Offense versus Defense in Student Ministry

A little while back, my friend Eric, told me that our youth ministry is geared more towards offense then defense.   While either/or is not my language, my initial thought was it’s probably better to be that than the opposite. Like so many (especially youth pastors), I am tired of being part of the Church that appears to be cryogenically frozen in a defensive posture.  Even worse, should they break that position, it is only to get into a mode of judgment or criticism.  

Here’s some of the greater context of what we are trying to do.  Our students know some of my passions and fears.  The passions are somewhat normal youth pastor ones like family, friends, coffee, etc. I enjoy discussions that intersect faith, culture, theology, issues and the tensions that exist within these conversations.  Add music, movies, books, wifi, and baseball, and I could live on any “island” ;-).  Following Christ faithfully in our context is a topic that I believe we I am always discussing.

My fears are somewhat normal too.  Like falling out of the Superman ride because the 16 year old who wanted to be a life guard at the Jersey shore pressed the “Release All” button when reaching for his Red Bull or drowning in the pool at one of our summer parties because someone jumped on my head, broke my neck and I stayed under the water and no one saved me because they thought I was kidding and so I drowned (wow what an awkward moment that would be).  Like I said, normal fears.  Our students also know that as youth leaders, our real fear is that our students will abandon their faith as they leave the safety of our homes and youth groups.

Because we believe that God is not afraid of our questions nor is the truth trying to hide, we not only encourage our students to ask their questions but try to provoke them.   At first the temptation is to be too provocative and do your favorite old school Tony Campolo impersonation every week.  Certainly there is a goodness in quoting a brilliant moment from a conference you attended but remember that you are at a different starting point when you hear that quote.  (Not saying to avoid it, saying to be careful.  Anyway, I digress). 

I have found that if we encourage our starting points to be honest from within our contexts and see if and how we are being faithful to Christ, then there is a relevant and worthy discussion to be had.  Those discussions ought to be sensitive enough to welcoming doubts and questions.  I sometimes voice them like “Some of you love the Lord so much but you feel guilty because the ideas of evolution make a lot of sense to you.  That’s ok, you should think that through.  God is not afraid of our questions but realize the answers take time, discipline, and work.”  This resulted in two students talking to me privately about that. 

I’m describing a starting point and sometimes I find myself guilty of rushing our students past them.  For instance we say that Christianity is the best and most unique of the world religions but if we haven’t explained the virtues and the issues from alternate worldviews, then the statement tends to lack integrity.   Does everything require an 8 week explanation?  Certainly not, but may God give us the wisdom in making the statements we make and modeling the lives we live.

Indeed, some times it is an ideology or a passion that hinders us in our faith journey and we get to the point where we have to sacrifice it in order to worship our Lord.   This is part of the process of life long discipleship that we need to do our part in allowing the Spirit to work through us so their faith be take root.  

Finally, our students know that we love God and we pray they too will love Him with all their hearts mind and soul.  Coffee, books, traveling, even family and great friends are secondary upon coming to an understanding of what Christ is asking of us.  To go back to my friend’s language, it is in this way, that I find Jesus to be the most offensive and so, may we be Spirit-led and model this life.


  1. this is so right on! you’ve captured the essence of a conversation i’ve been having with one of my close friends. i love your reflections, tim.

  2. Hey David,
    I’ve been meaning to email you.
    Are you still going to the Amidst the Powers Conference?

    Thanks for connecting to the post, I appreciate the encouragement.

  3. at this point it doesn’t look like i’ll make it there. too bad. it would have been good to meet up.

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