Tag Archives: Young Adults

Show Up and Pay Attention

By Rev. Dr. Robert Haynes

I was recently visiting my son who is away studying at University, and we attended Sunday worship at a church near his school. After the service, quite a few people stopped us to thank us for showing up to church. The congregation was made up of mostly older members who seemed thankful, relieved, and overjoyed that people from a younger generation would show up to church. That is the way the church is supposed to respond when people show up to church, right? So why don’t more people show up?

In an age of increasing moral relativism, secularization, and skepticism, convincing those outside the Church to show up inside the walls of a local church to seek answers to life’s problems will only grow more difficult. Standing on the front steps of the church while yelling, wooing, or cajoling passersby (literally or figuratively) to come on inside is likely to fail. Rather, those who would seek to effectively share the life-changing message of Jesus Christ must move in another space.

Sociologists say that we live and move in three different spaces. The first is our domestic space: where we live, eat our meals, and spend time with our families. This is our most private space. The second is where we go to work/school. We build relationships here, but they are limited by the confines of the nature of our work environment or school situations. The third space is where we spend the rest of our time. This can be a coffee shop, restaurant, pub, park, or playground. It may be the gym, the athletic fields, or the shopping mall. Used to its fullest potential, the third space is where we do life together. It is where we catch up with friends and neighbors. It is where we are able to hear one another’s hopes and dreams. It is where we are able to talk and reason and learn from one another. The third space allows for an exchange of ideas in a reasonable and measured way.

Faith-sharing is important in all of these spaces. At home, families should worship and study together. At work and school, there is an appropriate way for one to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ who shares love and hope with others. However, it is in the third space where a great impact can be made on non-believers. When people come together around a common interest or on common ground then Christians find themselves entering into spaces where God works in some remarkable ways.

Consider the example of the Apostle Paul in Acts 19 in which we see Paul living and working in Ephesus. In verse 9, we learn that for two years Paul and the disciples went daily to the hall of Tyrannus (an Ephesian third space, if you will). It was there that Paul taught any who would hear, Jews and Greeks, to the point where God did “extraordinary things through Paul” including healing people with the handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul had touched. Wow! Notice that it was not a cleverly devised outreach event where this happened. Rather, Paul deliberately and consistently moved out of the confines of his home and the marketplace of tent making and moved into a third space in Ephesus.

A mentor continues to remind me that in order to share your faith, you must show up and pay attention. Show up in people’s lives. Show up in the momentous and the mundane. Show up in times of joy and of sorrow. Show up for celebrations and for struggles. And pay attention. Pay attention to their hopes and dreams. Pay attention to their doubts and fears. Pay attention to their questions and curiosities.

Most importantly, pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is doing. When Christians show up in other peoples’ lives and pay attention to what is going on, the Holy Spirit will work in ways we could never imagine. As Wesleyans we know that God is calling each and every person to life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. We also know that we have the privilege and responsibility to use our presence, our works, and our words to be a part of God’s invitation to others. So, pay attention to the promptings and urgings of the Spirit to speak words of comfort and hope. Pay attention to the nudges you feel about when to speak of your faith and when to remain silent and to listen more. Pay attention to the doors that open for you to declare with loving kindness God’s saving grace.

So, move out into your third space. Show up. Pay attention. Then, celebrate what the Holy Spirit does in and among you!

Dr. Haynes is the Director of Education and Leadership for World Methodist Evangelism and the author of Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage. He is an ordained member of The United Methodist Church. He can be reached at rob@worldmethodist.org. To learn more about, or to order, Consuming Mission, visit www.ConsumingMission.com.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_facebook][vc_tweetmeme][/vc_column][/vc_row] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Reaching Young Adults

By Rev. Dr. Robert Haynes

People sometimes ask me for advice on how to get more young adults to come to church. Frequently, their church is warm and friendly, but is made of up older and/or elderly adults. They sometimes speak passionately about their desire to see their church not die off as members age. These conversations usually occur with church leaders in parts of the world where the church attendance is in decline, particularly in the West.

When I ask them what sort of things they have tried, they tell me they are thinking of putting ads in the newspaper. Or they hung signs up outside inviting people to come to church. Or they held an event and they hung up fliers in places like the post office. They seem disappointed that the response to these has been poor.

