34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:33-35, NLT).
These verses are rich in insights and lessons for us as youth leaders. In them Simeon tells Mary the impact her boy is to make. Their child, he says, is sent from God as a sign and yet what follows is not all good. True, He will bring joy to many but from others He will experience indifference (leading to a fall) and opposition. In short, He would bring division – a division based on people’s own responses. Why? Because an encounter with Jesus does not leave one unchanged. The actions of His Spirit brings revelation and self insight that forces the listener to make a choice, thus revealing the inner workings of their heart.
There is no escaping it: Jesus still divides. When you preach Jesus at youth group you will get a reaction. You will get division because will some will receive Him with joy, others will remain indifferent or may even oppose what you have to say. Yet if we are to be faithful to Jesus in our ministry, then preach Him we must.
As you do however don’t be tempted to take young people’s responses personally. To do so is to rob Jesus of a reaction that belongs to Him. Most will appreciate that it is wrong to take the credit when a young person responds to Him with joy, but less obvious might be the folly, or even sin, of taking the suffering of Jesus and placing it upon ourselves when young people react with indifference or opposition. Doing so is not only wrong in itself but it opens us up to the temptation of self pity leading to discouragement.
Yet having said this youth leadership will at times bring sorrow akin to having our very soul pierced. This sorrow however is not borne out of personal hurt done to us but our of hurt done to Jesus. As Mary grieved watching her son nailed to a cross, so we grieve as we watch the Son and our Saviour nailed to the cross. As Jesus abides in us we will increasingly experiences pain at those things that pain our Saviour but we will never rob Him and make that pain our own alone.
Reflection: How tempting is it for you to not preach Christ? Do you ever shrink back from this responsibility out of fear that young people might react with indifference or opposition? And if young people do react as such, do you find yourself dwelling on the rejection you personally feel, or do you allow God to fill your heart with His own sense of pain and grief at how He is being treated?