"Counsel in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out" (Prov. 20:5).
In my 50 years of ministry, I've read countless articles giving advice from church growth experts and Christian leaders on how to reach young people for Christ. My quest for insights began during the Jesus Movement when I had the daunting challenge of addressing approximately 2,000 youth in a weekly gathering in Washington, D.C.
Recently I read results from a Barna research study revealing that 50% of pastors in America struggle with their ministry to young people. This has always been a difficult area for shepherds of the flock, but with the upheaval of the COVID-19 crisis and related issues, it has intensified.
5 Added Challenges in 2020
1. Ever-increasing distraction, temptation and dependency on computers. David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock discuss this in depth in their book, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon. They share how young people en masse are being adversely affected by nearly nonstop screen time. Also educators and administrators are having to deal with students viewing pornographic imagery shared in classrooms and during online learning at home.
2. Social distancing and sequestering increasing fear, anxiety, loneliness and other issues contributing to suicide. Barna reported 19% of young people feel lonely all the time, and 25% feel that way at least part of each day. Being kept back from usual social interaction in school and extracurricular activities is having adverse effects.
3. Lack of emotional support and spiritual nurturing from diminished participation in a local church community. Streaming and skipping online church services has its negative effect. Barna research revealed the dropout rate for 18- to 25-year-olds now is at 64%. Fifty-nine percent of the young guys and girls surveyed felt "church was not relevant" and 48% expressed, "I find God elsewhere."
4. Ongoing racial tensions as politicians and Black Lives Matter activists and anarchists stoke division and disruption in cities. Many young people looking for a cause resonate with the call to be "social justice warriors" making a difference by contributing to a new "progressive" America. Naive and ill-informed on Marxism and the toll it has taken on millions of lives over the past hundred years, they are easily seduced into a socialist utopia propagated by pied piper politicians and pop culture propagandists.
5. Ever-increasing influence of pop culture artists alongside acceptance of profanity and perversion. The boy band BTS (bet you never even heard of them!) released the new video for its song, "Dynamite," and in 48 hours it garnered 178 million YouTube views. The profane "porn" rapper Cardi B (with 74 million Instagram followers) released her latest uber-vulgar No. 1 hit, and it exploded in views and sales.
Gleaning From Godly Go-Getters
In the Old Testament, God commissioned Ezekiel to communicate prophetic revelation to the people of God exiled in Babylon. But before Ezekiel was to carry out his task he "sat there where they sat seven days" (Ezek. 3:15b). Learning from their lifestyle he could speak more empathetically, authoritatively and specifically based upon firsthand, personal observations.
When Jesus was a young person, His parents misplaced Him on one occasion. "After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions" (Luke 2:46). It's good to engage with the younger generation and be listeners like Jesus.
Recently, I felt a prompting of the Holy Spirit to sit down and listen to observations and insights my daughter could offer regarding young people in these turbulent times. She has the calling of an evangelist on her life. Weeks ago, she addressed a women's conference in Nashville, where she spoke on reaching the lost.
For decades she has followed the biblical counsel for singles to pursue "serv[ing] the Lord without distraction" (1 Cor. 7:35b). Not long ago, God placed her in a relationship with a wonderful Christian fellow who recently transitioned here with his 82-year-old father and brother from California.
Melanie has a truckload of experience with young people. For seven years she was on staff with Michael W. Smith's "Rocketown" outreach in downtown Nashville. She traveled to different parts of the globe serving with Youth With a Mission and engaged with multitudes of hurting, broken young people on the multicity "Warp Tour."
Her boyfriend, Jimmy, was involved in outreach, utilizing his artistic gifting in rap and rock music. They make a great team and are simply trusting God to make clear His perfect will for their lives.
Up Close and Personal Podcasts
Rather than me trying to capture their thoughts and hearts in print, I'd like to offer you the listening experience of the four 12-minute podcasts embedded in this commentary. If you're a parent, pastor, youth leader or simply a person who has a heart for young people, sit back and let God minister to you through what they share in these recordings. Hear their heart for young people!
Here's the Deal: Scripture tells us that "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6b). So in the middle of an incredible battle for the youth for whom Christ died, let's follow His lead to gain both His heart for the young generation and the creative ways He wants to effectively reach them.
"Your people will follow you in the day of your battle; on the holy mountains at dawn of the morning, the dew of your youth belongs to you" (Ps. 110:3).
Larry Tomczak is a cultural commentator of 46 yrs, Intercessors for America board member, best-selling author and a public policy adviser with Liberty Counsel. His new, innovative video/book, BULLSEYE, develops informed influencers in 30 days (see www.bullseyechallenge.com). and he has a variety of resources on his website (see www.larrytomczak.com). You can also hear his weekly podcast here.
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