At this point, I try to steer the conversation away from these passive, impersonal efforts at “outreach.” None of these require a great deal of time of true investment in people. Effective ministry takes work, a great deal of hard work. It takes an investment of time, of love, and of self-abasing service. While no single formula provides a simple solution to increasing the spiritual involvement of young adults, I will offer a few principles for fruitful ministry.

Pray. This seems so basic, but it cannot be overstated. Pray for God to open your eyes to those you are to serve. Remember that prayer not only changes the one who is the subject of your prayer, but it changes the one who offers the prayer. Pray that God will set your heart right to minister to others.

Check your motives. Simply wanting young adults to come to church merely because it will keep your particular congregation alive is disingenuous and unbiblical. People will see right through it and be turned off. Rather, the gospel calls us to share the love of Jesus because it changes lives, transforms relationships, sets free those enslaved to sin, and heals the broken hearted. If that is your focus, the church will grow as a natural result. If you seek maintenance of an “institution” without prioritizing mission, you will get neither.

Seek Community. Research continues to show that today’s younger adults are looking for an authentic community that will help them discover the meaning and purpose of their lives. There is no better place than the community of vibrant Christians faithfully living out the gospel to aid in that discovery. However, true community looks much different than the institutional nature of many churches, and young adults, generally speaking, do not trust institutions. They have grown up watching banks “too big to fail,” fail. They do not trust government because they see political acrimony everywhere they turn. They see the institutional church racked by scandal again and again. Hence, they will not give blind loyalty to an institution, as maybe the previous generations have done. In order to help them see the good news of the gospel, authentic relationships in a dynamic community of Christians dedicated to scriptural holiness must be developed to provide a healthy picture of the church.

Prioritize Belonging. Too many times the church has told people that they must behave and believe before they can belong. However, this is not the pattern Jesus models. In Luke 19, Jesus is passing through Jericho. When he sees Zacchaeus, Jesus publicly invites Zacchaeus into the community of faith. Picture it, Jesus offers a notorious cheat and swindler a place in the community of people of faith. The members of the religious establishment immediately disapproved. But notice that the result is Zacchaeus’ confession and repentance. Offering community where people are free to belong and can honestly share their doubts, struggles, and questions about faith and have them answered with the transforming love of the gospel is a powerful agent of change.

Celebrate multi-generational ministry. In many parts of the world, young adult Christians are a minority in their peer group. Anecdotal evidence and academic research alike show that young adults want relationships with Christians of older generations to help them navigate life. This does not mean that the older adults need to have all the right answers every time. Rather, young adults tend to seek someone who will say, “I’ve have been walking this road a bit longer. I do not have it all figured it, but I will walk this road with you.” I know I am thankful for the mentors who came alongside my wife and me to help us learn how to be better parents, buy our first home, or take on new community projects. We received invaluable friendship and wisdom from people of several generations.

Be authentic. Young adults value genuine relationships that demonstrate sustained authenticity. Putting on a false front or a fake persona will only hurt ministry. It is not necessary to dazzle them with fancy lights, sound, smoke machines, and mirrors. Do not prioritize another slick event to get people in the door. Leave these things to the entertainment industry. Similarly, do not rely on the latest, trendy program to solve everything. Share your struggles and successes alongside one another, just as the New Testament churches did. Live in community, devoting yourselves to the apostle’s teaching, sharing meals with one another, and sharing as any has need (Acts 2). When a church operates this way people, communities, and the world are radically transformed.

Practicing principles like these in your ministry can help reach people for Christ of all ages, particularly young adults, in your community. The work of World Methodist Evangelism provides even more resources and events to equip your church for ministry. Contact us today to learn more.

Dr. Haynes is the Director of Education and Leadership for World Methodist Evangelism and the author of Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage. He is an ordained member of The United Methodist Church. He can be reached at rob@worldmethodist.org. To learn more about, or to order, Consuming Mission, visit www.ConsumingMission.com.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_facebook][vc_tweetmeme][/vc_column][/vc_row] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Dear Millenials, I Was You Once

Dear Millenials,

I was you once.

