I was sitting in the car with one of my youth group students. We had just spent the last two hours hanging out and talking about the movies and video games he’s been into lately when he asked seemingly silly question. It turns out, those are the questions that are usually the most difficult to answer. He asked, “Why do you think God made us so we need sleep? It seems like we could get more done without needing the sleep.”
He was curious, but didn’t even take his own question seriously. But it turns out, that very question gets to the heart of creation. Why did God create the Sabbath? Why are there seven days in creation instead of six? Simply put, so we would have a very tangible reminder that we are not in control. We can’t even control our bodies. They need sleep and rest. No matter who you are, your need for rest demands that you lay down your strength and rest in your weakness. In fact, those who are healthiest and most productive are strong advocates for rest! God made us with a built-in system to remind us that he is in control and we are not.
It was a great conversation that never would’ve happened without a reasonable degree of competence in Christian theology. I’m not wise enough to come up with all this on my own. Thankfully, I don’t need to!
Here’s the thing: you never know when significant theological questions are going to be asked. Usually, it’s unexpected and from the least likely student.
Why Youth Workers Should Study Theology
- Theology is the study of God. Youth workers should be passionate about their love for God, and because they love him they want to know him deeper. Theology does not need to be stale and crusty. Instead, find some good preachers and teachers to learn from, dig into some good books, and love the Lord your God with all your mind.
- Pastoral care is a theological task. If we are theologically immature, when students come to us for help, we will give them our best opinion instead of drawing from a rich well of insight of God’s Word. Every youth worker I’ve met has a passion to see students know Christ and walk with him daily. Knowing more about who God is, what he’s done, and what he expects of us will only strengthen our care and counsel to students.
- Good theology leads to awe. So often we box God into our ideas of who he is and what he’s like. But as we dig into the Attributes of God and so many other doctrines, we realize that God truly is bigger and more glorious than we realize. Good theology never leads to boredom. Instead, it reminds us of the beauty and glory of God, producing awe and worship as our only appropriate response. When we are living in awe of God, our ministry will only grow healthier.
- Taking God seriously is a godly example to students. Years from now, when students think about about you, what do you want them to remember? How much you knew about the latest trend in technology, or that you took God seriously? For sure, you can love technology and take Jesus seriously too, but which do you talk about more? If you’re building around what you have in common with students then you’re a good friend, but you’re not leading them to Christ. Enter your students’ world, listen to them, and speak into their world about the hope-giving and transforming power of the gospel. No, we don’t only talk about the Bible with kids (they need to see what a Christian life looks like too, not just get lectured!); but something is seriously wrong if we’re never pointing them to God’s Word.
- God is more worthy of our time than pop culture. Careful here… don’t mishear me. Studying culture is valuable and important. But if we do our cultural exegesis without robust theological foundations then we’re going to be using pop culture as a way to spice up our teaching. If we do that, the core of our teaching is still in the world of pop culture. Instead, if we approach culture with a theologically-shaped worldview then we are able to see what is good to affirm and what in culture needs to be called out and corrected. If you love Netflix more than God’s Word, that should be a problem to you. When there’s no time for reading (or doing something else to grow your theology), but your gamer score is steadily climbing, then honestly reevaluate your stated-desire to grow in Christ.
As a final clarification, please hear a few things I’m NOT saying:
- Every youth worker needs to study systematic theology.
- Your theological knowledge is the foundation of a biblical and fruitful ministry.
Not every youth worker needs to go to seminary. I encourage youth pastors to go to seminary, but volunteer youth workers don’t need a formal theological education. But they do need to love and understand God more than they love and understand teenagers.
Here’s what I AM saying:
- When youth workers are theologically uninformed, they are showing students that God is small and unworthy of their time. Students will think, “Hey, if Bob doesn’t know about this stuff, then I guess it’s not very important.”
- In all things, we rely on the Holy Spirit to so empower our ministry that he uses us despite our weakness (not because of our knowledge), but don’t use the Holy Spirit as an excuse to avoid theology.
- When youth workers are theologically informed, their depth will open up new conversations about life and faith in unexpected ways.
A Few Practical Suggestions:
- Podcasts. There are many good podcasts out there to listen to on your drive to/from work or while at the gym. Check Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, Ravi Zaccharias, William Lane Craig. Many seminaries offer free lectures for download through iTunesU and other similar podcast services.
- Ask your pastor or a friend to read through a good, basic theology book with you. If you’re a bit overwhelmed by the idea of reading a book about theology, then read it with someone else. And remember, start off basic… you don’t need to start by reading something difficult or obscure!
- Buy the physical book, not the ebook. This is my opinion, and while it’s shared by many who study theology, but it is an opinion. There are types of books that are good to read as an ebook. Theology books tend to be better in paper. If you truly want to work through the book, then resist the cheaper ebook and buy the physical book.
- Suggested books to get started. The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller. Desiring God, by John Piper. Basic Christianity, by John Stott. Knowing God, by J.I. Packer. Everyone’s a Theologian, by R.C. Sproul. The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689 or The Westminster Confession of Faith.