Youth Ministry and John Wesley?

by hamiltonmj1983

This past week, while at the Congress on Evangelism in Nashville, TN, I sat in on an hour-long talk about youth ministry. The speaker was Charles Harrison, who has a blog here and can be followed on twitter with the name @uthguychaz.

His presentation was excellent, and one particular idea stuck out to me – the comparison between Wesley’s 3 types of Grace (Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying) and youth ministry!

First off, just a recap of the types of Grace (and if any Wesley scholars are reading this, feel free to correct me if I get it wrong – I did go to Asbury, but I didn’t take a single class on Wesley’s theology!). Prevenient Grace is that which prepares a believer. It comes before we ever make a decision, and is understood to point us in the correct direction from birth. Justifying Grace is that which allows us to make the actual decision to follow Christ. This is the distinct movement from non-Christian to Christian; it is the act of becoming a Christian. Finally, Sanctifying Grace is that which helps you grow in your faith and strengthen your relationship with God.

Charles Harrison then used these types of grace almost as a metaphor to explain different types of ministries that should be present in every youth program. First, “preparing ministries” should be a regular part of any youth group schedule. These are ministries that are appealing to everyone, including non-believers. They can range from purely “fun” events (such as super bowl parties to going to the movies as a group) to regular youth group studies, but with language that is friendly to everyone (meaning that you don’t fill your youth messages with high-church language).

Secondly, the Justifying ministry, or a ministry to help youth make decisions, are your retreats or services with an altar call. Harrison pointed out that a lot of churches are stuck doing only this type of ministry; they will have a retreat with an altar call, and if someone gives their life to Christ, they are invited back to the next retreat (which will have another altar call). While you don’t want to be in a rut where you do only this type of ministry, it is still very important.

Finally, Sanctifying ministry, or discipling ministry, is the kind in which one grows in their faith! The target audience here are those youth who have already made the decision to follow Christ, and now want to go deeper into their faith. This is where you get into deeper bible studies and theological studies that are not appropriate for the average teen coming to visit the youth group for the first time.

I want to say that Harrison’s understanding of youth ministry was eye-opening for me. First off, I had never seen Wesley’s theology laid out in such a practical way! I see this as being applicable to ALL of the ministries in the church, not just youth. I feel that I really came away with a lot from this session at the conference.

Next, I want to mention that I feel personally called towards discipleship ministries. Part of that has to do with my calling to be an educator at the college level. My tendency towards discipleship, however, causes me to avoid the other two. For those of you reading this, have you ever encountered this type of thinking before? If so, do you tend to lean towards one of the three types of ministry over the other two?