Can We Change a Generation?
My journey to touch this generation began in 2003 when my father asked me to take over our church's upstart youth ministry. I was an associate pastor, and frankly, I wasn't sure if I wanted the headache of dealing with the "young 'uns." I'd heard the sobering statistics about today's teensÑfrom their unique struggles to their media-immersed culture to their apparent apathy for the church. But as I prayed about this new assignment, the Lord began to supernaturally place His heart for this generation into my heart. In the midst of weeping and sobbing, I had a revelation from the Spirit.
This generation is simply a byproduct of the previous one. In the end, the plight of all teens in our nation falls upon their common inability to intimately know the Lord and find their God-given destinies. It's no wonder why this is: Absent, abusive and anonymous fathers have shaped a generation that doesn't know the true love of a heavenly Father who gave His all to save them. Fatherless and directionless, they wander aimlessly through this short life, thinking they evolved from animals and will someday return to the earthÑperiod.
No matter how bad statistics paint the picture, many of us are reluctant to get off our "blessed assurance" and into the harvest fields. Yet in that moment of divine inspiration, I realized something had to be done. I came from a megachurch with an arcade-and-gymnasium approach to youth ministry, yet I knew this wasn't the answer. Playing Mortal Kombat at church instead of at home was not what these ailing teens were looking for. What they needed was a solid, old-fashioned dose of the gospel in action. Real repentance, true deliverance, continued sanctification and long-term discipleship forged the early church, and it seemed to me to be the blueprint for turning any generation or people toward the life-giving ways of the gospel.
The only question was, How does this look in modern-day youth ministry when we have to compete with Hollywood, school academics, soccer practice and a plethora of other distractions? Could a youth ministry really be built on the Word of God, prayer, evangelism and the tenets of the greatest faith in the world? Somehow I was able to answer that question with a resounding "Yes!" As simplistic as it sounds, I believed it could be done. And today, more emphatically than ever, I still believe that a ministry can be built with little or no budget and little or no staffÑif one person will seek God and become contagious in his beliefs.
Coming With Authority and Power
After receiving a renewed vision for the young generation, my course was set and my task became simpleÑalbeit in theory, not in implementation. I was to create an environment that would harness the gospel, in all its power, to hard work and prayer, thus forming an atmosphere so radical that young people would find something to die for, as well as something to live for.
Within the first few months, I discovered two realities that helped shape my approach to establishing an environment where the Holy Spirit could move freely among teens. The first was the need for true authority in youth ministryÑnot approaching the kids as buddies or trying to win them over as friends, but standing in the role of a father figure who brings order, discipline and affirmation to their lives.
This authority is spoken of repeatedly in the Gospels and demonstrated in Mark 1:27: "Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ...What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.'" Traditional youth ministry tries to win over kids by being their buddy; I wanted to be a beacon of light and stability in their confused, despondent worlds. That began with authority.
A second great truth that soon became evident to me was the need for true deliverance. There is no way to counsel a young man out of lust, and there is no way to heal a young lady of the deep wounds of molestation, apart from the delivering power of the Holy Spirit. If we hope to ever go beyond the cycle of teens getting saved once a year at camp and then six weeks later being worse off than before, we as leaders must go deeper into the lives of young people. A once-a-week hour of fun and games with a spiritual emphasis is simply not enough!
Something radical, something drastic, something that reeked of New Testament power was being birthed in my spirit. Although there was no precedent for it, the Holy Spirit kept showing me that this was the path I was to travel and that down this road were discoveries to transform a generation and return them to the hands of a loving God.
Expanding the Harvest Field
My next discovery led to something so explosive that it was almost scary to see the results. About 600 kids a week were attending our youth ministry at that time, and all was good. I was doing everything--and I mean everything--while the joy of God's movement among us sustained me. My heart, however, began to cry out for thousands. This wasn't a numbers game but an earnest desire to see God's glory change the lives of as many youth as possible.
The Lord then showed me that Jesus was at the same place in Matthew 9:35-36. He was having phenomenal success as a teacher, preacher and healer, yet He had great pity on the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Verse 36 says He "was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered." Wait a minuteÑJesus was the greatest teacher, preacher and healer in history, yet there was more that His heart longed to see? This was a great revelation to me.
The Lord said to me, "Pray for laborers to be birthed into the harvest fields." This showed me the need for a leadership team that could assist me in bringing in and holding the harvestÑnot security guards, bag carriers and light operators, but sanctified, mature leaders completely focused on the harvest. These leaders would become my focus as a pastor, and as I pastored them effectively, they would help me to pastor thousands of hurting young people, just as if they were getting direct attention from me.
Like Moses in the book of Numbers, I could take some of the Spirit that was upon me and impart it to them for the work that was too great for me to do alone: "The Lord said to Moses: ...Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them. ... I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone'" (Num. 11:16-17).
This task, though simple in concept, was a huge undertaking in reality. This leadership base would be a volunteer workforce formed to do what we have all been called and commissioned to do. It would be primarily made up of my oldest and most mature leaders and would then develop into many layers (or "generations") of leaders.
The resulting leadership team is now responsible for discipling nearly 7,000 students weekly and has a vision to do so for up to 20,000 students. An amazing workforce has been forged from teens who have experienced the power of the gospel to change their lives and release them to a higher purpose.
God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all we could ask or think, even without the traditional resources that many have claimed necessary. God's heart is on fire with passion for this generation of youth. Our mandate as pastors, youth pastors and leaders is to focus on this generation that so badly needs our attention. If not us, then who? If not now, then when? Embrace the passion of Jesus for this lost and hurting generation, and watch God birth through you a radical teen army of disciples who are ready to take the world for Jesus. As Psalm 102:18 declares, "This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord."