Over the past decade my passion to see people know Christ has pushed me repeatedly to the younger generation. Part of that stems from the simple truth that the overwhelming majority of people who become Christ followers do so under age 20. But it is also because the years I have spent studying, teaching about, and praying for spiritual awakening brings me again and again to the realization that God uses young adults often in a new work. We need the wisdom of the aged (hint: if you are aged, be wise, not just opinionated); we also need the zeal of youth (hint: excitement in a “youth group” is not enough in church, we need to focus the passion of students on things that matter).
For whatever reason, a love for students has led me to spend most of my speaking ministry to do events focused on young adults. And, the seminary I am so honored to serve has recognized this by making me professor of evangelism and student ministry, a combination that makes a lot of sense given this is the largest generation of youth in U.S. history (See Thom Rainer’s blog on the Millennials at http://www.thomrainer.com/2009/05/the-millennials-are-coming.php).
Over the past year I have been asked to speak about “reaching the coming generation” at conferences in churches from young church plants to First Baptist Jacksonville, Florida, to apologetics meetings, to several state Baptist convention meetings from Oklahoma to Georgia. I am certainly no expert at this, but I am interested in learning more. I believe the generation before us, the Millennials–those roughly mid-twenties and younger (roughly those born about 1982 or later), hold a great opportunity for a movement of God. And with that comes the real possibility that we could fail to see that happen. Many, including me, would submit we missed much of the work of God among students in the early 1970s and the Jesus Movement. Too many seemed more focused on the long hair and outward appearance of young people then than the hunger for God in their hearts. I met Christ then, and I want my children and their peers not to miss such a movement should it come again.
I recall in the early days of the Conservative Resurgence a time when we really did not know which direction the convention would head–toward a more unambiguous commitment to an inerrant Bible, or down a continuous slide in the path paved by mainline denominations. As a younger 20something I remember hearing men joke that if the convention split, they were going with the Annuity Board (which controlled their retirement funds). I have a pretty good sense of humor, but I honestly never thought that was funny. I thought then that we as a people were more obsessed with money over the gospel that the New Testament teaches. I still think that, by the way. Michelle and I decided that no matter how things turned out, we were going to stand on the Word of God without apology, and not be led by the opinions of man, or financial opportunity.
We would not side with the Annuity Board back then (no offense for the AB!). But today, we ARE going with the coming generation. I will stake my claim with those much, much younger than me. Much rhetoric today is given to generations. I am more interested in those still in high school and college than any other.
In the Scripture God often used a new generation to shake off the dust of distractions keeping His people from following Him. In particular one can see this when the institutions got in the way of God’s movement. In Samuel’s day when the priest Eli’s own sons were reprobate, Samuel heard God speak even as a lad. In David’s time, when the king himself cared more about self-preservation than true worship (I will resist the urge to make application), David as a youth killed a giant. He took a risk. I like people like that. I could talk about Josiah (when they actually had lost the Word of God in their time!), or Jeremiah, or Esther, or others. I could describe spiritual movements in history from Pietism to the Great Awakening to the Jesus Movement. I could even give examples from culture at large of young adults risking much for a cause.
I fight daily with a temptation to coast, to dwell more on my legacy than on the gospel and the future. I love history and want to learn from the past. But I work to resist the urge to settle, to drift toward mediocrity, to become cautious, but it is hard given how blessed I am to serve in a convention that is extremely middle class in its constituency. Comfort is a wonderfully seductive enemy of the gospel.
So to help in keeping me focused on what matters I am giving my life for those yet to come into their own. I see such passion in students today and such hunger. These young adults long for a cause worth giving their life to more than a path of least resistance. It is amazing that being 50, a PhD, and a professor is actually an aid in communicating with this generation. They respect people who have actually done things for the glory of God. Ten years ago as I began speaking regularly to students being a seminary prof was more of a liability. Not now. This is a fatherless generation looking for more than a few jokes or pithy sayings from a young guy who has lived very little. They hunger for truth and want to get it from people who have labored in the Word of God and lived for Christ for some time. They want to learn from those who have sold out for what they believe in.
I am not sure what the future holds. But I know this, the call for a Great Commission Resurgence in my tradition (see greatcommissionresurgence.com) is nothing less than a call to embrace the future, to boldly step forward with a desire to do something that matters for Christ. A generation is coming. They are ready. Let us lead them well.