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Jumping Through Gospel Hoops

What’s the minimum required for salvation?

It’s a question a professor proposed to my class during my senior year in Bible college. The discussion it spurred was deeply thought-provoking. We started asking dangerous questions like “does one need a proper understanding of the Trinity to be saved? Do you need to believe that the Bible is true? What about the incarnation? Or terms like ‘justification’ and ‘sanctification’? Can children or mentally disabled people fully grasp these abstract concepts? How does this affect evangelism?” And so on. I’m pretty sure that the Nicene Creed came up at some point.
I know, I know, the question itself is flawed. Questions about minimum requirements tend to have a motivation of mediocrity behind them, as in “how can I just get by without having to do any more than I need to?”

But this question has recently spurred on another in my thinking about youth ministry: what am I adding to the Gospel? What requirements/obstacles am I putting in place that force students to jump through my hoops instead of experience God’s grace?
  • Participation in my program: “Better show up to youth group on time every week, or else you won’t be growing spiritually.”
  • Proper moral behavior: “Don’t drink, don’t have sex, don’t hang out with kids who do.”
  • Legalistic spiritual practices: “You must read your Bible at least 30 minutes a day, pray without ceasing, and evangelize to your friends once a week, or else I don’t know how God will work in your life.”
  • Liking the same things as me: “You liked that movie/music album/book/pastor/theologian/Starbucks drink? Sinner…”
  • Liking me…period: “This kid is an obnoxious jerk to me. Clearly Jesus doesn’t want them in His kingdom.”
Many of these have the appearance of being good things. They all might help in a student’s spiritual growth (emphasis on might). But they aren’t Jesus. And I don’t want to create any barriers between a student and Christ. I don’t want them to have to jump through unnecessary Gospel hoops.
What Gospel hoops have you possibly created in your ministry?
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Joel Mayward is a pastor, writer, youth worker, and film critic. The author of three books, he has written for numerous ministry publications, including Christianity Today, Christ and Pop Culture, Leadership Journal, YouthWorker Journal, Immerse Journal, The Youth Cartel, and LeaderTreks. You can read his musings on film, theology, and culture at his personal blog, www.joelmayward.com. For his film reviews and essays, check out www.cinemayward.com. Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelmayward.