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Christian Union
September 6, 2016

Christian Union Ministry Director Publishes Third Book

by Catherine Elvy, Staff Writer

NielsonYouth ministry involves far more than staging fun-filled retreats and offering frightful warnings against teen vices.

Rather, God calls youth pastors to develop students who will embrace missional purposes throughout their lifetimes.

With such principles in mind, Jon Nielson co-edited and co-wrote Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practical Guide. Crossway, part of Good News Publishers, released the 224-page paperback in February, about seven months after the longtime youth and college minister became the director of Christian Union's ministry at Princeton University.

"There are certain foundational principles that are absolutely necessary in any student ministry," said Nielson. "Those principles would include a core conviction. It's God's Word, through the work of God's Spirit, that brings change to human hearts and lives."

In late 2014, The Gospel Coalition approached Nielson about helping the organization craft a practical guide for student ministry as part of its partnership with Crossway, which is based in Wheaton, Illinois.

As a result, Nielson wrote two chapters of the paperback and its digital version, and he co-edited the entire work with Cameron Cole, director of children, youth, and family at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama.

Nielson-bookGospel-Centered Youth Ministry is Nielson's third book. P&R Publishing released The Story: The Bible's Grand Narrative of Redemption in 2014, and the New Jersey firm published Bible Study: A Student's Guide in 2013.

As for Nielson's newest release, Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry aims to equip youth pastors and youth leaders to train teens to follow godly principles in their homes, schools, and churches. The manual features contributions from leaders who share guidance on a variety of topics, including how to partner with parents.

Nielson sought to articulate the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus as the focus of ministry. Instead of highlighting moralistic or relational connections, gospel-centered ministry points to Christ's profound accomplishments upon the cross.

"There is a practical outworking of core theology in student ministry," said Nielson. "What you really believe will really change hearts and lives. It will impact the music, the retreats, etc. The core theology drives the practical aspects of student ministry."

With that, Nielson penned two chapters of the handbook, namely "Helping Students Personally Engage the Bible: Small Group Bible Study in Youth Ministry," as well as "Equipping Youth for Gospel Ministry: Leadership Training in Youth Ministry."

"The high school and college years are trajectory-setting years," Nielson said.

Nielson simply wants teens and emerging adults to embrace Christ's lordship. "If young people can get the Gospel during those years, then that will set them on a path toward a deepening spiritual maturity when they are older," he said.

Before joining Christian Union, Nielson ministered at College Church in Wheaton, where he served for three years as high school pastor and another three years as college pastor. Earlier, he was director of training for the Charles Simeon Trust and a pastoral resident for Holy Trinity Church in Chicago.

Nielson, who earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from Wheaton College in 2005, is pursuing a doctor of ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he earned a master of divinity in 2010.

As for his new role as Christian Union's ministry director at Princeton, Nielson describes it as a "tremendous opportunity."

That is especially so as Princeton undergraduates are in a prime season of early adulthood and able to experience the long-range benefits of embracing Christ as personal savior. "The practical season of life during college and high school is formative as students are wrestling through all kinds of concepts, ideas, and worldviews," Nielson said.

Nielson, a licensed minister via the Presbyterian Church in America, is married to Jeanne, an accomplished marathoner and soccer player. The couple has three daughters.

Also an avid athlete, Nielson played four years of basketball at Wheaton and coached basketball at Chicago Hope Academy, where Jeanne Nielson served as an English teacher.

Despite a busy schedule, Nielson is not done sharing spiritual insights via the printed word. The Illinois native is wrapping up Faith That Lasts: Raising Kids Who Don't Leave the Church via CLC Publications, which has slated it for publication in the fall.

The concept developed from a stirring blog Nielson wrote for ChurchLeaders.com, namely: "Three Common Traits of Youth Who Don't Leave the Church."

One especially compelling section of the piece encouraged youth leaders to focus on equipping, rather than entertaining, teens. Christ gave teachers to the church to train the "saints to do gospel ministry in order that the church of Christ may be built up," Nielson noted in his blog, referencing Ephesians 4:11-12.

Not surprisingly, Nielson points to such core scriptural principles as the key to both successful parenting and teen shepherding. "Focus on the Word," he said. "It helps believers grow in maturity and brings conversion."

It's also vital for youths and young adults learning to walk out gospel-centered lives. "I'm passionately committed to ministering to students of these ages," Nielson said.