God is interested in young people. And, in my ministry I work with young people between the ages of 16 to 36 everywhere that I go. In fact, many of the team members now coming with me on overseas trips are in their late teens and early twenties. They are an amazing asset to the ministry and I enjoy working with them immensely.
Young people today are looking for acceptance in the Church. Often they don’t feel accepted because they are treated as “kids.” Teenagers today are much more mature and wise in the ways of the world than previous generations. They see life and engage with life at a level that previous generations never did and, in many ways, still don’t. They are looking for meaning, purpose, and something to invest their lives in. And, the Church needs to notice them, work to understand them, and integrate them into the life and finer of the Church in a meaningful and challenging way.
God has always interacted with young people … and there are many examples of this in the Scriptures. A few include:
Joseph (the guy with the coat of many colours) who received two prophetic visions or dreams of his future role for God. He became a leader in Egypt and saved his people from starvation.
Joshua was just a young man when first chosen by Moses to be discipled and mentored and eventually released to lead God’s people into the Promised Land after the death of Moses.
Daniel was used by God as a teenager in the Babylonian Empire as he interpreted the dreams of the ruler and as he received many visions regarding the end times – viewed now on the same level as John the apostle’s Book of Revelation.
Jeremiah was chosen before he was conceived in his mother’s womb and became a prophet while still very young – a teenager. God even had to remind him, “Do not say, I am only a youth…” (Jeremiah 1:7a)
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was in her middle teens when she became pregnant through the work of the Holy Spirit. She was used mightily by the Lord and was a vital part of the early Church.
Timothy was a young man discipled and mentored by Paul and he became an apostle and did some amazing work in the city of Ephesus and elsewhere in his early years of life.
The list could go on … but, my point is that God used and uses young people and we need to not neglect the amazing asset that young people are in the Church today.
And, the young people need to not let the Church and church leaders just brush them off, ignore them, entertain them, or keep them from being a part of the ministry and the leadership of the Church. Young people need to stand up and be noticed.
Paul’s comment to Timothy bears repeating: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Last time we looked at how often God touched the lives of young people and worked through them in amazing ways. Many of our favourite Bible characters were young men and women in their mid to late teens or early twenties. God has always been interested in the young generation and has often worked through them to bring about major changes in the Kingdom and in the world.
There are many amazing characteristics that exist among the younger generation that God uses to impact others. Today’s young people are no exception. The Millennial generation as they are known has a number of well-recognized characteristics…
Let’s look at the major characteristics of the younger generation today so that we can come to understand them a bit better …
Have always been treated as special and important. This generation of children has been the most wanted. Every milestone was marked with celebrations and praise. They may carry a sense of entitlement about them and have an expectation of frequent positive feedback. It’s been instilled in them that they are vital to the nation and to their parents’ sense of purpose. They feel they are here to solve world problems that older generations have failed to solve. They may claim they want privacy, but they crave attention.
Highly protected as children. Grew up in a time of increasing safety measures (car seats, baby on board signs, school lockdowns). They were rarely left unsupervised. They were sheltered from having to take care of their own conflicts as parents advocated on their behalf, and “spared” them from unpleasant experiences. As college students, they may expect faculty and staff to shelter, protect, and nurture them – and resolve their conflicts for them. Millennials are the focus of the most sweeping youth safety movement in history.
They are motivated, goal-oriented, and confident in themselves and the future. They expect college to help launch them to greatness. They may brag about their generation’s power and potential. They have high levels of optimism and they feel connected to their parents. They are assertive and believe they are “right”. They are often known, in my nation, as the “Sunshine Generation.”
They are group oriented rather than being individualists. They may sacrifice their own identity to be part of the team. They prefer egalitarian leadership, not hierarchies. They are forming a tight-knit generation. While they are group-oriented within their own cohort, they may “politely” exclude other generations. They do not want to stand out among their peers, they want to be seen as part of the group. They dislike selfishness and are oriented toward service, learning, and volunteerism.
Grade points are rising with this generation and crime is falling. The focus on getting good grades, hard work, involvement in extracurricular activities, etc. is resulting in higher achievement levels. They see college as the key to a high paying job and success, and may miss the bigger picture of what a college education is all about. They are pressured to decide early on a career – and have been put on a career track orientation since grade school. Their focus is more on the world of achievement rather than personal development. The Boomer generation (born before 1964) made their mark in the humanities and arts, whereas the Millennials prefer1math and science fields.
