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Half of all Christian students will walk away from their faith in college. How can your church confront that statistic and help teens establish a deep faith before stepping on campus?
As young people from your church graduate high school, how they develop in the years that follow will determine not only their destiny, but also the destiny of the American church. Pastors enjoy a certain delight and privilege in helping to guide the lives of the families that look to their wisdom and spiritual leadership for navigating the tumultuous waters of life.
This is especially true as many parents enter the minefield of determining a course of direction for their recent high school graduates. Since these early years are so important, we must be very careful to help parents set up their young adults for success, no matter how unconventional the approach may be.
In a world that has become so wrapped up in social media like Facebook, Instagram and avatars, has the live event lost it place? Has the “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves” become relegated to a computer screen or a smartphone (Heb. 10:25)?
I recently watched a group of young girls sitting at the same table in the food court of a trendy mall and laughing. Though there’s nothing unusual about that, what caught my attention was that they weren’t talking to each other; they were feverishly texting back and forth. Their laughter wasn’t a result of what they were saying to each other, but rather what they were texting to each other. In our digital age, have we lost even our most fundamental art of conversation?
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!
Emma grew up in a small town her whole life. She dated and had a steady boyfriend for two years, until he succumbed to the ribbing of his football teammates and tried drugs for the first time. After learning of his new found habit, Emma’s parents forbid her to see him. But after spending most of her time with him and his friends for the previous two years, she never really found a place to belong again. The local churches’ youth groups were nonexistent; her sister had her own friends, and failed attempts to make the school’s sports teams left her feeling rejected. At home, she often saw and heard her parents fighting about money and didn’t get the attention she wanted from a distracted mom consumed with trying to keep her marriage together.
I’ve learned that relating to students is more about what you do than who you are. I wrote a post a while ago called “The Bs to Being a Great Youth Leader,” and it was about clearing up the misconceptions of what a youth leader has to be in order to relate to students. I believe the misconceptions of who a youth leader has to be cheapens youth ministry in general.
I believe the focus of a youth minister should be on what they do and not on who they are. Because I believe youth ministry is mostly about relationships, the fact that God created us to be in relationship with Him plays a huge part in that idea. Jesus was a walking relational powerhouse.
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.
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