A Word of Encouragement to Younger Leaders

If you know much about the history of the church and key turning points in that history, you will recognize the following:

1. Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the door at Wittenberg in 1517, starting a Reformation.
2. Philip Spener, pastor-leader in the Pietist awakening, began his small group “exercises of piety” in 1661, which spread across the region and incited many to spiritual renewal.
3. A.H. Francke, who would become a theology professor at the University of Halle and a leader in the Pietist movement, witnessed a revival among students through his gatherings called Collegium Philobiblicum beginning in 1686 at the University of Leipzig.
4. Nicholas Zinzendorf witnessed the birth of the 100 year Moravian Prayer Revival in 1727 which led a remarkable percentage of Moravians to leave all for foreign missions.
5. Jonathan Edwards and his church in Northampton, Massachusetts, experienced a powerful revival movement in 1734. Half the town was converted in about a year.
6. George Whitefield launched what Gaustad called the greatest single evangelistic tour in New England’s history beginning in 1739. This was near the height of the First Great Awakening.
7. Samuel Mills in 1806 led a group of peers to what would become the birth of foreign missions in America.
8. Evan Roberts in 1904 was a catalyst in the Welsh Revival.
9. Bill Bright founded Campus Crusade for Christ, International, in 1951.
10. Louie Giglio founded a movement called Passion in 1997 that has touched thousands of young adults in a worship movement.

While some may be more known and others less based on your particular interest in history (they all interest me), most of these you may know. But there is something about all these you may not know.

Each of these events noted above happened because of the person named. That part is obvious. What you may not know is this:

All the above did what is noted before age 40.

Half of them were under 30.

Luther was 34, Spener 31, Francke only 23, Zinzendorf 27, Edwards 31, Whitefield 25, Mills 23, Roberts 25, Bright 30, and Giglio the old guy at 39.

So what is my point?

Nothing grandiose, actually. I know that by cherry picking a few historical examples I can make the case that we should listen to younger leaders because after God has used them at key points in history. Problem is, I could also pull out some examples of either young knuckleheads or old fools to make other points as well.

I suppose I just want to remind younger men who have a great passion for God and His gospel, and who want not to make a name for themselves but a mark for Jesus, that history provides more than ample examples that you can do just that and sooner more than later. In fact, I would argue that the people above do teach us something valuable beyond a few heroic examples.

They remind us that while young we are more likely to take risks, to challenge the status quo, and to be open to change.

Of course younger people are also more likely to join cults, which is why we need the wisdom of the aged as well as the zeal of those who are younger.

So again, what is my point?

My point is simple. We are without question at a critical turning point in the American church. No, the end is not near. God is still on the throne! Of course, He was on the throne in Amos’ day, and Jeremiah’s, for that matter.

The status quo in American Christianity is compelling to pretty much no one. That change is needed is what I hear in every state convention meeting, pastor ‘s conference, on every college campus, and in every small group gathering of my students. And I believe it just may be some of the students I currently teach, or some young pastors across our nation, who may eventually help us to see how to bring about the changes we need that will both honor the timeless Word of God and help us communicate His gospel to a world effectively.

Luther could not stand the abandonment of the gospel in his day. A century plus later, Spener could not stand the way the Lutherans of his day failed to live what they said they believed. Zinzendorf was broken hearted for young people; Mills was burdened for the whole world. Each of these above was given a particular hunger for a cause that would celebrate the gospel and break it free from the bondage of the times, even if those fetters were caused by the very church they served.

I write this as a word to those under 40. Do not give up hope. I have given my life to teaching your generation. I have also spent my entire life studying spiritual movements. I do not consider myself to be an authority on them at all, but I have tried to be a diligent student. If I have any sense of what a movement of God looks like, I believe we are seeing signs of the work of God in our time. There is a growing dissatisfaction with the way things are. There is more healthy talk about the gospel, about both getting the gospel right and getting the gospel out, than I can recall. There is a rising hunger for the nations and for our neighbors. There is a rising tide of interest in church planting in the U.S., and especially in the cities. There is a remarkable yearning by pastors to see established churches change dramatically to refocus on the gospel.

I am now pretty much over the hill at 50 . Well, not quite. Last night we had about 30 young people over (about half high school and half college), and tonight we will have that many or more again (sorry, neighbors). I love not only hanging out with young adults, I love hearing them. I love hearing from YOU. I believe you have much to teach those of us who are older and who will listen. And I have found you will listen to us if we talk to you and not at you, if we treat you like young adults and not like goofballs.