Tightly scheduled as children and used to having every hour of their day filled with structured activity. This generation may have lost a sense of pure spontaneous play. They may struggle with handling free time and time management in general. In elementary, middle, and high school, have had more hours of homework and less free time than any of the previous generations. They feel pressured to succeed. They’ve been pushed hard to achieve, to avoid risks, and to take advantage of opportunities. They may take on too much, and then think others should be flexible with them when they want to negotiate scheduling conflicts. They think multi-tasking saves time and is a smart thing to do, but aren’t usually aware of the poorer quality of results.
Respectful to the point of not questioning authority. They are civic-minded and believe the government knows what’s best and will take care of them. They fear being considered non-conformist. Their clothing, music, and cultural markings will be very mainstream. They value their parents’ opinions very highly. They support and believe in social rules, and are more in line with their parents’ values than most other generations have been. They are trying to invite rules and norms back into the culture.
A reminded: We are looking at the major characteristics of the youth today. We need to understand how the young people today see their world and interact with it. As the Church tries to reach them with the Gospel we need to recognize that the message does not change but the methods we use to reach those who don’t know Jesus must change. And, often we cannot know the changes we need to make unless we first come to understand the mindset of the youth we are attempting to reach.
The Millennial generation, as they are known, are an amazing and large segment of the world’s population today. And, before we broke for the summer and early fall, we saw that there are many amazing characteristics of this generation what we need to come and understand…
So far we have looked at the following:
- They are sheltered
- The are special (entitled, narcissistic)
- They are confident
- They are team-oriented
- They are conventional
- They are pressured
- They are achieving
This generation is very familiar and very dependent on the technology that allows them to have instant communications with others. This includes, Facebook, Instagram, text messaging, and other social apps. They no longer rely on the standard television and radio media for their news as the older generation does. They are into digital technology and it impacts the way they receive information as well as the way they relate to the world around the.
They are liberal in their approach to politics and economics. They also have a higher level of unemployment than other generations before them due to the Great Recession. And, they approach social change in a way that has been called “pragmatic idealism” and want to be involved in changing society and basic social values.
There are three other characteristics to add to our summary list above…
The young people today are very open and tolerant of most things in life. A good example, they are accepting and open about homosexuality. Even those that consider themselves to be believers see nothing wrong with being attracted to people of the same sex. They see this as a personal choice and thus not wrong, though different from their own lifestyle. Thus, they are viewed as tolerant and accepting.
This generation is very defensive of their life style and are often not open to others seeking into their lives. They are somewhat self-contained and thus not looking for constructive advice or input. They have a very independent spirit and simply prefer to live life the way they choose and have the values that others in their peer group hold to. So, they are defensive of their life-style.
The Millennial generation, compared to past generations, is considered to be affluent. They have the financial means to do almost anything that they want to. They are world travellers and spend a large potion of their income on non-essentials. They farewell educated and thus often well paid in their chosen professions. They are less concerned with some of the basics like owning a house and more focused on building relationships and experiencing new places and making new friends in the nations of the world.
In this generation the youth have a great number of positive attributes or characteristics that are amazing and can be harnessed to further the Kingdom of God and the Gospel.
These are characteristics of the majority of young people today – include the Millennial generation. These are not limited to born again youth…
1> Passion for the Kingdom and the King, Jesus
2> Enthusiasm – the root of the word is “en” and “Theos” or “in God”
3> Vision – and they do grasp the vision of the Kingdom and its expansion into all the world
4> Determination – they buy in and stay determined to see things completed
5> Purpose – they are looking for and hungry for purpose in their lives
6> Commitment – they have a sense of deep commitment to what they believe in
7> Kingdom–minded – they are focused on the Kingdom and not on the Church
In fact, they may not even be involved in a local church as they see it as pointless
8> Knowledge – they are looking for experiential knowledge and not just academic wisdom
9> Relationships – they look for and maintain long-term relationships and relational networks
10> A sense of adventure the drives them into new ventures and new relationships
They also, if they are believers, have three added key characteristics … assurance, confidence, and boldness. Let me explain these briefly.
Most young people who are born again and Spirit-filled (Baptized in the Holy Spirit) have a deep assurance of the love of God… the love that God, their heavenly Father, have for them personally. John, the beloved apostle, wrote:
“I write these things to you whop believe in the Name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life”
“Eternal life” here is defined as having a personal, intimate, love relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ whom He sent.” (John 17:3)
The young believers today have this deep assurance and, because they do, they live with a fresh confidence in God and thus a confidence in what God is wanting to accomplish in and through them. 1 John 5:14 goes on to state: “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him…”
Because of this assurance and resulting confidence the youth of today who are believers walk in a supernatural boldness that has not been seen in many of the previous generations.