People wanted to know what I thought. They wanted to know what I wanted to buy. They wanted to hear what I was looking for in a spouse, in a career – in a faith group. They talked about me in the news, they studied me to see which way I was likely to turn, they taught older people in churches about me: how to attract me, keep me, and prepare me to take over.

They were glorious days.

It was 2003.

I was the future of The Church, and The Church was going to crumble without me. (And I wasn’t even male!) Books were written by the cartload about Generation Y and the Emerging Church. What was emerging? Everyone wanted to know. No one knew exactly what, philosophically, postmodernism was (or wasn’t), or how, culturally, it would play out. The new Millenium was still pretty shiny, not long out of its box, and some trends were emerging. Trends were emerging, and they needed to be analyzed and utilized, stat, with urgency, or This Generation Would Be Lost, The Church As We Knew It Would Die, and We Would Fail the Great Commission While Also Failing to Be Cool Enough to Make It Attractive.

These were the days of corduroy and pseudo-bowling shoes, of iPods and the war in Iraq, of Gilmore Girls and emo music. The internet was still new-ish, a high school student named LeBron James was ready to join the NBA, the iPhone wouldn’t come out for several more years, Ellen DeGeneres was launching a new talk show after lying low for several years following the firestorm of her public coming out in 1997, and Mark Zuckerberg was still on good terms with the Winklevoss twins, though not for long.

The world was changing and the message was clear: adapt or die! We’d all seen You’ve Got Mail. We knew that print was dead and everything could now be done online. We knew that church services needed to be rich and multi-sensory, with dim lighting or mysterious incense or immersive participation. We knew that authentic expression of our emotions was important. It was time for conventional wisdom to be overturned. Generation Y was tired of The Church doing it wrong and squandering wasted opportunities.

From about 2003 to 2010, books kept churning out on Generation Y and the Emerging Church.

You see, we knew.

Except of course we only knew a little. The internet was going to be everything – but now, Amazon has brick-and-mortar stores. Immersive sensory worship was going to replace shiny fake productions – but now autistic people find immersive sensory worship intolerable. We thought we were authentic; but scandals lurked, hidden in our hip worship environments.

But it gets worse. It’s not just that we were only partially right – or perhaps, that we were right, but with limited perspective.

No, it got worse. You see, you came along. And the problem isn’t that Millenials are a problem. The problem is that you were the new us.

Youth pastors tossed their books about Generation Y into the trash, church leaders forgot about the Emerging Church, and front office workers started lining up conference speakers who could explain about the new generation we would all need: the Millenials. Generation Y turned 30, started buying infinity scarves at Target, and began to broadcast themselves in a million and one podcasts.

But these? These are the days of skinny jeans and mermaid hair, of Snapchat and protest marches, of Girls and Hamilton. Smartphones are still new-ish, LeBron has left Cleveland for the second time, virtual reality sets are popular Christmas gifts, the Obamas have retired from the White House, Ellen and Portia are a popular Hollywood couple, and Mark Zuckerberg left Harvard long behind to testify before Congress about how his social media platform could be hijacked by foreign interests to impact U.S. elections.

Now you are the future of The Church, and The Church is going to crumble without you, books are being written by the cartload about Millenials. What is emerging? Everyone wants to know, you see. No one knows exactly what will play out. Trends are emerging, and they need to be analyzed and utilized, stat, with urgency, or This Generation Would Be Lost, The Church As We Knew It Will Die, and We Will Fail the Great Commission While Also Failing to Be Cool Enough to Make It Attractive.

Enjoy it while it lasts. Generation Y will meet you at the Starbucks in Target when no one talks about Millenials anymore. We’ll show you where the infinity scarves are. If that sounds cynical and snarky, I can point you to a number of books that will delve into Gen Y and our cynicism.

Millenials, I don’t think that publishers are to blame for the popularity of the unending cycle of demographic-expert-books that church leaders fall on in a piranha-like feeding frenzy. The emerging generations aren’t to blame, either. I didn’t ask to be studied and written about, and neither did Gen X, and neither have you, and whomever follows you.

