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Answering “If I Can’t Stop Sinning, Why Should I Stop?”


Why Do Students Struggle With the Idea of Sin?

I have had countless conversations with junior and senior high school students about their habitual sin patterns. These older students tend to think if one cannot fully stop sinning, then what is the point to stop?

These junior and senior students have said the prayer, gone to camp, sang the worship songs, read their Bible, frequently attended church and youth group, and they still have not seen any life transformation. Their desire to stop sinning is dead.

The logic of these older high school students is: I love Jesus and I love to sin. Somehow they think it is OK to live this dual lifestyle. This is a very confusing logic for any adult youth worker to understand. The problem is that these students don’t know how to live out the text of Romans 6 and 7. They think that living the Christian lifestyle is near impossible. They don’t know how to answer the question of: How can I pursue righteousness and be sinful at the same time?

The Goal of Youth Ministry: How to Work With Students Who Love to Sin

Many of our youth ministries have relied on “sin management” (a term coined by Dallas Willard). If we just get our students to be good, then our youth ministries are all good, which as a result gets our students to think their relationship with God is all good. This is a classic case of behavioral modification. We are all guilty of trying to engineer perfect behaviors in every teen that walks through the door of our church.

Mid- to late-adolescents’ brains are like a Ferrari car without brakes. Their neurons just don’t know how and when to stop. So it is expected students are going to make a lot of dumb decisions and mistakes.  

The goal of middle and late adolescent ministry is making disciples (Matt. 14:20) who are authentically walking with Jesus Christ within the context of Christian community.

This goal has four implications: Student must 1) know 2) love 3) trust, and therefore 4) obey Jesus.

  1. Students know Jesus Christ. This is where Bible study fits and a strategy for increasing knowledge. Student cognitively really know HIM.
  2. Students love Jesus Christ, which compels them to express their love for Him. They have no problem showing affection toward HIM through prayer, worship, evangelism, service and spiritual disciplines.
  3. Students trust and therefore obey Jesus Christ. Students need to be obedient to Christ. Faith (greek word: Pisteuo) literally means to trust. The key to growing in Him is to trust HimIT IS ALWAYS ABOUT TRUST, and obedience falls under trust. 
  4. Our students’ obedience means that they desire to follow Jesus Christ and participate in His Kingdom work here on earth. You know a student gets it when he/she says:

I love Jesus Christ who directs my life, which means I am going to love Him and love and serve others.

The problem with the Christian student (who loves to sin) is that they only KNOW Jesus. They haven’t trusted, obeyed and followed Him yet. More than likely they haven’t had an opportunity to fully trust Jesus with their baggage. They haven’t invited Jesus into their messes. They have compartmentalized their dual lifestyle of faith and sin. Somehow they have been led to believe that the the Gospel puts more weight on their shoulders rather than takes the weight off. This is why the goal of youth ministry is to get students walking authentically with Jesus. Youth ministries are doing their job when we are cultivating environments that encourage full reliance on Jesus.

So how can our youth ministries put students in an environment that encourages trusting Jesus?  

This article originally appeared here.

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Jeremy Zach easily gets dissatisfied with status quo. He reeks with passion and boredom is not in his vocabulary. He becomes wide awake when connecting with student pastors, thinking and writing about student ministry, experimenting with online technology, and working out. He is married to Mikaela and has two calico cats, Stella and Laguna. He lives in Alpharetta, Georgia and is a XP3 Orange Specialist for Orange—a division of the REthink Group. Zach holds a Communication degree from the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities and Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary.