Let Faith—and Youth—Arise!
This week, I listened to a message that attempted to convey one solution to the dechurching problem: our youth. Yes, the generation that is rising with the most discouraging statistic yet, being the first generation in American history that is largely unchurched, might also be the church's best hope for the future.
Dr. Richard Ross is the senior professor of student ministry at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and the author of 20 books on youth ministry. In his message, he references Jonathan Edwards, the great preacher of the First Great Awakening, who observed, "And indeed, it has commonly been so, when God has begun any great work for the revival of the church, he has taken the young people and has cast off the old and the stiff-necked generation." Youth have been integral to revivals throughout American church history.
Dr. Ross asks us therefore to consider, "Wouldn't it be just like Jesus to raise up an anxious and depressed generation to spark a revival?" Wow. This question really hit me. The modern challenges to our youth are real, as is the declining membership in our pews. But what if these things were an opportunity for Christ rather than an endpoint?
Taking that hope-filled direction, what do we need to do to turn things around?
The answer is two-fold. First, the church needs to better engage our youth.
Dr. Ross believes two changes can help the church. For one, intergenerational worship is key to seeing engagement and change in the pews. The churches that do not engage the next generation and attempt to simply hang on will not survive. Also, giving youth key ministry jobs now rather than just when they are older is important too. If the church fails to use children's gifts and invite youth to serve when they are within the walls of the church, then what will inspire them to come back and utilize their gifts down the road?
Second, families need to better engage Christ and model it to their children.
Dr. Ross is adamant that the most effective witness to children is their parents. For youth to lead a revival, they need parents who can disciple them and who are discipled themselves. What does discipled mean? It means reading the Bible, and prioritizing worship and faith conversations. Dr. Ross shares some tough words. He notes, "Parents can't pass on what they have not received...Here's what the research says. Lost parents usually rear children who become lost adults. Discipled parents usually rear children who become discipled adults. Spiritually shallow parents rear children who walk away from the faith."
As a mom of three boys, I know the pulls that keep us from prioritizing faith are real. But as a pastor, I don't want any of us to give away the incredible power we have to shape our children's lives through faith. Nothing is worth it.
In the end, the goal is a revival of the church, but it's also a revival of the soul. It's so easy to live with full schedules and thin souls these days. And the result is a small Jesus. Dr. Ross believes that Jesus today for many is pocket-sized and simply pulled out upon occasion for quick fixes—this is instead of Jesus' true potential and identity as central to our faith and existence as our Best Friend and the Lord of our Lives.
The revival that's needed today, Dr. Ross argues, is a reclaiming of the person and divinity of Jesus Christ. "To see a young generation awakened to Christ, we need to see the entire church awakened to Christ." And while Dr. Ross asserts that "only God can make the winds of revival blow," I certainly feel them stirring.
Do you want to be a part?
Thank you to David Bryant for pointing me to Dr. Ross' message through his ministry to reclaim Christ called ChristNow.com. I am inspired by David's friendship, distinguished and faithful service to Christ and his heart to touch many for him.