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Communicating the Gospel to Teens

(in a language they want to understand)

By Carey Huffman

Regardless of our position in ministry, our purpose is to bring people to Jesus. In everything, we must be effective at communicating the good news of forgiveness and new life in Christ.

Two words sum up what kids need to understand about the gospel if they are to open up and allow it to transform their lives. Through His life, death and resurrection Jesus came to establish these things; and if we are to have significant influence on the lives of teens, our ministry to them must also be characterized by:

Relationship and Relevance

Relationship--Effective youth work must be based on relationship because that is what teens value. A young person will do things they don’t want to do, and become someone they despise just to gain acceptance. Therefore, the gospel is best received if it:

•• Flows out of a personal relationship

•• Appeals to a teen’s need for an accepting and loving relationship

Relevance--Unless teenagers see how the message affects their lives and concerns today, they are not likely to pay attention. Many do not view Christianity as relevant, so demonstrating its complete relevance to common, sometimes overwhelming, issues of everyday life may capture surprising attention. To help teens get the message:

•• Use language and illustrations they understand

•• Show how it applies to their lives now

Relevance is not just a matter of lesson content or program structure. Developing relationship with kids will make your life relevant to theirs. And putting the gospel in terms of a loving relationship is not just an attempt to be culturally relevant—it is biblically accurate too. So when conveying the gospel to teenagers, communicate in their language of preference—relationship. By putting the gospel in terms of a loving relationship, with the focus on the person of Jesus Christ, you are talking about something teenagers already care about. Most young people already have the sense of a missing relationship—someone who is supposed to be there, but isn’t—so their lives are ripe to receive the good news. Even so, it is highly effective to present the gospel to teens in terms of four important discoveries about life’s most important relationship:

1) It’s a Relationship You’re Supposed to Have—The missing person is the One we were created by and for (Colossians 1:16). Every need of the human heart is ultimately traceable to that missing relationship, and a hole remains in the heart without Jesus.

2) It’s a Relationship You Don’t Have—We were created to live God’s way. Instead, we live our own way (the "sin" thing) and separate ourselves from the One we need (Isaiah 53:6; 59:2). The needs and emptiness of life are symptoms of the "cancer" of sin, which ultimately result in spiritual death (Romans 6:23). If the "missingness" of God is never resolved in this life, we will spend forever without God.

3) It’s a Relationship You Can Have–Sin left us at God’s mercy. Knowing that we could not pay the debt, God sent his only Son, Jesus, to pay the ultimate price with His own life—His perfect one for our imperfect one. Christ’s undeserved death and eminent resurrection open the way for us to get where we were created to be—with God (I Peter 3:18). Our own efforts and good intentions could never cut it (Ephesians 2:8,9). (That’s about religion—man’s attempt to get to God. Accepting what Jesus did is about relationship.) Because of Jesus, we can trade a death penalty for eternal life—the opportunity to know God (John 17:3).

4) It’s a Relationship You Must Choose—A one-way love cannot be fulfilling. A love like Jesus’ deserves a response. The relationship He offers requires one. Sin was our choice; having our sin taken away is also our choice. We choose to accept the result of what Jesus did—trading death for life—by "believing in Him" (John 3:16). This belief is not just intellectual. It is active trust (like a drowning person grabbing a lifeguard) which acknowledges Jesus as the only hope of ever getting rid of the sin problem, having relationship with God and getting to heaven (John 14:6).

(Outline Adapted from The Battle for a Generation, by Ron Hutchcraft, Moody, 1996)

There are five ways a person could response to Jesus:

• Reject and have nothing to do with Him.

• Ignore Him saying, "Not now…with all this…maybe later."

• Postpone Him saying, "One of these days I’ll get around to God."

• "Agree" with Him—that He is God’s Son who lived, died and rose again with power and authority to grant new life; and that you need Him as Savior.

• Commit to Him and pin all hope on Him.

The first four responses all end up in the same place—away from God forever (even agreeing with God, but doing nothing about it). Only the last response, turning to Christ and from whatever is in the other direction (Acts 3:19), enables a person to receive the new life and relationship offered by Jesus. This step is called "repentance."

If this message brings a young person to the "delivery point," continue by asking:

  • "Do you want this relationship with God?"
  • "What do you think it would take to begin this relationship?" (Make sure they understand and are not depending on good works—but pinning all hope on Jesus.)
  • "Are you ready to begin your relationship with God right now?"

When a young person is ready to open their life to Jesus, tell them about becoming part of God’s family and being forgiven (1 John 1:9; Romans 10:9,10). Then ask if you could talk to God first, thanking Him for what is about to take place. When you finish, they should talk to God in their own words about their life, their sin, their faith in Jesus and putting all hope in Him. Have them do this out loud. There is something confirming when you verbalize your vows—after all, it is life’s most important relationship.