As we continue our look at the youth of today, let’s now take a brief look at what the younger generations are looking for today. Not what they are looking for in life specifically, but what they are looking for in the Church. They have very specific expectations regarding any local church that they would be willing to join and be seriously committed to. They are not looking for a feel good social club or a place to learn more information about God. They are wanting to experience God and encounter the supernatural. In light of this broad picture they are looking to the Church and to leaders of the Church for:
1> Challenge – Young people today are not looking for comfort, safety, or security. They are looking for a challenge. This means a cause worthy of them investing their time, effort, and their money. They want to be involved in and give their life for something significant. They want their life to count for something and for the world to be different because they were on the planet.
2> Change – Young people are very open to change, even constant change. Not change for the sake of change. However, if the change being considered benefits those involved and moves the project or church forward they will invest in the change and willingly go with it even when there is no guarantee that the change will bring increased success. They are not looking for guarantees. They see much that needs to change in the church today to allow it to be more relevant and have greater impact. And, they are willing to initiate change and work to see new things established and new ways of accomplishing things embedded in the DNA of the organization.
3> Relevance – Young people question everything that goes on in a local church to see if it is relevant. Yes, the Word of God is always relevant. But, the way it is presented, taught, and studied often is outdated and antiquated thus rendering the Word irrelevant. Methods of teaching; ways of presenting the Gospel of the Kingdom; formats for the service and worship; and the way that believers interact with the Word (discussion verses lecture) … must change so that the total experience is relevant to the youth of today. They are looking for relevance.
4> Reality – Does what we are doing in church and through the church have a sense of reality about it? Or are we simply going through some age-old motion without feeling and with no connection to the daily reality being faced in the world of the youth today? Church must bring about life transformation for the youth of today or else they will look elsewhere for their understanding and perception of the world and their worldview.
5> Experience – Young people want to experience God not just hear about Him or receive an education regarding Him. They are not interested in more information. They want to experience God and then take that experience into their world so that others will also encounter the love that God has for each and every individual.
6> Transparency – Young people are wanting leaders who are transparent and live life “down to earth.” They want their leaders to be honest about their struggles and their doubts. They want a ‘real life’ leader and not someone who is “up there” preaching at them. They desire real life leaders who will walk with them and lead and teach as they do.
7> Integrity – Young people today can spot a phoney a mile away. They want to see that in their leader’s life their walk and their talk line up. In other words, they live what they state they believe. There is no disconnect between what they preach and teach and how they live and treat people. They are not looking for perfect leaders – just real ones who will admit that they too struggle and have issues in life and ministry.
8> Vulnerability – Leaders in a local church need to live life in such a way that they are vulnerable. People can see the good, the bad, and the ugly. They are not hiding their real person and simply ministering from a professional persona. They want a leader whose life is open and real.
9> Experience – Youth are looking for experience. They are not interested in simply sitting and absorbing information. They want to take what they know and move out ministering to those who do not know Jesus. They need leaders who will disciple, train, equip, and mentor them. And, allow them to be part of ministry teams that, on a regular basis, “go into all the world to make disciples.”
10> Supernatural – Young people want to experience and walk in the supernatural They are wanting to flow in the power of God that is available today through the experience called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. They are well aware that many Christians and their leaders are not walking in the supernatural but are simply spooky, spectacular, or super-spiritual. They want only the real experience and are not interested in the hype or the counterfeit.
Youth today are fleeing the church in large numbers in many of the nations of the world. They are looking for a quality of spiritual life, a sense of community, and leadership that has a vision and is willing to include the them in the journey to fulfilling that vision.
In general, the youth of today are looking for …
Let’s look at the last two and then move on to what the youth today need.
11> Life – This is the “it” factor. People, believers and non-believers, know when “it” is there and they are also deeply aware of when “it” is not there. “It” is the Holy Spirit and the very life and nature of God – His presence, His peace, His power. Young people today are looking for this life and will become committed to any group where this is found on a regular basis.
John 1:4 states, “In Jesus was life, and the life was the light of men.” Jesus is not the “light.” It is the very ‘life’ of God in Jesus that was the light. And this ‘life’ draws people to Him and to His Bridge, the Church. And, then, as the youth receive this ‘life’ they too become the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).
Young people will not make a committed to a church where life is not available. They will make a deep and permanent commitment to an assembly where ‘life’ is active and can be experienced weekly.
