Replacing the Center of Youth Ministry

To truly disciple is to realign our affections - and those of the person we're discipling - to a greater Person. Unfortunately, many youth ministries do not focus on making disciples or the heart change of their young people. Instead, behavior modification, moral change, or intellectual assent are often emphasized. This method of enacting change will never bring about true, joy-filled change. It will merely adhere to dutiful rules and regulations. Our hearts and minds must desire something of greater worth. We need something that moves beyond and replaces the previous holder of our affections - something of supreme meaning and power. Thomas Chalmers puts it this way in The Expulsive Power of a New Affection: "We must address to the eye of his mind another object, with charm powerful enough to dispossess the first of its influence, and to engage him in some other prosecution as full of interest, and hope and congenial activity, as the former." (Emphasis mine) In other words, the Christ of gospel must replace the thing that holds the place of highest esteem and honor in the hearts, minds, and the eyes of those who we disciple.

Replacing Our Affections If we do not replace these objects of highest affection with the Gospel, Chalmers says, we're in essence putting our young disciples through torture. We're removing their greatest joy and pleasure, their deepest happiness - the very thing that makes them who they are. We're stripping them of their identity and replacing it with a new “nothingness.” It’s no wonder our disciples struggle. The Jesus we preach is not worth replacing any of the desires of our hearers' hearts. The Jesus we preach is more like a guidance counselor than a Savior; more like a baseball coach than their Lord; more like a friend than a conquering King.

The Jesus we preach is not the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus we preach may be great for saving us from the fires of hell, but He most defiantly will cause us to live a hell here on earth because He is not something that can fill our affections. This is not to say that the true Jesus cannot fill these voids, it’s that the Jesus we preach of cannot fill these voids. The Jesus we preach is a moralistic therapeutic Jesus. He is a Jesus for the future not for the present. He is not a Jesus that cares about our lives, our parent’s divorce, our grades, or our basketball team. All He worries about is how good we are, or if we're looking the part. It’s no wonder students don’t want to follow this Jesus.

Securing Our Affections We must not point our youth toward empty religion but to a love-filled cross, a beaten and battered Savior, a King who defeated His foe, a risen Lord who rescues our hearts. To the one who beckons us, “Come, rest, and be accepted not because of what you have done but because I love you.” The cross secures our affections to the one who was placed on it. All other affections will fail us. The cross and resurrection are not only the focal point of all of human history, they're the only lasting thing that can eternally hold our affections. Because of this, the cross is the one and only place where we can point our young disciples that will replace their highest wordly affections. Only a true view of what Jesus has done will cause a student to, in the words of Paul, “Count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil. 3.8). Because of His life, His death, and His resurrection, we can turn our eyes toward ultimate worth.

Ultimate Truths For too many of us we simply do not have a big enough view of what Jesus can - and has - done. Because of this disbelief in the power of the Gospel we have moved away from pointing our hearers to Jesus, the Gospel and a big God. Youth need to know three ultimate truths are central to affection-stirring discipleship:

1.  Jesus The Jesus we teach, preach, and worship matters. Sadly, we teach a Jesus who is more concerned about our happiness than his glory - a Jesus who wants you to have your best life here and now. This thinking and teaching is not true. Yes, Jesus did come to give us joy and hope. He even came to guide us, much like a guidance-counselor. But many times what Jesus has called us to do is the exact opposite of what is comfortable, easy, or fun in our own eyes.

2. The Gospel Once we understand Jesus, our view of the Gospel needs an overhaul. We have relegated the central truth of the Scriptures to “a one and done” deal and removed the power from the Gospel by preaching it merely as the mechanism for salvation. The Gospel calls us to more then just intellectual knowledge that Jesus died in our place. It calls for allegiance to the King. An allegiance that brings about change in the world through the power of the Gospel (Rom. 1.16; Col.1.6).

Once students grasp the centrality of the Gospel to Christian life, they will no longer be tossed to and fro by every movement, thought, or idea that is thrown at them. No, they will have affections that are firmly rooted in the only place that can bring them lasting joy. This is something worth living for.

3. Big God A clearer understanding of Jesus and his Gospel leads us to a clearer understanding of God. We must teach students about our BIG GOD - a God who is bigger then their parents' divorce, their friends' suicide, their failed relationships, or the wars in the world. We need to teach a sovereign, all powerful God. A theologically correct view of God, who is all-powerful and all-knowing. This God is worthy of our very best. He gave His very best, Jesus His only son. When the God that we teach is better, more powerful, more glorious than what they see here on earth, then and only then can they endure the trials and sufferings of this world. When they lose what they have here on earth, they have only lost something of temporal joy and pleasure that pales in comparison to their God.

We must set our hope on Jesus who will lead us to denounce all other things upon which we have, or could, place value. Is the Jesus you're pointing your disciples to worth giving one’s life for? Or are you calling them to an empty hope, events, or moral change? Nothing truly changes until the object of our affections have been replaced with a big God, in the person of Jesus, through the hope of the gospel.


Josh Cousineau was a youth pastor for over 5 years and is now the lead pastor of Redemption Hill Community, which launched in Auburn ME in 2012. Josh is married to his high school sweetheart, Anna. They have 3 amazing children (2 boys and 1 girl). Their daughter was adopted from Uganda in 2011.  Josh blogs at