In our modern age with secularism on the rise, youth groups are one ministry that still draws people from outside the Church, often with little prior exposure to the gospel. Veteran youth pastor Christian Graham, who recently joined seeJesus as Mid-Atlantic Student Ministries Coordinator, says young people often feel “pressured to be a certain way,” but at youth group they know they’ll be “loved, seen, and accepted.” Even students who are struggling with gender identity or drugs know they are loved, Christian reflects — “though I have to call them to the mat sometimes.” That’s because the heart of Christian’s ministry is connecting students with the Person of Jesus.
Christian finds even kids who grew up in church may not get to know Jesus as a person. “They know what Jesus did, that he died for them, but they don’t know him.” He says “one reason young people leave the church when they grow up is they haven’t fallen in love with Jesus.” As Christian likes to say, “The beauty of the Gospel is Jesus himself,” so falling in love with Jesus is the heart of discipleship.
Christian (front) with a group of students in Honduras.
Christian noticed “we’d have great community, great evangelism, but discipling was something we really missed.” So after 40+ years in youth ministry he shifted his focus from teaching students to teaching youth pastors to disciple students with The Person of Jesus (POJ) so the next generation can fall in love with a person, not just a doctrine. That’s what Christian finds unique about seeJesus’ POJ studies: they help kids fall in love with Jesus.
That’s what Christian finds unique about seeJesus’ POJ studies: they help kids fall in love with Jesus.
At a recent Young Life reunion banquet, Christian reconnected with a college grad who’d attended his youth group in middle school. She got saved as a teen, but had little contact with church over the next several years. For college she chose a “party school,” and Christian wondered if he’d ever see fruit in her life. But years later at the banquet she revealed how that middle school group helped her get to know Jesus and how much she loves him now. Having worked as a landscaper, Christian likened this to seeds falling on the forest floor. “They get buried under the leaves and remain dormant for years, but if you rake away the leaf layer and come back in the spring, you’ll find green shoots of growth even though the seeds hadn’t sprouted for all those years.”
Christian is closely networked with local youth pastors in Eastern Maryland where he lives, at Victory Jam, a Christian youth camp he helps run on the Jersey Shore, as well as in El Salvador and Honduras where he’s led over 40 mission trips. He’s constantly making new connections with leaders, and teaching them to disciple students in POJ. As a result, his church is now teaching Student POJ studies. Young Life Eastern Shore is also using POJ, as are several other churches in his home region and his Latin America network.
Christian performs a magic trick at a youth retreat.
Beyond his pastoral gifts, Christian has performed as a professional magician for the likes of President Bush and Vice President Gore. For fun, he still treats audiences to the occasional magic show, not to mention roasting coffee beans farmed by his missionary contacts in El Salvador, and cultivating Bonsai trees. As Christian put it, “My nerdy personality means I get intensely interested in anything I get into.”
Christian is currently raising support to serve as Student Ministries Coordinator, Mid-Atlantic. He and his wife Marianne live on Kent Island, Maryland.