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Ecclesiology in Youth Ministry

Let me guess: you read the title of this article, and your first thought was, “what in the world is ecclesiology”? It is a word often heard in the halls of seminaries but rarely in a church. However, ecclesiology directly affects the life of every local church in existence. We all have beliefs that pertain to ecclesiology, even if we don’t know what the word means. Even our teenagers have specific ecclesiological ideas that shape them more than they realize. So what is it, and what does it have to do with youth ministry?

The word “ecclesiology” refers to the study of the church. It comes from the Greek word for church used in the New Testament, “ekklēsia” (pronounced ek-klay-see'-ah). When I say we all have certain beliefs about ecclesiology, I mean that we all have certain beliefs about what the church is, what it should do, and how it should be organized. For example, baptists believe local churches are not responsible for answering to any hierarchical human authority, such as a Catholic Pope, a Presbyterian synod, or a Methodist bishop. Why? Because of ecclesiology! Baptists have historically studied the Scriptures and found that a group of gathered Spirit-filled believers can make their own decisions regarding what their church does, who they hire, etc. Some churches practice discipline and remove members from their membership lists who refuse to change sinful behaviors. Why do some churches do this and not others? Because of their ecclesiology! It is not a matter of whether we will have beliefs about the local church; it is a matter of whether we will have a good or bad doctrine of the church.

What does this have to do with student ministry? Shouldn’t we teach teens about issues like sex before marriage, gender, and drugs? Don’t teenagers have more pressing needs, such as anxiety, depression, and peer pressure? Why would we waste time talking to them about the church? Yes, teenagers need to hear what the Bible says about sex, marriage, gender, and drugs. Student ministries should absolutely take the epidemic of depression and anxiety found in teenagers seriously. However, I think church doctrine is more important for teenagers than we may realize.

Our teenagers live in an age of hyper-individualism. The culture they are raised in tells them to live however they want. Society wants our teenagers to one day, as they lie on their deathbeds, not sing “How Great Thou Art” or “Amazing Grace” but “My Way” by Frank Sinatra as they eat their “have it your way” burger from Burger King. The reality of the church flies in the face of this selfish message. Unfortunately, individualism has crept into the church. We see it when people attempt to contrast going to church and being the church. What is being communicated subtly in such statements is that it does not matter if you gather with your church family. We see it when members leave because the church down the street has better music or more youth outings. Our teenagers, if we want them to continue in faithfulness after graduation, need a solid understanding of what the church is and its importance in the life of every Christian. The Christian life is meant to be lived in a sacrificial community.

Related to individualism is that our culture is incredibly suspicious of authority. Our society tends to reject traditional authority in favor of unconventional voices. For instance, society is more likely to take to heart teachings on sex and gender from Lady Gaga or Madonna than they are a minister or even a doctor. Today’s teenagers need to be taught that authority is a good thing. God has given authority figures and institutions such as parents, government, and the church to us for our good and His glory. Submission to good and biblical authority found in the local church greatly benefits all Christians.

Finally, teaching teenagers doctrines about the church benefits the church for generations to come. The Church is responsible for raising up her future leaders. If we ignore ecclesiology and don’t pass down a Biblical doctrine of the church to our teenagers, the church and the surrounding culture will suffer. Healthy churches are an incredible asset to the church’s surrounding community. The community benefits when our churches are healthy and operating according to Biblical standards.

Please pray for our teenagers as we start a new series called Champion the Church that will teach them what the Bible says about the church and the importance/requirement for church membership. Afterward, we will dive into a study of 1 Timothy.

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