Ministry Philosophy: Students

Youth Ministry PhilosophyWelcome to the Oasis philosophy of ministry page!

Ministry Philosophy Matters.

“I believe the Bible.” This is a comment I’ve heard countless times throughout the years, and though believing the Bible is certainly a great start, it leaves a deeply significant question unanswered: “What do you believe about the Bible?” The Oasis philosophy of ministry is an effort to answer exactly this question regarding ministry to youth. What you will find here, then, is not mainly an explanation of what we do, but of why we do what we do in the student ministry at Sylvania Church.

A “Means of Grace” Ministry.

The Oasis philosophy of ministry centers on what are commonly called “the ordinary means of grace,” which include, but are not necessarily limited to, (1) Scripture, (2) Prayer, (3) Community/Fellowship, and (4) Ordinances (i.e., baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Simply put, these are, according to Scripture, the most common channels through which God extends sanctifying grace to people. The following is an effort to unpack that in a way that is both understandable and convincing. Please call or email me if you have questions or concerns about any of what you read here.

1) Scripture.

In short, Christians cannot love God or people without learning the truth of God. I believe this is plain when considering 2 Tim. 3:16 in light of Mt. 22:37-40. In 2 Tim. 3:16, Paul tells Timothy that the Word of God is sufficient to equip Christians to live God-honoring lives. In Mt. 22:37-40, Jesus tells the Pharisee that two commands give full expression to the way Christians live God-honoring lives: they love God and they love people. So, the Scripture is one of the tools God uses to grow His people in love. If you’ll stay with me, I’d like to explain that a bit more.

a) Loving the God of Truth Requires Learning the Truth of God.

Following His greeting to the church at Ephesus, Paul writes:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. I love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

If you have read the book of Ephesians, you may remember that Paul opens the letter with an explanation of what God has done in the Gospel. Why? Because Paul knows that deep love requires deep knowledge. He knows the Ephesians will not consider Christ to be as treasure hidden in a field (Mt. 13:44) if they know nothing about Him. If we kept reading in Ephesians, we would find that Paulcontinues this celebration of God and what He has done for nearly three chapters in Ephesians. At the end of Paul’s explanation and celebration, he reveals his point: he wants the Ephesians to, “comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18-19). Now, in the same way that Paul knows people will not love what they don’t know, he also understands that people often know things they do not love (otherwise he wouldn’t pray for them to love; he would simply give them more information). For example, I know information about the Longhorn, Red Raider, and Sooner football programs, but I do not love them (Roll Tide!). Obviously, football is trivial, but the point is the same. Learning is not the same as loving. Matthew Mead describes beautifully the biblical connection between learning the truth of God and loving the God of truth:

To make a man altogether a Christian, there must be light in the head and heat in the heart; knowledge in the understanding and zeal in the affections. Some have zeal and no knowledge; that is, blind devotion. Some have knowledge and no zeal; that is, fruitless speculation. But where knowledge is joined with zeal, that makes a true Christian (Matthew Mead, TheAlmost Christian Discovered, p.39, pub. 1824).

b) Loving the People of God Requires Learning the Truth of God.

Notice Paul’s instruction to the church at Ephesus. He writes:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:11-14).

Do you see what Paul says leads to the spiritual unity God designed His church to attain? Growing together in the knowledge of the truth of God’s Word. Consider the common ground between the gifting of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers they all teach the truth. You also see foundation of truth embedded into God’s purpose for the church to attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, “so that they may they may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness and deceitful schemes.” Rather, God’s desire for the church is that they would know and, as result, speak the truth in love. So, we find in Scripture not only that devotion and submission to the Scripture should not only produce Christ-exalting, self-abandoning love for God, but should also produce Christ-exalting, self-abandoning love for others.

c) Devotion to Scripture in the Oasis.