No, North American Protestants are pretty obsessed with emerging youth culture. I could blame the Baby Boomers, but that seems like something they would do to their parents, and it’s probably part of my generational quirk to not want to do anything a Baby Boomer would do.

No, Millenials, it’s not your fault that church leaders will hang on your every word until you turn 30 and disappear as the next new generation comes along with its wisdom. And you know, some of your input will be really valuable. Some of it, I’m sorry to say, will turn out to be bunk, like the late 90’s trend of wearing JNCO jeans or pastel butterfly hair clips.

The solution I think, Millenials, is to ignore the somewhat condescending flattery – I wasn’t indispensable, and neither are you – and instead to receive the weighty gift of living in community. That may mean sitting in a church service not specifically designed for your preferences; it may mean adapting to someone else because a relationship with them is worth having, even if it’s framed in ways you don’t intuitively understand. It means families with young kids, and elderly widows. It means rural settings and pick-up trucks. It means single women in their 40’s and urban gardens. It means patience, and sacrifice. There is so much to be gained by listening: not hashtagging or snapchatting, just listening: listening to people is one of the best gifts any emerging generation can give.

In Youth is an Idolone pastor touches on some of these truths. She concludes by celebrating the gift of intergenerational, multigenerational living, writing,

 If you want your church to have the vitality and influence of young minds, young faith, young energy, and young joy, then invest in spiritually mature adults with a passion for pouring into young lives. Give spiritually mature adults a vision for seeing their age as a calling. In fact, I’d argue that this is the greatest gift of eldership: it is in shepherding the next generation. Elders must learn to listen and shape and young adults must be bold in seeking out older adults who can shape them.

You already know, Millenials, just how much we all need each other. If there’s anything that will just become more true in the next ten years of your life, it’s that. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that you’re indispensable to any faith community. Because none of us is. But believe everyone who tells you that community is indispensable as part of the Christian faith. You and I aren’t always assets, our thoughts and feelings aren’t always reliable, and older people aren’t always liabilities, and their thoughts and feelings aren’t always unreliable.

The Church is always worth engaging in – but not because only you can save it.

I was you once…

And I really hope you’ll stick around after the dust settles and the next generation moves in. We need you – just not for the reasons we say. We need you, only – and completely – in the way that we need 65-year-old’s, and four-year-old’s, and 41-year-old’s.

We need you because we love you: not because of what you can do for us. So we’ll continue to need you after your moment in the spotlight has passed. Because we’ll continue to love you then, too.


Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Your (Global) Teenager

Before social media and the prevalence of pop culture, it was a lot easier to enforce whatever ideologies you wanted your child to follow.

But as globalization increased, this changed. Young people became increasingly exposed to the rest of the world. Today, their ideologies and values no longer find a basis in what their priest or imam preaches but in what social media and pop culture influencers might be saying and doing. – Neha Rashid, “How Young Muslims Define ‘Halal Dating’ for Themselves,” NPR Code Switch

This reflection rang true with conversations I’ve heard around North American faith-based water coolers for several years. Kenda Creasy Dean has written and spoken at length on the sociological realities of the “Nones,” following the publication of her 2010 book, “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church.” She has spoken to groups of church leaders and pastors about why the faith of parents and grandparents outwardly seems somehow to be skipping a generation.

To read Rashid’s “Code Switch: Race and Identity, Remixed” article, you would think you were listening to conservative North American parents expressing their fears that their children were shedding valuable elements of the shared family faith. Yet Rashid is exploring the realities of sex and dating, not for suburban Baptist teenagers, but Muslim teens and college students who want to date on their own terms, without heavy-handed family intervention in the architecture of the relationship.

I find it wryly amusing that you could put conservative Christian parents and conservative Muslim parents in the same room with coffee and pastries and they would commiserate about the challenges of attempting to instill religious values in their kids in an age of globalization, when many influences far outside their zip code influence their children as much as – or more than – locality does. They have a shared enemy: Western secularization. The religions are not the same, but the frustration is.

Meanwhile, smart phones have become a lingua franca. Case in point: last fall while I was at a global gathering of Wesleyan Methodist clergy, some new acquaintances and I excitedly pulled out our smartphone and showed each other our continent-specific Pokemon that we had caught, because we all had Pokemon Go! on our phones. They were young adults, I am in my 30’s, and we immediately spoke a common language: the summer’s hot smartphone game. I am North American. They were Cambodian-Australian and Chinese-Australian. We immediately understood each other.