I have learned much from how you worship. Sure, a few of you like music that is loud just because it is loud. But far too many my age and older miss your passion for worship because your preference in style is not what some of us like. Okay, I confess, I like your style!

I have learned from you about how much you hunger for truth. I see across America churches in the cities where the Word of God is preached verse by verse by young men under 40 (sometimes under 30!), and thousands upon thousands of you flock to them. And you also crave the small group ministries sprouting in these churches, as well as their love for planting other churches and for reaching the nations. I have attended worship services in many of these churches. I have listened to sermons podcasted from others. I hear much made of Jesus and His gospel. I see why you are interested.

I have learned from you that you are far less interested in religion than those before you. You are as tired of legalism as my generation grew tired of liberalism (note: Jesus condemned both). Your generation drives reality TV, which is not so real but that it utilizes regular folks, not breast-implanted, botoxed, phony Hollywood types. You are weary of a greater focus on being good church-attenders than serious Christ-followers. You want to hear less “you are supposed to do this” and more “join the movement of God in your time.” You do not hate rules, but you really loathe the traditions of men.

I have learned that you are a fatherless generation far too often. You have been hurt, often hurt by adults who should be teaching and loving you. So, I have learned that you appreciate those who are older who give a rip about your daily lives. And when we care, we can get right up in your business and challenge you to live radically for Jesus. You actually want to be mentored, but you are sometimes a little slow to seek it because you have been burned before.

I have also learned that while so many in your generation want to do something that matters for God, you are often hesitant. That is where folks like those my age and older can help. We can believe in you, push you, and even give you room to fail. You know, like Jesus does with us.

Maybe I am totally off on this. Maybe I just need to mind my own business, teach my classes, and get off you. But I cannot. I see God at work. And I do not want you to miss it. I came to Christ in a movement called the Jesus Movement where a lot of weird looking hippies got saved. My church welcomed the work of God then. A lot of churches totally missed it. Don’t go there.

It could be that among us now there is a 25 year old Evan Roberts of our time whom God could use to spark a revival. Or, a young Samuel Mills, perhaps this time who will ignite a great movement to reach the cities of the West. Maybe one of your peers will be a pastor like Spener and influence a generation of leaders.

I just wanted you to know, whoever you are and whatever you do for God, whether recognized or done in obscurity, that the guy writing this little article believes in you.

And there are a lot more with me.

So make your mark. Take your stand. Begin that small group. Preach that Bible.

And perhaps, God willing, you will start that movement.

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  1. Justin   •  

    Thank you, Dr. Reid, for that word of encouragement. I’m in the group that you described (29 y/o solo pastor), and I pray continually that God will use me to make his name great. Thanks, and keep up the good work.

  2. Matthew   •  

    Great message. I have been sharing similar words with college students from all over the country the last few years. I served a short time in the navy, and I saw 18 and 19 year old “kids” operating multi-billion dollar equipment. If they can do that, they are more than qualified to serve God in the foreign mission field or anywhere else, for that matter. I am 28 now, and my wife and I plan to continue working with college students during our time at SEBTS and when we go overseas in 2 years.

    P.S. Samuel Mills is THE MAN! Let’s see a new SVM now!

  3. Matt Wethington   •  

    Thanks Dr. Reid for the encouraging words and the challenge to keep moving forward and work to change the status quo paradigm. You are loved and prayed for at Riverbend.

  4. Bryan Rabon   •  

    Thank you Dr. Reid for the encouragement. I am 36 and I pastor a predominantly older, country congregation. While there are those who will never understand the need for change there are some, a few who are 60+, that know something must be done. That is why I believe that God is at work and that we will see positive change in the American church.

  5. Noah Oldham   •  

    You’re an amazing encouragement to young dudes like us. Come see us in St louis next time you are in town!

  6. Emily H.   •  

    Thank you for this encouraging word!

    Branching off this, I’m curious to hear what you would say to the women out there called into ministry who desire whole-heartedly for change, reverence for truth, and the overall fighting desire for the preservation of the perception of God’s character and His Son but do not have the position of pastor in the front to display such desires? Because this is written over text, I feel I should confirm and make clear that this is a genuine, honest question with no underlying tone about women’s roles in the church or anything close to producing a debate about such things. I promise! haha

  7. Doug Hilliard   •  

    Dr. Reid,

    Excellent post. I so appreciate your passion. I am more from your generation at 48 but just entered SEBTS this Fall and loving it. I’m praying that God will use us all to see His mission carried forward and praying against my own status quo! Btw, I like this generation’s music too…(it’s the drummer in me)!

  8. sebastian   •  

    Thank you for this message, I am 22 and I am from Romania.

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