The purpose of my ministry—a ministry out of a bookstore and through books I write—is to lead adolescents to God, provide a healthy and stable community for them, and help them to build their identity in Christ. The ministry is aimed at adolescents, mostly ages 9-18, students who would attend middle school or high school. Children are meant to be trained in the ways of God by those elder than them in the church, particularly their parents (Pro. 22:6; Mk. 10:13-15; Eph. 6:4). Children, particularly those in this age group tend to have open minds and hearts, ready to accept the word and love of Christ. They have questions about who they are and what they were made for, questions that have answers in the Bible. Christians should be teaching children to look to the Bible for these answers in this stage so that when similar questions arise in the future, they might do the same (Pro. 22:6).
My ministry works through the realm of stories, teaching adolescents important lessons about themselves, life, and God through books and through sharing those books with them in a bookstore I will open. Jesus himself taught in stories most often called parables. His parables put difficult-to-understand truths in terms that people of His day would have understood. In fact, Jesus explained his love for children in a parable suggesting He would go after a lost sheep, leaving 99 of 100 sheep unprotected to find the single lost sheep (Mt. 18:10). This illustration would have been something most people, shepherds in particular, understood to reveal His love for children and for those who came to Him with a child’s heart. In the same way, stories of today, both Christian and secular, can teach adolescents lessons. My ministry of writing is directed at readers ages 12-25 who might read a young adult book. The current series I am writing uses retold fairytales to teach readers lessons about identity and equality. A bookstore would be directed at a similar age group, ages 9-20 who would enjoy the middle grade and young adult books stocked on the shelves and find comfort in the community provided in the store. The ministry aims to grow adolescents in three ways: in knowledge, in love, and in self.
As previously stated, the Bible calls Christians to train children up in knowledge about God and His word (Pro. 22:6). One can’t truly love a thing until that person knows a thing. The more I grow in the knowledge of my friends and family, the more I come to love them and their character traits, and the better equipped I am to love them well. If I know my friend is kind and enjoys ice cream, I can love her for her kindness and show my love for her by giving her ice cream. This concept is explained in James 3:15-18 which contrasts selfishness with the qualities of God’s wisdom. In the same way, knowledge about God not only begins or increases a child’s love for God but also allows them to love Him more fully (in worship, etc.). One of the most important ways this can happen is when a child begins to understand who God is and what He has done for them for the first time and comes to accept Him into their hearts. John 8:32 suggests the truth (Jesus dying on the cross for our sins) will set us free and revealing this truth to children can also set them free. The revelation of knowledge is a ministry of evangelism and discipleship as children grow in knowledge and as a result, love for God.
Christians are also called to live in community (Ps. 133:1) with one another and many children need this community as much as or more than their adult counterparts. The Bible suggests that Christians make up one body with many parts (Rom. 12:4-5) but what is important to remember is that children are some of those parts as well. Adolescents belong in the church community as much as adults and often need to be supported and led by Christian mentors and friends in times of confusion and struggle that they face in their teen years. Jesus noted the two most important commandments to be loving Him and loving others (Mt. 22:36-40). In order to love God more fully, we need to be loving others, and creating a supportive, teaching, and safe community for adolescents is a great way to do that. Community like this not only invites non-Christians in, allowing them to hear about the Lord and potentially be saved, but it also allows Christians to grow in Christ so that their faith and relationship with Him is strong enough to weather the struggles they may face in coming years.
While the struggle of understanding one’s identity is a lifelong one, adolescents tend to deal with this struggle more often than others. Questions like “who am I?” and “why am I here?” begin to raise in adolescents’ minds as they go through other changes in their lives. Christians have the benefit of knowing some of the answers to these questions when they look to the Bible. Teaching adolescents that they were made in the image of Christ (Gen. 1:27), are sons and daughters of God (Gal. 3:26), and are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), is important to help them understand their worth and identity in Christ (Gal. 2:20). Not only should children be taught to believe these things but they should be given the tools to live them out in their lives, leaving old identities behind and taking on a new life in Christ Jesus.