Not long after at the same conference I sat in a small group of young Methodist leaders, and within the group there was an odd, emergent surprise at the realization that we were all facing a similar challenge – in a group comprised of people from Wales, Italy, England, Australia, South America, and the U.S. The level of similarity was breathtaking.

But it seems that no matter your religion, there is a shared global youth/young adult culture. If MTV kicked it off, over the past ten years smartphones have brought it to the end zone. It’s not just a North American culture war about Judeo-Christian ethics, it’s a phenomenon affecting families around the globe who are attempting to navigate lightning-speed change. Religious parents and grandparents are baffled at how quickly the primary influences in a young person’s life can change. Interreligious dialogue aimed at furthering local community relationships may begin by shared parental lament at the challenges of instilling strongly held religious values in a generation accustomed to selecting who to follow for themselves – on Instagram or in their religious life.

The global trend is an emerging complexity. In many regions – for good or ill – nationalism is on the rise in response. Introduce rapid, sweeping globalization, and a knee-jerk reaction to protect cultural, linguistic, and religious identity is a predictable response. But we cannot rewind globalization, nor, at this point, would we want to. And we cannot rewind exponential technological advancement. Even cloistered communities can’t escape the presence of technology. In the United States, it’s possible to see a Mennonite woman with a head covering and a smartphone. It’s possible to order coffee online from a group of Carmelite monks in Wyoming.

Given that, the only way forward is to face the realities of the day with uncommon wisdom, patience, and discretion. You may be navigating how to introduce your children carefully to the internet. You may be weighing how to foster within your family both appreciation for rooted local community and creative global engagement. You’re certainly not alone – there’s a whole world of people with different diets, customs, and rituals attempting to puzzle out the same thing.

Kelcy Steele ~ Preaching to Young Adults in the Midst of a Paradigm Shift


“The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.”  Proverbs 20:29

“Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace.” Psalms 144:12

“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall.” Isaiah 40:30

We are called to preach to the younger generation; to cultivate their strength, to ensure that they are well nurtured, and to prepare them to be effective witnesses in this world.

How shall we who preach reach members of Generation Y – also known as the Millennial Generation or the iPod Generation (those born from mid-1970’s to the early 2000’s) with the good news?

Every generation has a generational persona with distinct attitudes about family life, gender roles, institutions, politics, lifestyles, and the future.

Each generation possesses its own personal biography and develops an adherence to certain fundamental notions and worldviews that shapes the group’s direction from youth through old age.

A Survey was taken by www.christianitytoday.com that asked young adults why they dropped out of church. Of those who dropped out, about 97% stated it was because of life changes or situations. That’s a pretty substantial number. Among their more specific reasons:

  • They simply wanted a break from church (27 percent).
  • They had moved to college (25 percent).
  • Their work made it impossible or difficult to attend (23 percent).

About 58% of young adults indicated they dropped out because of their church or pastor. When we probed further, they said:

  • Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical (26 percent).
  • They didn’t feel connected to the people at their church (20 percent).
  • Church members were unfriendly and unwelcoming (15 percent).

Fifty-two percent indicated some sort of religious, ethical or political beliefs as the reason they dropped out.  In other words, about 52% changed their Christian views. Maybe they didn’t believe what the church taught, or they didn’t believe what they perceived others in the church to believe.

Sociologist, historians, and theologians suggest that we are living in the midst of a paradigm shift. Young adults inhabit a different world than that of their parents.We must use a new structure and preach in a more participatory fashion. Preaching must invite listeners to use not just the left but also the right hemisphere of their brain.

Those who take on the high calling of preaching for young adults in the digital age must do two things: number one, meet youth where they are and number two, preach the word with integrity.

Don’t dumb down the gospel or its demands

We must not reduce the good news to a bland, pleasant drink, palatable to all.Young adults are allergic to a watered-down gospel and we must not shove doctrine down their throats.

Young adults who come to church in our time have chosen to come. They want and need sermons that help them see what God is up to in the world and where they can hook in.

