Last year I shot a rifle for the first time in my life. This particular rifle had a special red dot in the scope that would come on if you pressed a button. My instructor decided it would be important for my growth as a marksman (ha.  ha.  ha.) to learn to shoot WITHOUT the red dot first. In my opinion it should be the other way around! Without the red dot, I missed the target every single time!

I mean seriously. Animals began to come out of the woods to laugh at me and taunt me. I looked through the scope at a big paper target, pulled the trigger, and a piece of dirt a mile away jumped up. I mean, I was BAD. And then…..the magic red dot.

Finally I begged my instructor to turn it on, he did – and suddenly I was Jason Bourne. I was diving behind cover and shooting, I jumped out of an airplane and hit the target from a mile up, I bounced one of the embankment, off the tree, off a small stone….swish – dead on. A guy from the CIA appeared from behind a tree (I guess he knew my potential all along) and recruited me on the spot.  Yeah. It was a pretty good day.

So here’s my point for this article. If you preach to youth on a regular basis, it is easy to lose the red dot. There is so much to consider on any given meeting. We are balancing depth, and entertainment, with kids all over the spiritual spectrum, with boredom and 15 second attention spans, with…..dare I say it….middle school boys!

As I was reading the Bible this week – this verse grabbed my attention and I thought it was the perfect job description for a Preacher to Youth.

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” ‭‭Colossians‬ ‭1:28-29‬ ‭(NIV‬‬)

The goal of our teaching, the red dot, according to this verse is to lead people into maturity in Christ. So, here’s the thought of the day: If we aim at entertaining we’ll make consumers, if we aim at life change we’ll make disciples. Let’s talk briefly about the ways this verse encourages us to aim at life change.

“He is the one we proclaim.” So simple. I know we all know it. But it is worth reiterating. Let’s keep talking about Jesus. All the time, every time. Talking about purity? Jesus is the path to self control. Talking about past wounds? Jesus it the healer. Talking about anxiety in school? Jesus it he one who promises to never leave you. Talking about parental disagreement? Jesus it the peacemaker. As often as we can, let’s talk about Jesus and how he has shaped our lives, and how we can shape theirs.

I heard someone say recently that the church can be many things, but we can’t lose Jesus. For example, we can and should be involved in our communities, but we aren’t the YMCA. We are the body of Christ. Above all else, what we have that makes us different – what we have that gives hope to the world – is Jesus. We can never lose sight of him.

It’s been a while since I was 14. But in order for me to communicate Jesus for their life change, I really need to “admonish AND teach” – not just teach. Teaching is easy. Admonishing – to impart understanding – to lay not only on the mind but on the will – now that’s hard. Of course we are talking about application. And we all know this right? But I love that Paul basically says here – I need to never give up preaching Jesus in a way people understand it so that their lives can be changed. If Paul needs a reminder, than so do I!

So get into their shoes! Honestly this is why I rely so heavily on discussion. I can’t pretend to know what a teen is going through today. But good questions and a listening heart can draw them out. I may be preaching on Peter having the courage to step out of the boat – so what issues do they struggle with courage in? Different than me for sure. They are at a party and a friend starts some inappropriate messaging with a member of the opposite sex. Do they have the courage to stop it? Or to at least walk away? I’m teaching on hearing God’s voice – but do I realize that for a teen every time is scary. Can we talk about how they need constant encouragement to pray for others, and not just a one time “green light” to do it?

This verse is worth repeating: To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. I want to encourage you today to not give up. I know the discouragement that comes with the territory. Teens you’ve invested in for four years walk away from church and their passion for Jesus. It is so heartbreaking. Teens in your group make bad decisions and you deal with the fall out. It can get overwhelming and it can begin to make you question yourself. Don’t. Give. Up.

I am convinced that one thing across the board that speaks to teens (and probably all humans) is just being there day in and day out. Keep speaking Jesus. Keep applying to their lives. Keep being a listening ear and a friend. Keep being that place of safe and wise counsel. It WILL pay off. It WILL make an eternal difference. It WILL produce life change.

So keep the life change as the red dot – and who knows – maybe one day you too can be the Jason Bourne of youth ministry!

Christian Dunn
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