From the knowledge of God flows the love of God. In the Old Testament, the people of God tuned away from Him and began to forget His ways, in response, He said to them (though one of his prophets) “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge” (Hos. 4:6, NKJV). Other versions make it clear that “knowledge” refers to the knowledge of the laws which the people were given. These laws did not just instruct the Israelites in what they should do but rather told them about God as well and what He valued. For example, one law required Israelites to have fences on their roofs so that guests would not fall off revealing God’s love for His people and value for hospitality and community. When the people began to forget these laws, they lost the profound knowledge they had of God and with it, their love of Him. Paul prayed the Philippians would not face the same fate when, in his letter to them, he prayed for their love for God to abound in “knowledge and discernment” (Phil. 1:9). As the Philippians grew in knowledge of God and discernment of what was good, they also would grow in love for God. Paul prayed the Colossians would also grow in wisdom and knowledge of the good plans that God had for their lives (Col. 1:8-10). No matter who it is that is growing in the wisdom of God, there is a benefit to doing so.
The Bible should also be taught to adolescents so that they may grow in love for God through knowledge of Him. As noted before, it is important that our children are taught the ways of God (Pro. 22:6). When this is the case, lessons about God are buried deep within a child’s heart and mind so that when they face hardship, these are the things they turn to. Our body remembers the lessons and the tools that we give it. When we play the same song on a piano over and over or learn to drive, our body remembers how to do it even when we are not thinking about the task. If we teach children to play God’s song, they can remember that in the same way when things get hard (Pro. 22:6).
But lessons of the Bible may be lost in the chaos of a child’s life if they are not given the tools to maintain upward growth and continue to stay on God’s path. God’s people are meant to dwell in community with one another and this does not exclude children. When Christians lack a community, they lack the encouragement and support they should have to help one another grow and stay on track with God. Christians are called to “spur one another on towards love,” “love one another,” “meet[ing] with one another,” and “encourage[ing] one another” (Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Pt. 3:8). The early Christians in Acts “were one in heart and mind” and “shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32) and though “community” may not have been the word they would have used to describe the church back then (fellowship would more likely have been used) it is the perfect word to describe the union early church members shared. The early church was a part of a close-knit community that was able to lean on one another in hard times and celebrate with one another through victories. They carefully studied the word with one another in order to all grow in Christ together and when someone stumbled in Christ or in life, they lent a hand. Sometimes that meant guiding them back to Jesus with Biblical truth and sometimes it required monetary aid or opening the home. Ministry today should be done in the same way where Christians are able to love one another (1 Jn. 4:7-8, 11; Col. 3:14) and minister to everyone no matter the color of their skin, status, income, or any other part of their life (Rom. 12:16; Gal. 3:28-29).
Children, of all people, need this kind of community that believers should provide. Middle schoolers and high schoolers in-particular live in a stage of life where they begin to ask questions and need people who will not only provide answers to the questions but also provide a safe place in which the questions can be asked. Role models are incredibly important in this stage of a child’s life and while books can play a part in this, providing role models or characters that adolescents can relate to who productively solve similar problems, real-life role models are also vital. Children need to be supported and loved and need to be discipled by other Christians so that they can grow in loving others.
Every human has worth because they are made in the image of God and Christians have been adopted into Christ’s family and made citizens of heaven. This is something that adolescents may need help understanding as they question who they are and what their role is on Earth. Identity is a major crisis, particularly for adolescents. From age 12-18 adolescents often struggle with questions like “who am I?” and “what’s my purpose?” I have personally seen teens struggle to feel their worth and love in this age range. Teaching them to find these things in Christ is vital especially for children lacking guardians or with unreliable guardians.
One of the first things that can be taught to a child needing to understand their worth is that they were made in the image of God. This is not something that relates only to Christians but rather all people are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). This can be a vital lesson for non-Christian adolescents to reveal to them their worth and lead them to the Father who cares for them. A lesson should not end with the fact that a child is made in the image of God but rather should reveal the meaning of imago Dei (made in the image of God). The image of God could refer to three things. First, that man was made with a purpose—God uses us for good (Jer. 29:11, Eph. 2:10). Second, that man was made with a relational ability similar to that of the trinity where we are able to have a relationship with God and with others (Mt. 22:36-40). Third, that man was made with the ability to reason (Acts 17:22-23; Rom. 2:14-15). Each of these things should be explained to the adolescent.
