Any movement as effective as Young Life has a “special sauce,” a unique way of looking at life that makes it different than other movement. Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, embodied this “special sauce” in the early days of the mission, especially in the way he spoke to teenagers about Jesus. Rayburn’s vision for verbal proclamation of the Gospel has been passed down and communicated in various ways through the years. As someone who is responsible for passing down the “special sauce,” how would you explain it? What are the ingredients? The following is a list of seven characteristics I have identified that I believe describe Young Life’s particular style of verbal proclamation:
- Our “With-ness” Verbal proclamation of the gospel in Young Life is done primarily by those who have earned the right by being with kids, not by “experts.” We use special speakers in a camp setting, but even then, leaders who know the kids are given the responsibility to follow-up and process each message in cabin time.
- We Speak to the Back Row. Taking our cues from Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son in Luke 15, our hearts beat for the kid in the back row who doesn’t know, doesn’t care, or may not even want to be there. This doesn’t mean that we water down the message. On the contrary, it means that we think creatively and purposefully about how to engage and speak to the kids who are the least likely to listen. Our use of humor and our conversational tone are a reflection of this.
- We Start With Jesus. Our passion in Young Life is that kids see and come to appreciate the person of Jesus Christ. In our day and age, like any other, there are a lot of issues that teenagers are dealing with. We believe that talking about Jesus Christ is the best way to eventually get to the heart of all of them.
- We rely on the power of God’s Word. Our best messages are those that place God’s Word in the center of the talk and help kids see its power, its majesty and its relevance to their lives. When we go to write a talk, there are a lot of great stories we can tell, and an abundance of helpful illustrations to choose from. And we should use them. However, if our talks are based on clever stories and illustrations, we are serving up “cotton candy messages” that might sound great and impress others in the moment, but not made of much that will last very long.
- We believe in telling the truth. It is a weighty thing to stand in front of a group of teenagers on a Monday night and tell them the truth about the consequences of our rebellion towards God. The cross is great news, but it is appreciated only to the extent that the depth of our sin and brokenness is understood. To be sure, this task of telling the truth should be done with great care and a tender heart, but it must be done.
- We train the next generation. We have many experienced and skilled speakers in Young Life, and almost anywhere you find an experienced speaker in this mission, you will find that they are training younger staff people and volunteer leaders to communicate the Gospel in clear and compelling ways.
- We pursue excellence. We have a culture of constant evaluation and improvement. I just received an email from a younger staff person asking me for constructive feedback on a talk she just gave. It was a great talk, but she wants to know how it could be better the next time she gives it. This kind of humility and teachability (see Kolia Lutow’s excellent post on teachability) is in our organizational “DNA.” We have to be ready to both give and receive feedback in a useful, God-honoring way.
Any list like this is incredibly subjective. I have highlighted seven characteristics and taken many others for granted. The important question is how do you go about communicating the wisdom and principles that we have received from those who have gone before us so that generations of adolescents will continue to hear the truth about Jesus Christ?
But an awful lot of you know that I believe that the greatest job in the world today is just to thumb the pages of the New Testament, which was written to make Jesus Christ known, and to do it in the presence of a group of people who are listening, who know you care about them, and no beans about it; people that you’ve taken the time and the trouble to prove to that you really care. That they are people and that’s all you are is people. That you may have one great, glorious advantage over them, but you didn’t earn it, and you don’t have any more right to it than they do — and that’s a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. –Jim Rayburn