It is obvious, then, that believers need to grow in knowledge, and there are hosts of ways to do this. The two primary Oasis meetings aimed, in part, at supplementing the study of Scripture that should be going on in your personal life and, ideally, in your family life, are the Sunday morning Bible study and the Wednesday night worship service. The Sunday morning Bible studies are structured in the following way and are generally devoted to this curricular plan:

  • Junior High Students (2 Gender-Specific Classes): Biblical Theology.
    During these three years,students will be challenged to read the entire Bible on their own, and will receive an overview of Scripture from Geneis to Revelation with a particular emphasis on exposing God’s redemptive plan in each book.
  • High School Students (1 Co-Ed Class): Systematic Theology & “Clean-Up.”
    These four years will be devoted to systematic theology, which will equip students to answer large, sweeping questions like, “Who is God?”, “What is the Bible?”, “What exactly happened on the cross?”, “Could Jesus have sinned?”, “What are angels and demons like?”, etc. In addition, students will be exposed to what I call “clean-up.” Clean-up is, in essence, those topics students should know that are not thoroughly addressed in the rest of the curriculum. These include apologetics, the marks of a healthy church, the marks of a healthy church member, discerning the will of God, how the Gospel informs the way Christians understand friendship, dating, marriage, divorce, sex, parenting, submission to authority, homosexuality, abortion, war, missions, evangelism, prayer, etc.

Wednesday nights in the Oasis are generally devoted to the exposition of particular books of the Bible, although there is either a Q&A or dedicated prayer meeting every 4-6 weeks. The primary purpose of each of these meetings is the same: we are praying that the Spirit of God will use the preaching and teaching of the Word of God to produce reverent, awestruck worship (Heb. 12:28-29) and Christ-exalting, self-abandoning love for God (Mt. 13:44).

2) Prayer.

We are also convinced that God extends grace to His people through prayer. For this reason, prayer is an integral part of our worship here at Sylvania Church, as it is among many churches in Tyler TX. Sylvania Church is, however, distinct from some Tyler churches in that it is committed to praying expositionally. What, then, does “praying expositionally” mean? Expository prayer happens when the content and aim of prayer is consistent with the meaning of Scripture. For example, we would not encourage a football player to claim the victory in Friday night’s game because he can “do all things through Christ who gives [him] strength” (Phil. 4:13). In that case, the player is claiming something that the passage doesn’t promise. In fact, understood in its proper context, the player is actually saying that he will continue to trust God whether he wins or loses. Of course, that is a fantastic truth to communicate, but I don’t think that’s what he means. ;) Rather, we believe God ordinarily extends grace to His people through prayers motivated by the glory of God and informed by the Word of God. We hold multiple weekly prayer meetings that are aimed at praying in accordance with God’s will as He has revealed it in Scripture.

3) Community.

If you’ve read to this point, then you (hopefully!) noticed the subheading above entitled, “Loving the People of God Requires Learning the Truth of God.” In that section, I argued that God-honoring love for others requires devotion and submission to the Word of God. The question, then, becomes, “In what context is that love to be demonstrated?” or, “Where should that love be displayed?” Though certainly not the only, I do believe the primary context in which Christian love should be demonstrated is the local church. Let’s unpack this a bit.

a) Community in Scripture–A Clear Teaching.

In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul wrote:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph. 4:11-16)

I will contend that the primary context for loving, unified, biblical community is not the universal church (i.e., all believers everywhere), but the local church (i.e., the believers who gather together regularly under the authority of a particular group of elders). To be clear, this means that I am arguing that the primary context for loving, unified, biblical community is not your school, FCA, baseball team, dance class, choir, band, etc. It also means that I am arguing that the primary context for loving, unified, biblical community is the local church, which, for Sylvania members, means the other members of Sylvania. Now, you may be thinking, “The Bible does not say that!”, and while I agree that the Bible does explicitly state that the primary context for loving, unified, biblical community is the local church, it is nonetheless crystal clear from what is stated implicitly in Scripture. Now, you may be thinking, “You don’t have to go to church to be saved.” Of course, this is true because people are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. So, while I agree that, “You don’t have to go to church to be saved,” I also believe that saved people are devoted to the church. Obviously, this does not mean that everyone who regularly attends church is saved, but it means that those who consistently neglect the fellowship of believers are probably not saved, since meeting together is required (Heb. 10:25), and John states plainly that those who go on sinning deliberately are not children of God (1 Jn. 3). To help solidify my argument, consider first that the clear teaching of Scripture forbids isolationism:

  • The biblical metaphors for the church (i.e., body, building, etc.) are all pictures of togetherness, not isolation.
  • Believers in the United States cannot commune regularly with believers in Indonesia, so the gathering required cannot be a reference to the global church. Along these same lines, we can neither, “fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28), nor, “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19-20), if all believers everywhere are always together.

Next, I want you to try to demonstrate for you that the local church is the primary context for biblical community.

