Why Teen Mania’s Ron Luce is compelled to engage America’s next generations like never before
I recently wrote a heartfelt letter to someone very close to me. She’s 18, fresh out of high school and over the years has lost her way. She grew up in a normal home with parents who love her, and she never had any real problems at school. But somehow she faded away, slowly and quietly.
Looking back, I realize now that while home was a safe place, it never offered a solid foundation. Values weren’t instilled, and church was more of an occasional event she was forced to attend rather than a community in which she freely participated and found acceptance. Rarely, if ever, was she in a life-giving place that facilitated God conversations or where she built relationships with youth leaders.
Our guest editor for this issue, Ron Luce, knows this scenario too well. As co-founder (with wife Katie) and leader of Garden Valley, Texas-based Teen Mania Ministries, Luce spends his time engaging today’s teens with the gospel, partnering with thousands of churches nationwide through the ministry’s Acquire the Fire youth events. For the past 27 years at these weekend events, Luce has stood face to face with more than 2.7 million teens to bring them a relatable and gospel-filled message. As a result, he’s very much aware of the “slow fade” happening among emerging generations, both churched and unchurched. Throughout this issue, Luce offers a prophetic message and challenge to church leaders, reminding us that, “it’s going to take all hands on deck to see a turnaround in this generation.”
Luce knows firsthand the power of a church and its leaders focused on youth. Raised by his mother in a broken home, at age 15 he ran away and began using drugs and alcohol. A year later, at rock bottom, he went with a friend to church. The church’s youth pastor reached out to him, and the senior pastor “drew me to the deeper things in Christ,” Luce says. Ultimately, after discovering that Ron had been kicked out of his house because of his faith, the pastor invited him to live with him and his family during Luce’s senior year of high school.
“This man took a risk on behalf of the younger generation,” Luce says. “Since then, Christ has inspired and compelled me to love people the way He loves them, and I’ve realized that the whole point of my life is to point a younger generation toward Him.”
However, Luce didn’t start out with a vision to have an international ministry. “I didn’t really want to start a ministry,” he says. “I just wanted to preach and get young people saved and go on mission trips around the world. When God gives a dream and the tools to pull it off, He will bless it.”
To date, Teen Mania has sent more than 70,000 teens on mission trips with its Global Expeditions arm (see p. 42), and more than 6,000 have participated in the Honor Academy, a yearlong internship for high school graduates and young adults providing leadership opportunities and opportunities to grow in God (see p. 34). Since its inception, hundreds of thousands of teens have accepted Christ through Teen Mania programs.
In his cover story (p. 16), Luce offers practical counsel for real issues, such as equipping teens to speak intelligently and confidently about their beliefs in a culture where absolute truth is mocked and social media offers constant distraction. In light of these issues, Luce identifies two essential questions church leaders should be asking: What are the most poignant challenges to reaching an ever-changing group? As leaders of Jesus’ church, how do we confront those challenges?
I thought a great deal about my young friend as I read through the articles in this issue, about how potentially life-changing it would have been if a local church leader had taken a risk on her like Ron Luce’s pastor did for him. I pray this issue challenges and inspires you to take similar steps for a fading generation.
In John 21, Jesus referred to youth “engagement” as “feeding the lambs.” Notice that, of the three different references to taking care of His flock, Jesus told Peter to feed and take care of the sheep two times, but He specifically called out the lambs. It’s as if He was telling Peter, “Don’t forget the young ones!” One-third of his exhortation was aimed at the lambs!
Two years ago, I sat in on a breakout session led by Joy Bowen at Orange Conference 2011. Within the first five minutes she used the word ‘copious.’
I was hooked.
Joy’s topic focused on mobilizing kids and youth to lead in the context of the weekend worship services. And her first point of business was to ask:
What’s the difference between a student leader & a student helper?
This is a topic that freaked me out my first year in youth ministry. As a young parent myself, it’s not easy telling grown ups how to deal with their children.
So, it took me a while to really get to a place where I was comfortable with talking to parents. I’m sure I’m not alone in this area. I thought I’d list some principles that I’m learning along the way that has helped me navigate dealing with parents.
Know your role to parents. We are support to parents first and foremost. Let them take the lead. My value is in being another voice for the student to hear the same message that their parents give. It may sound different and even be presented differently, but it should be the same message—unless, of course, the message is contrary to God’s word.
I love the community that has formed on my blog. There are several people who are regular commenters; they have become a part of my blog's family, and I feel like I know them.
Some of them come to the blog in affirmation of what I have written. I am always grateful for such encouragement. But some visitors disagree with me. I gladly post their comments for two reasons. First, I want to be fair to all who take time to read my blog. Second, I am wrong some of the time and I need to be corrected.
How This Story Began
Sometimes, however, people come to my blog hurting deeply. They need a place where they can be heard, and they need a place where they can share your pain without fear of retribution. That is why I allow them to comment in anonymity if they so desire. My only requirement is that they enter their legitimate email address in case we need to confirm that they're not hiding behind a fake address. But we will never publish email addresses.
Being a leader is not easy. Not by a long shot. In fact, with all of the hard work and criticism we face, sometimes it can feel like a lonely, thankless job. At the same time, we were never made to go this alone.
Here are eight relationships you can’t live without as a leader:
1. Mentor. Having someone who believes in you and cares deeply for your life as a whole is vital to your success as a leader. I can’t imagine my life without the mentors God has given me. If you don’t have a mentor, don’t wait for one to come to you. Seek one out.
Look for someone who is a believer in others and will take time for you and look to your interests.