A Plea for Unity in Youth Ministry

Quick. What’s your knee-jerk response when you hear the word unity? What do you picture? Working with others to pull off an event? A prayer meeting of local youth workers? Or perhaps more sadly, disillusionment caused by a failed attempt at unity?

Differing conceptions of unity and the expectations they create can actually derail the kind of unity Jesus expects of us in our communities. So let’s hone in on a few specifics from Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17.

Scripture Text

For starters, read the passage below, key­ing in on the words “just as” and “in.”

20My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

—John 17:20-21

Think About It

When the disciples heard Jesus pray “that all of them may be one,” they too may have had a different picture of unity from what Jesus intended. The Essenes, who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, were separatists who lived in primitive desert villages with the self-imposed charge of preserving Judaism in its purest form. They called themselves “The Unity.”

Maybe seeing a forlorn expression waft across the disciples’ faces (perhaps brought on by visions of primitive desert living), Jesus quickly defined the unity He was praying for: just as the Father is in Him and He is in the Father. Whew! No desert.

And there’s our picture of unity. In fact, any other image we could conjure up might cause us to miss what Jesus was praying for and the payoff promised: worldwide spiritual awakening.

But what did Jesus mean by that little word “in”? The passages below give a sneak peek into the unique relationship between Jesus and the Father. As you read these from your Bible, take a second to jot down a one-word trait or short phrase that describes this relationship.

John 3:34–36

John 5:19–23

John 8:26–30

John 12:49–50

Apply It

Did you catch a glimpse of how Jesus and the Father are “in” one another? And did you notice that their “in-ness” can be described in terms we can grasp and even imitate? Perhaps a baby step toward achieving the unity Jesus described is simply to grow in love, dependence, mutual submission and trust—qualities that define the Trinity—toward others in the body of Christ, including other youth workers in our community.

How can we help students catch this vision of unity and experience the payoff Jesus promised—spiritual awakening that causes the world to sit up and take note? Let’s start by teaching them to relate to one another as Jesus and the Father related—depending on, trusting and lov­ing each other. And let’s do this not just to “create community” in our student ministries, but in a genuine attempt to imitate the supernatural relationship between Jesus and the Father. Then let’s encourage students to look beyond the close-knit circles of their student ministries and to view other believers at school and in the community as Jesus and the Father viewed one another.

Ephesians 4:13 tells us that unity is essential for attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. In other words, we can’t achieve our spiritual best with­out each other. So if you want to help build the character of Christ into your students and at the same time foster spiritual awakening in your community, make room for unity.

A 20-year youth ministry veteran, Barry Shafer is the founder and director of InWord Resources (www.inword.org), a ministry that encourages depth in youth ministry by enabling students and youth workers to become better equipped with God’s Word. Shafer is the author of numerous student devo­tionals and small-group studies, including James: 12 Inductive Sessions on Practical Christianity (YS).

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About The Author

Barry Shafer has been communicating the truth of God’s Word since 1984 as a volunteer youth leader, youth pastor, pastor, author and speaker. Barry, with his late wife Dana, founded InWord Resources in 1996 to strengthen youth ministry with discipleship materials and experiences that meaningfully engage teens in Scripture. Barry is author of Unleashing God’s Word in Youth Ministry (Youth Specialties/Zondervan) and has written numerous teen devotionals and small-group Bible studies. When Barry’s not studying, writing, being a diva spouse, or “daddy-ing” Reade, you can find him reading on the porch, biking on a trail, pulling for the Packers, or playing a little golf.

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