12> Leaders who will not judge or condemn their beliefs or lifestyle. But leaders who will seek to understand them, accept them, and invest in them. Young people are looking for believers who will love, accept, and forgive them. After all, this is what Jesus did to all those who responded to His message … He loved them unconditionally; accepted them just as they were; and forgave them when they hurt Him. Young people today are looking for nothing less than this complete package. And, they can tell when these ‘life’ factors are not present.
What is it that the youth need today – even when they are often personally not aware of the need? Let’s start our look at this area…
1> Wisdom. The young people today are missing the wisdom that can come with age and experience. So, they are in need of wiser, more experienced, older believers to disciple and mentor them as they grow into strong, mature, and reproducing believers.
Although “discipleship” is a hot topic in the Church today there are still few mature believers who are taking the time and making the effort to find and disciple younger believers. And, true, committed mentors for the youth of today are almost non-existent. So, there is a need for older and wiser believers to rise up and begin to share both their learned knowledge and the wisdom that comes with having lived life. Young people will respond if you reach out to them.
So, the first thing that they need is “wisdom” that comes both from what we have learned of God’s Word and His ways but also simple “Life wisdom” that comes from being older and having lived life and examined life as we lived it. An ancient philosopher once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” So, the youth today are looking for wisdom that arises out of a life well lived and examined. So, they need others to disciple and mentor them.
Youth also need …
2> To be equipped. The Bible states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If we remove all the phrases from these two verses we end up with: “All Scripture is given by God that the person of God would be complete and equipped.”
The word “complete” means to be more and more like Jesus. So, as we read and study the Word of God we become more like the Author. And the word “equipped” means trained to do what Jesus did. And, Jesus Himself said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)
The youth of today need to be equipped – taught about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, the power of God, the nine supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, and how to be a witness (see: Acts 1:5, 8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11).
3> The youth also need to learn how to listen, to learn, and to grow. They have a need to recognize that older is often wiser. Thus, they need to be taught to speak less and listen more. In my experience, the youth of today speak too quickly and often in the midst of older people who have much wisdom to share. In one case a young man who just turned 18 consistently said, “In my experience…” while ministering as a member of a team to people who had been Christians for three to four times longer than he had been alive.
Older mentors need to speak to the youth of today and explain the need to listen and learn from those who are older and wiser in the faith. Their enthusiasm often lead them to speak too quickly and in situations where they would benefit greatly by listening.
4> Young believers today also need to be taught to be patient with older Christians who do not see life as they see and experience it. They need to be patient with those who really have not taken the time to understand young people, their values, their beliefs, and they lifestyle. They need to learn not to view older believers who hold to different values and live a different lifestyle as the enemy. They are not! They are simply another generation who see and experience life and even the Christian faith differently than they do.
Let’s review: We have been looking at what the young people today need from those who are older and wiser in the Church today … We saw:
1> Wisdom that comes from study and having lived life as a believer
2> To be equipped to move supernaturally
3> To learn to listen and learn from others
4> To be patient with others who express their faith differently
5> Youth today also need a mentor to help them and invest into their lives. This means an older Christian who will walk with them through regular, every day life. An older disciple who will share life with them. This means travelling with the mentor so that they can learn from them and see how the mentor lives life and intertwines life and ministry into an integrated whole. Young people need a mentor who will take them on vacation, invite them to their home, work with them in the office, and minister with them as part of a team. Then they see the calling of God as a whole and not just a piece here and a piece there.
This mentor will give their “disciple” an opportunity for hands-on learning of ministry skills. The mentor will be open with his or her life – talking about the ups and downs; the good, the bad, and the ugly. They will let you see life and ministry where the rubber hits the road. And, they will allow their life to be an open book with those who they are mentoring.
All they ask in return is that they be treated with dignity and respect and never taken for granted.
An example: I recently was asked if a young man I am discipling / mentoring could come and spend three days with me. After due consideration I decided to say no. It seemed a waste of his time as those specific three days would see me glued to a computer screen with no ministry opportunities outside my office. And, the limited free time needed to be invested in personal time with several of my daughters. There were many things needing to be accomplished but nothing that would help or equip the young man. Even an opportunity to simply share life was not there due to the deadlines of there things needing my attention in the office / study. So, I wrote and told him it would not work this time around. Never heard back from him.
A text or an email saying, “Thanks for considering the idea” or “I appreciate your willingness to entertain the idea” or “Hope it work out next time I have some free time to join you.” Some indication that I, the mentor, and my time, was not being taken for granted and that was interaction with them was valued … this is what I mean by being treated with dignity and respect.