Explaining the way that humans are made in God’s image may lead children to Christ in which case, children should be taught that their identity is now “in Christ” (Gal. 2:20; 1 Cor. 6:17). As the child accepts Christ, they are called to leave their old life behind and step into a new life with Him (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:23-24; 2 Cor. 5:17) but the child must be taught how to do so.
Two other elements of identity which could be helpful to teach to a child are citizenship in heaven and adoption into God’s family (1 Pt. 2:10). These elements are unique to Christians (Eph. 1:4-5) and are not something that non-Christian has until they accept God into their life. Though the non-Christian can be taught that this is what is available, they should not be taught that they are a son/daughter of God or a citizen of heaven until they have chosen to accept Christ. Adoption into God’s family may be a particularly helpful idea to teach a child who has no parents or whose parents are not present in their lives. The child is adopted into the family of God (Gal. 3:26) when they choose to accept Him as their father and Christ as their savior and they then receive an inheritance in heaven (Eph. 1:11) and title as “child of God” (1 Jn. 3:1). The child is called a citizen of heaven (or the household of God) at the same time (Eph. 2:19; Phil. 3:20) and this idea may be particularly helpful for a displaced child or an immigrant being labeled “unwanted” by residents. In both cases, the citizen or adopted one is a representative of God. In the same way that an ambassador of a country can reflect well or terribly on the country, citizens or sons/daughters of God can do the same and adolescents should be taught this as they come to understand their identity in Christ. No matter what, the child should be taught that their identity in Christ is not reflected by anything that can be seen on the outside. When they choose to base their identity in Christ, they are choosing to base their identity on what He says their heart looks like, not what He says they should weigh, wear, speak like, or look like (1 Sam. 16:7).
My ministry will include a discipleship program that will minister to non-Christians and Christians alike. The ministry will be based in an independent bookstore. Literary programs will run annually and include evangelistic events such as book signings, “read with the dog” events, and other “secular” events at which everyone is welome. These events will draw adolescents into a safe community space and reveal to them that the bookstore is somewhere they can come no matter what is going on.
Book clubs will also occur in which leaders open the event with prayer and offer to pray for members. The clubs will be open to anyone and though prayer will be a part of the clubs, the events will be largely “secular” in order to offer a place where non-Christians feel comfortable joining in. Book clubs will not be closed groups meaning people will be able to meet fellow book lovers but readers will be able to jump into the group at any time.
The bookstore will also host Bible studies These events will still be open to anyone including non-Christians but it will be made clear what the topic of the studies will be. These events will be closed groups meaning once the studies start, no other participants will be allowed to join. This will allow for a safe space in which students can begin to get to know one another, grow a community, and feel comfortable asking any questions.
The bookstore will not be my only means of ministering to students and theology will also be within the books that I write. Many of my books will be secular books aimed at the larger population of adolescents. Within these books will be theological ideas and references to Bible verses disguised within the text. The books will not be written to be read with a Biblical lens but rather will be crafted in a way that will allow God to work through the books to highlight paraphrased verses or sections of text that suggest theological ideas to readers. These texts may guide readers to look deeper and find the full verses or ideas in Scripture.
Some of my books including the single book already published will have Christian themes. My poetry anthology Imagine This: From Pain to Possibility includes a full section of poems which detail my relationship with the Lord. While these books may lead some to Jesus or increase Christians’ relationship with Him, they may also help when those who read my secular books are guided to read them looking for more books by the same author.
Finally, I may be able to minister to adolescents as an author. When adolescents read my books and seek me out to ask questions whether about writing or my books themselves, I may be able to use the opportunity to minister to them whether outright or simply through encouragement. When I am given the position to speak into adolescents’ lives I will use it to teach them about the worth they have and the love God gives them freely.
My bookstore will be a place that aims to provide community in any way it can. The store will have an “always open” policy. Though its doors may not always be open to customers, doors will always be open to someone who needs a helping hand, a prayer, or an encouragement and workers will be taught to be able to provide this for people as much as they provide book recommendations. The store will be a community place for adolescents. It will hold the right to refuse service and or turn away people who would make adolescents uncomfortable or do anything to turn around progress made on adolescents’ learning their identity in Christ.