  • The same author who plainly forbid believers to neglect meeting together has in mind a gathering that includes a particular group of elders exercising authority over a specific group of believers (Heb. 13).
  • The elders of the exiled believers to whom Peter wrote, for example, were not directly responsible for all believers, but for “the flock of God that [was] among [them]” (1 Pet. 5:2). If there is no specific group of people regularly gathering under the authority of the elders, then how could the elders possibly fulfill this command. The very issuance of this command seems to imply that there are specific people who gather together under the leadership of a specific group of elders.
  • Not surprisingly, the opposite is also true, so that believers are not to submit to every elder everywhere; rather, they are to “submit to [their own] elders” (1 Pet. 5:5, cf. Heb. 13:17). Since it is obvious that the Hebrews 10:25 command not to neglect meeting together with one another does place the responsibility upon individual believers to meet together with every other believer everywhere, it follows, then, that those who are to gather regularly together (chapter 10) are those in submission to the same eldership (chapter 13).
  • Paul told those in the church at Corinth that God gives gifts to them individually for the good of other believers (1 Cor. 12), but which believers does Paul have in mind?. I believe the next verse gives us the answer, as he instructs the church at Rome to “love one another” (Rom. 12:10), meaning that his instruction is not mainly for them to love every believer everywhere, but mainly for the believers in Rome to love one another, using their gifts to build up one another (Rom. 12:3-8).
  • Etc.

To what does all this point? I believe this testifies very clearly to my initial comment in this section: the local church is the primary context for loving, unified, biblical community. So, what makes up biblical community? First, let’s clarify that biblical community is not synonymous with simply being together. Looking in Scripture, we find that biblical community should include the self-sacrificial use of spiritual gifts and other abilities, regular encouragement, transparent accountability, including honest confession, warning, rebuking, and correction, earnest prayer, the ordinances (i.e., baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which are only practiced with the entire church body), evangelism, and, as was mentioned above, devotion to the Word of God, etc. According to Scripture, this kind of biblical devotion to one another is, in part, what brings about the love for God and people that God requires of believers.

b) Community in Your Life–An Honest Evaluation.

The questions we must ask ourselves, then, should include:

  • Do I have genuine, brotherly affection for the people here at Sylvania?
  • Do I use my spiritual gifts and other abilities to benefit the members of Sylvania?
  • Do I give regular encouragement to my brothers and sisters here at Sylvania?
  • Have I established transparent accountability with anyone at Sylvania?
  • Do I take initiative to pray regularly with and for other members of Sylvania?
  • Have I been baptized?
  • Do I regularly remember the Gospel in the Lord’s Supper together with the rest of the congregation at Sylvania?
  • Am I involved in any efforts to reach the community, the country, or the world with the Gospel alongside others at Sylvania?
  • Do I have Scripture-centered conversations with other members of Sylvania?
  • Etc.

You may notice that these questions deal with externals, which does not mean that our love is mainly external, but simply that our love for one another should be deep, genuine, and externally visible, just as Christ’s love for His people is infinitely deep, genuine, and externally visible. So, let’s state the obvious. This vision of church membership implies that our devotion to one another is not contingent upon whether we share the same hobbies, activities, and/or interests, but, ultimately, upon the truth that we are members of one another because of our union with Jesus, and, secondarily, because of our membership at the same local church.

c) Community in the Oasis.

In practice, the Oasis calendar provides frequent opportunities for students to fellowship together, and may include anything from eating to playing to praying to studying Scripture to serving to Gospel-telling. On this note, because we affirm of the biblical teaching that parents are primarily responsible for the discipleship of their children (Deut. 6:5-9Eph. 6:4Col. 3:21) and because we affirm the need for older generations in general to disciple the younger (Titus 2:1-8), many Oasis events are aimed not just at students, but at their entire families. This enables families to be together and fellowship together with other families rather than consistently being forced by the church to pick between the two. That said, if you notice that an event addresses “Oasis Families,” please know that entire families (i.e., dads, moms, sisters, and brothers) are not merely welcomed, but requested.

4) Ordinances.

At Sylvania, our devotion to the ordinances is never particular to a specific ministry or portion of the church, but is always practiced together with the entire congregation.

What Are Your Thoughts?

I hope this tour through the Oasis philosophy of ministry has been helpful. Now, can I clarify anything for you? Have I missed something in what I’ve written? I would be honored to talk with you. Simply click the “Contact” tab above to get in touch.

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