Today’s teenagers face a never-ending onslaught of counterfeit gods competing for their hearts. Parents and churches are called to stand in the gap to help uproot this idolatry. As the three youth in the book of Daniel were confronted with the call to bow down to an idol, teens continue to encounter idols that threaten their worship of the one, true God. We see the parallels when we open our Bibles to Daniel chapter 3.
In this story, King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image and required all of the people to worship this image whenever the music was played. The consequence for any who refused was nothing short of execution. Scripture reads, “Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire” (Daniel 3:6). The proclamation was clear: bow before the image or die.
Whether in the home or the church, ministry to teens always exists in a Daniel 3 context. There are always idols and there are always teens in need of discipleship, encouragement, and prayer if they are to stand firm in their faith. Just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, “God’s people will be confronted with the idols of this world…God’s people will be challenged to worship the gods of this world.”
Parents and churches come alongside teenagers like the three youth in Daniel, and equip them to repent of idolatry and resist the counterfeit gods of their day. It is a ministry of Joshua calling the next generation to put away false gods and serve the Lord (Joshua 24:14-15). It’s Paul telling Timothy to flee youthful passions (2 Timothy 2:22). It’s John calling children in the faith to keep themselves from idols (1 John 5:21). And it is mature believers today leading teens to stand up and say, “Let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:18).
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego resisted the pull of idolatry, for they would rather trust their lives in the hands of the true God than save their lives by worshipping a false god. The king kept his word and had them cast into the burning fiery furnace. Another King had the final word, however, as the Lord saved the three youth. “The fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire evencome upon them.” (Daniel 3:27).
These three not only stood firm in their faith, but the faithfulness of the Lord in their lives served as a powerful testimony to the lost culture around them. Even the king declared, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.” (Daniel 3:28).
Stories like these continue. Idolatry continues. Faithful teens continue to stand firm, and mature believers continue to disciple them so that idolatry may be uprooted from their hearts.
This sort of discipleship is seen at the end of John’s first letter, as he writes, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). Should this not be at the heart of every Christian home and church today? Should parents and churches not lead the appeal for the next generation to keep themselves from idols? John is calling the church to, “be on guard from god-substitutes,” for, “idolatry is anything you love, enjoy, and pursue more than God, more than Christ.”
These god-substitutes, counterfeit gods, idols, and lesser loves, compete for the affections of teenagers today, threatening their devotion to and worship of Jesus Christ. Idols of entertainment, relationships, and self are just a few of the substitutes available to youth today. John Stott examines the nature of these idols in 1 John 5, concluding, “What is certain is that all God-substitutes, all alternatives to the true God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, are properly idols, and that from them the Christian must vigilantly guard himself.”
Guarding against God-substitutes, however, seems nearly impossible when teenagers find themselves isolated from Christian community, removed from the Word of God, and alone in the midst of countless idols. It is only when teens are surrounded by other believers in a ministry that teaches the Gospel and disciples the next generation to stand firm in their faith, that something else takes place. In these home and church ministries, we will see more and more Shadrachs, more and more Meshachs, more and more Abednegos, and more and more idols uprooted out of the hearts of today’s youth.
Jonathan Williams is the founder of Gospel Family Ministries, the author of Gospel Family: Cultivating Family Discipleship, Family Worship, and Family Missions, and the senior pastor of Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston, TX. He lives in Houston with his wife and three children, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Family Ministry through the School of Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.
See Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009).
Daniel L. Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Daniel,(Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Reference, 2017), 30.
Daniel L. Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 1, 2, & 3 John,(Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Reference, 2014), 148-149.
John R.W. Stott, The Letters of John, (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 1988), 196.