach the gospel. We may need to do other things as we do our jobs but our overriding call is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here is where I asked the youth leaders how they were doing when it comes to preaching the gospel to their teenagers, their neighbors, their families and their friends. Here is where I really started to feel some tension in the room (not from the majority but from enough people to make me take notice.)

3. The message of the cross transforms our ministries.

That same passage tells us that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God.” My point? That we who are “saved” from the penalty of sin through the death of Christ are still “being saved” from the power of sin by the crucifixion of Jesus. So we must be humble as we preach the cross because we still need it ourselves. That’s why my favorite definition of evangelism is “one beggar showing another beggar where the bread is.” We still need the Bread of Life to sustain us every single day as we battle against sin in our lives.

Maybe it was the conclusion of the sermon that made a few people squirm more than anything else. It went something like,

“It seems to me that youth ministry is in a fog. But through the fog we can see the outline of the cross perched on a hill in the distance. We need to take our students there. Youth ministry is not a philosophy class where we are called to endlessly discuss and debate the latest, greatest ideologies of the next new thing. Nor is it a shopping mall where we walk aisle after aisle to see what will appeal to our teenagers for the next 6-8 weeks. Youth ministry is not an entertainment center where we play a lot of games while building relationships along the way. No youth ministry is a journey, a journey to Calvary, the place of the skull, a journey to the broken body of our Savior, a journey to the heart of the gospel message that is considered foolish by the world but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God. Lead your teenagers on that journey.”

This morning in the hotel lobby I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from those youth leaders who resonated with my message. But I’ve also had a lot of awkward eye contact moments with those who (I think) didn’t. I guess the message of the cross is just as catalytic now as it always has been.

Thanks Youth Specialties for allowing me the privilege of preaching the Word from your stage!

Unlikely Fighter

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