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  • Clay McCann
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The Implications of Covenant Theology in Youth Ministry

Is Youth group for “Us” or “Them”?
This month, schools are back in session. This means that the pressures, stresses, and various realities of life as a teenager are intensified once again for our students. In response to the current generation’s growing needs for encouragement and emotional/spiritual support, many parents will be [re]considering some of the “age-old” questions of youth ministry. One of the most common of these questions is, “For whom does youth ministry exist—those who are members of the church, or those who are outside of the church?” For some, the correct answer is that youth ministry is for those who formally belong to the church congregation—their convictions are based on the presupposition that church exists to serve its members and to disciple and care for the youth of the local body. For others, the correct answer is that youth ministry exists for those outside of the church—the presupposition being that as a fulfillment of the great commission, youth ministry is intended to be an avenue through which the church can reach people with the gospel and thereby include them in the local congregation.

We are left, then, needing to answer the question ourselves as a church. What stance does High-Life take on this matter? The answer is a clear and resounding, yes! Yes, we focus on the students within our church body, and yes, we focus on the students outside of our church body.

A Youth Ministry of Southwood
Q for Southwood R
For the children of this church, whether communing or non-communing members,1 youth ministry is a response of the congregation and its leadership to the covenantal vow taken at a child’s baptism to, “assist the parents in the Christian nurture of the child.”2 The teaching, small groups, discipleship and care of the students of Southwood is a partnership with each child’s parents, and is an expression of the covenant vows of baptism. The Session of Southwood expresses their concern and priority of this matter by hiring staff that can faithfully and carefully meet these needs. The youth ministry of High-Life longs to see the gospel expressed in the lives of the students of Southwood. We have an enormous heart for those who belong to Southwood.
A Youth Ministry of Southwood
Q for Huntsville R
Just as we care for the students of the families of Southwood, we also have an enormous heart for those outside of the local body. Youth ministry at Southwood exists not only for its people, but also for those who have never heard nor embraced the gospel. Christopher Wright explains, “God’s mission is to bless all nations through [us] his people whom he has chosen, redeemed and bound to himself in covenant relationship. But that divine purpose calls for human response. All three pillars of Israel’s faith and identity (their election, redemption, and covenant) are connected to God’s mission. The ethical challenge to God’s people is, first, to recognize the mission of God that provides the heartbeat of their very existence and, then, to respond in ways that express and facilitate it rather than deny and hinder it.”3

Both the vows of membership and those at the baptism of our covenant children compel us as God’s covenant community to respond to the work of God in our lives. This means that youth ministry, along with every other portion of ministry at Southwood, exists to be an expression of the covenantal love of God. This is seen as we structure and execute our ministry with both the covenant and non-covenant child in mind. Our teaching, small groups, discipleship and care of the students outside of Southwood is response to the covenantal obligation God has put on his people to be a blessing to all the nations, particularly expressing the same kindness and care that He has shown to His people.

A Youth Ministry of Southwood
Q because of the Gospel of Grace R
The tension that many parents feel over a position like that of Southwood’s is that their child will not receive the depth of content and attention that many have come to expect from the local church. The presupposition embedded in this is a parent’s belief that their child’s need of faith, grace and repentance is less than that of any student outside of the Southwood community. To separate and distinguish a child’s need of grace from any other is to miss the heart of the gospel—we reach covenant and non-covenant kids because they both need Jesus to the same degree.  Cameron Cole, a youth pastor and writer in Birmingham, AL recently wrote, “Ministries that lack a message and culture of grace hardly distinguish themselves from secular organizations. Football teams and public schools can engender good values and encourage quasi-moral ideals. With the gospel, however, youth ministries can offer God’s unmatched love for the insecure, his unassailable acceptance for rejected “outcasts,” and his ever-present redemption for young rebels who just can’t seem to get their act together. Nowhere else is this kind of love and hope available to them.” 4

This is who we long to reach as a youth ministry— the churched, unchurched and de-churched; the “good girl” and the “bad girl”; the well grounded and the wild and free; the lost and the found; the sinner and the saint—all with the transformative message of God’s compassionate love.

1. Communing members are those who have made a profession of faith, been baptized and have been admitted to the Lord’s Supper by the Session. Non-communing members are those children of communing members, who are members by virtue of birth and the covenant, but whom have not made a profession of faith. (BCO 6-1, 6-2)
2. BCO 56-5
3. Christopher Wright, The Mission of God, Pg 119
4. Cameron Cole, The Only String Attached to the Gospel, from The Gospel Coalition, thegospelcoalition.org