Sometimes the choice to make a choice is the wrong choice.

In the insightful book, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler write about avoiding “the sucker’s choice.”

In short, “the sucker’s choice” is when we force an “EITHER…OR…” dilemma when it can be a “BOTH…AND…” opportunity. You may have heard someone say something like: “Either we can have fun OR we can have competition.” It implies that you can’t possibly find a way to have both fun AND competition. It sets up an unnecessary choice, aptly named: “the sucker’s choice.”

51GwautrwpL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_An example in youth ministry goes something like this: EITHER we prepare and deliver a message with non-Christian teenagers in mind OR we prepare and deliver a message with Christian teenagers in mind.

We don’t have to make that choice. I believe that there is a way to effectively preach to both audiences at the same time and with the same words. The solution is to preach the Gospel.

I remember a time in my life when I had the mindset that the Gospel message was only for those who didn’t know Christ. I thought that, in time, mature believers “graduated from the Gospel.” I was wrong.

The message of the Gospel is not something that is solely necessary at the beginning of a teenager’s faith journey; it is their faithful companion every step of the way. We never graduate from the truth of the Gospel rather we cling to itand allow it to bring about more and more change in our lives.

Repentance and faith in the message of the Gospel justifies us but it is also the Gospel, at work in us, which causes us to grow in faith, purity and maturity. While hard work and determination are a part of the Christian’s life, if they are not “in line with the Gospel” they will not sanctify, they will strangle.

The main problem, then, in the life of a Christian teenager is that they have not thought out or lived out the deep implications of the Gospel. They have restricted the work of the Gospel to the initial work of salvation (justification) and not allowed it to run rampant in their lives bringing about growth and gratitude (sanctification).

Paul makes it clear in Galatians that we are not justified by the Gospel and then sanctified apart from the Gospel through our own efforts. The Gospel is the way we grow.

1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?—Galatians 3:1-3

Human nature is clearly seen in our attempts to control the source of our salvation with works-righteousness instead of fully trusting in Christ. The Gospel reminds us that we are now hidden in Christ and because of that we are both righteous and welcomed. Apart from Him we are hopelessly lacking and desperately trying to do something about that lack. Both believers and unbelievers need to hear this message…repeatedly!

Negative emotions and sinful behavior manifest in the life of a Christian teenager because at that exact moment something or someone other than Christ and his work has become more central to their existence and they’ve elevated that thing (good or bad) to an ultimate thing. The Bible calls this idolatry.

In other words, everyone has “saving faith” in something or someone. Everyone is looking to an accomplishment, an achievement, an experience or an individual to gain approval and acceptance…to justify their existence. Non-Christians do this because they haven’t had a grace awakening but Christians do this when they forget or don’t believe the Gospel.

The Christian way to drive out lesser love (idols) is to daily center our lives on our greatest affection. Thomas Chalmers says it this way: “We know of no other way by which to keep the love of the world out of our heart than to keep in our hearts the love of God.”

We are prone to sin when we believe a lie about the nature of God. As Tim Chester writes in his book, You Can Change, we forget that God is great, glorious, good and gracious. The Gospel is the most intimate and intensive reminder of who God is and what He has done. We need to be “Gospel- fluent” with students, with our families and with ourselves!

Whether Paul was dealing with marital issues in Ephesians 5, emphasizing the importance of generosity in 1 Corinthians 8, or confronting Peter’s hypocrisy and racism in Galatians 2, he never just addressed their behavior. He didn’t verbally bully or emotionally manipulate. He didn’t guilt or scare them into change.

He repeatedly points to Christ, he preaches the Gospel. He’s essentially says to them: you are not living as if the Gospel is true! Your heart does not resemble a heart that has been both captured and freed by the life and work of Jesus. And he’s saying this to believers! In fact much of Paul’s writings can be classified as preaching the Gospel to people who already knew it.

One final reason to avoid “the sucker’s choice” (I heard Tim Keller share on this once): Christian teenagers need to hear you talking to non-Christian teenagers and non-Christian teenagers need to hear you talking to Christian teenagers. Why?

Christian teenagers need to hear you talking to non-Christian teenagers about the Gospel because many of them don’t know how to do the same. As you preach the Gospel in a way that engages and answers the questions and objections of the irreligious, your Christian teenagers will be learning how to do the same! Those same students will also realize that youth group is a place to bring their non-Christian friends to get their questions answered.

On the other hand, non-Christian teenagers need to hear you talking to Christian teenagers about the Gospel because they need to have a sense of the community, the values, the priorities, the passion of a Christ like people and the REASON for all of those things. The reason is the Gospel. They also need to experience growing sense that they are on the outside of something that is beautiful…namely Jesus.

In Romans 1:15, Paul writes that he is “eager to preach the Gospel” and he’s writing to Christians! Friends, there’s no need to make the “sucker’s choice.” Preach the Gospel to the lost, preach the Gospel to the found.

David (@DavidHertweck) has served the New York Assemblies of God as the director of youth ministry and Chi Alpha since February 2011. Prior to that he served as a youth pastor for 12 years in upstate New York. David is passionate about helping local church youth workers create and sustain disciple-making environments marked by Gospel Fluency, Spirit Dependency and Biblical Community. He has his MA in Transformational Leadership from Northeastern Seminary. David is the author of two books, Good Kids, Big Events and Matching T-Shirts: Changing the Conversation on Health in Youth Ministry (My Healthy Church) and The Word and the Spirit (GPH). David is married to Erin and they have three daughters: Lilia, Caraline and Madelaine. David loves his girls, his family, good music, good food, his Weber grill, his Taylor guitar, Liverpool Football Club, the Yankees and the Gospel.

Used with permission from the author. Excerpt from Good Kids, Big Events, & Matching T-shirts.