As we continue our look at the “youth today” – some warning to the youth. Things they need to be cautious about…
1> Don’t give up on the “Church.” First, it has been founded and established by Jesus, whom we love and serve. Secondly, He is returning one day for His Church and so we need to be a part of a local church. Thirdly, according to 1 Corinthians 12 every believer needs to be a member of the Body – a local church – connected to others in the local church relationally in such a way that you are engaged with the life of the body. And, never forget, Jesus is able to bring change to His Church through you, the young people.
So, find a church that believes the Bible and teaching the Scriptures and become a member. You can be God’s instrument to bring change to His Church – changing it from the inside out. You can be leaven in then loaf. So, become involved and embrace the life of the local church and do your part to bring the needed changes. And, don’t give up when disappointed or hurt. Deal with the issues and grow.
If there is not a Bible-believing church in your area. Great! Start one.
2> Guard your heart against the spirit of tradition and the spirit of religion. Both can defeat any semblance of life and vitality in a local church regardless of the size of the assembly. And, can defeat life in the walk of the believer. God is clearly cleaning house – His house, the Church – and shaking everything that is wrongly connected to religion and tradition. Listen to the author of Hebrews as he writes,
“So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words. If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time— he’s told us this quite plainly—he’ll also rock the heavens: “One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.” The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.” (Hebrews 12:25-27 The Message Version)
3> Don’t like the world influence you and squeeze you into its mould. Romans 12:1-2 states, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
And, may I add, don’t let the Church squeeze you into its image either. Be yourself because God created you to be unique. This leads me right into the next, and last, point.
4> Be the best you that you can be. This means you need to discover who you are “in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). As you begin the journey to discover who you really are “in Christ” there are some things to remember:
A> Remove the baggage you are carrying – the hurt, the unforgiveness, the bitterness, even any resentment.
B> Remove all cultural, generational, and religious baggage that you are carrying. Ask God to show you what needs to be removed and how to become free of all that hinders you as you take a good and honest look at who you are, how you got to this point, and what might be hindering you from moving forward, seeing the things that are anchoring you to your past in some way.
C> Journey with Jesus deep inside and face who you are at this point. He will pour out His grace and bring healing, release, and freedom.
D> Discover the “real you” and who you are “in Christ” and learn to express “the real and new you” regardless of what people think or say. This can be a fight because others want you to be a certain way and live according to their standards.
Discover the real you, express the real you, be the real you regardless.
Now for the last part of this teaching… Mentors and mentoring
Every young person, once they have journeyed enough with Jesus to discover who they are “in Christ” and are discipled so that they are mature in the faith and moving forward into embracing a ministry as part of the “priesthood of all believers,” needs a mentor. Usually the young person needs to go looking for a mentor. At times, a mentor will come looking for them.
When looking for a mentor a young person needs to find someone who they like and who is favourable to the idea of getting to know them and then investing in them. This person will not be easy to find because they will be unique qualities that they will need to be able to help a person grow in the faith as they are mentored. And, because each young person is unique you will need to find a mentor who can work with your uniqueness.
When you find a mentor and begin to work one-on-one with them it is good to remember the following “rules”…
1> When meeting you have a one hour appointment so keep the small talk (often called fellowship) short and get right to the things that need to be discussed. You are not there to “chat.”Sharing more of life and general fellowship can happen if and when you begin to travel with your mentor or visit with the mentor in their home specifically for fellowship. This hour is for you to learn and grow.
2> Come on time – in fact, come ahead of time to pick a quiet corner or table out of the general flow of traffic at the coffee shop or restaurant. You want to have a place that is quiet and conductive to talking and sharing.
3> Come with 5 to 10 questions through through, written out, and ready to ask. Keep the conversation moving so that you actually get to ask the majority of the questions that you have written down. And, remember to bring a digital recording device to record the conversation so that you are not having to take notes during the discussion.
4> Remember, you are having the meeting to learn from your mentor – their wisdom and their experience in life and ministry. So, don’t slip into trying to impress them with “I said,” “I did,” God showed me.”
5> Pay for the coffee or the meal. Remember, the mentor is helping you and is not being paid for his time. So, make sure you cover the costs at the meeting.
6> If there was something that was to be worked on before the meeting, have it accomplished. And, do a good job of whatever it was that was assigned at the last meeting. This way you are not wasting their time and are getting maximum benefit from your time with your mentor. It also shows your mentor that you are interested and engaged in the process of mentoring and that you value their time and effort on your behalf.
7> Always end on time.
8> Always thank your mentor for the time he or she has invested and the interest that this shows in your development and future ministry.
9> Set the date and time for the next meeting and determine any pre-meeting work that needs to be accomplished.