Jack Wyrtzen, the founder of the ministry for which I work, often asked this question when he preached. Growing up with a father in youth ministry, I always assumed ministering to young people was normal; everyone did that, didn’t they? That was part of the core DNA of any ministry: the next generation. As I’ve grown and become actively involved in differing ministries, I can’t help but notice an absence of young people not only sitting in our pews, but also involved in life-changing discipleship in our churches. It begs the question: have we, as believers, lost sight of this goal? Does ministering to this next generation seem like a lost cause because their hearts are so hard from the World’s influence? Or maybe we have forgotten how to minister to them? How do we reach this next generation for Christ?
1. Talk to them! Don’t just assume that they are immune to the effects of the world.
This next generation is becoming exposed to adult content at a younger age than ever before, and it’s not just public schools. This is the world in which this generation has to live, and we must prepare them to do so successfully and not assume they’re okay because they seem like “good Christian” kids. We do this by actively building a relationship with them, talking to them about real issues. We put the iPhones and iPads down, get off Facebook, and interact with the next generation. So they don’t choose to reveal their secrets to a stranger, but to a trusted guide.
2. Show them the difference between acceptance and approval.
There is a big difference between acceptance and approval, but so often our world confuses the two. In their minds, if you don’t approve of their choices, you’re rejecting them because their identity is wrapped up in the decisions that they make. But we must teach this generation that God alone has the right to define them (Gen 2; Eph 1), and there is a difference between acceptance and approval. Although we accept them because we love and care for them, we do not approve of the actions that they may take. When your teenager admits to doing something, remind them that you are for them, you want them to be successful in life, and you accept them always; but you cannot approve of the choices that they are making, because there is a difference between acceptance and approval.
3. Give them love with leadership.
No one did this better than Jesus Christ! When dealing with the woman caught in the act of adultery, first he loved her and then he led her (John 8:1 – 11). Titus 2 talks about how the older generation should protect, love and lead this next generation in the way they should go by example for the sake of the Gospel. What are we doing to fulfill this?
4. Don’t give up on them.
Tenacity is key when working with this next generation. We must be more stubborn about their growth than they are about their own way. Paul encourages us in Galatians 6:9 not to give up! This next generation needs us to not give up on them. We must teach them, guide them, but most importantly, we need to pray for them. We can’t afford to give up on these tasks.
This next generation may seem like it’s chocked full of its challenges; and they are. But they aren’t without hope, because they aren’t without an older generation to teach them.
How are YOU reaching the next generation for Christ?
Sarah Bubar is coauthor of Radical Dating: When God Takes Over Your Love Life. She blogs at Unlocking Femininity.