George Barna sees that the challenge for Christian leaders is to learn how to communicate with this generation and get them to understand and embrace God’s Word without compromising it. This generation wants spirituality and faith experience, not the traditional routines and dispassionate worship they see adults doing at the typical church.




ADAMS, J. Preaching to Young Adults. Journal for Preachers. 34, 4, 27-32, 2011. ISSN: 1057-266X.

HERSHBERGER, M. Navigating with a New Map: Preaching for Youth and Young Adults. Vision (Winnipeg, Man.). 10, 1, 56-62, 2009. ISSN: 1492-7799.

STETZER, ED. real-reasons-young-adults-drop-out-of-church. DEC. 2014.   < http://www.Christianitytoday.com >

BARNA, GEORGE. Generation Next (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1995), 74-96.

Cole Bodkin ~ The Young Adult Crisis

“We gotta get those young adults, or else the future looks dim…”

That comment, and its millions variations, is one, if not the most predominant fear choking the older generation in the Church today. This fear isn’t unwarranted. Lots of numbers suggest that we are, in fact, seeing a decline in young adults involvement in church. For some reason, everything we’ve been doing the past several years doesn’t seem to be working? So how do we fix it? How do we reach the Millennials? How do we address this young adult crisis?

There are many answers to this question, but I’d like for us to step back for a second, and consider the unique situation we find ourselves in. First, I’d like to welcome you to the 21st century, which is becoming an increasingly post-Christian context. We live in a time where many in out culture no longer share the same values. Not as many Millenials grew up going to church, or if they did, it might have been a “Chreaster” sort of thing.

I hope that stating the bare facts doesn’t offend some of our non-Millenial readers, but it’s worth the reminder. In fact, I believe that many in our Church today are suffering from spiritual Alzheimer’s, forgetting where and when we are. Having visited folks in the hospital with Alzheimer’s, I don’t say this lightly. Forgetting who we are, where we are, when we are is one of the saddest things a human can experience. It’s heartwrenching. No one wakes up one day and desires to be out of touch with reality.

Many in our pews are living in the 20th century, confused with whom we are talking to and why they can’t see our point of view. We have all sorts of questions: Sunday and Wednesday are no longer considered holy days? People would rather go to football games or concerts than Sunday morning service? Schedules are jam-packed, and there is no time for church activities? Who are these people? Where did they come from?

Before prescribing an antidote, I’d like to hold up a mirror with a question written on it that we all (myself included) have to take a deep breath and answer:

Church, are we making disciples, who make disciples?

If we aren’t helping make (through the power of the Holy Spirit, of course) reproducing disciples, then should we be all that surprised that fewer and fewer young adults step foot inside the Church today?

What we have going on currently is a classic Whitfield conundrum; in the famous exchange between George Whitfield and John Pool, Whitfield asks regarding John Pool if he was still a Wesleyan. Pool affirms this and Whitfield replies:

John, thou art in thy right place. My brother Wesley acted wisely; the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand. 

Both Wesley and Whitfield were tremendous preachers, who were fully capable of gathering great crowds. Many came to faith as a result of their preaching. Wesley, however, knew that consistent and intentional discipleship was essential if the Wesleyan movement were to survive. Whitfield neglected this, and as a result his people were like “a rope of sand.”

How is this related to our spiritual Alzheimer’s?

Since Billy Graham, and probably even more so with Bill Bright, the presentation on the “gospel” in the Western world has been crafted in such a way as to lead to the decision.

Here’s a general set-up beginning with the problem: God loves you, but you are a sinner. Because of your sin, you have been distanced from God.

Here’s the solution: Jesus died and rose on your behalf so that you can have eternal life.

Here’s the decision: Believe in him and you will spend eternity with Jesus in heaven.

Given that, who wouldn’t want to make the decision to believe in Jesus? Once you have laid down the get-out-of-hell-free card, you are in. No more worries. Whew. Safe and sound.

We’ve bought into a soteriologically-packaged gospel that doesn’t require discipleship. Did you know that 90% of children in evangelical homes have made a decision to receive Jesus into their heart, yet by the time they are 35 (the tail-end of the young adult age-bracket) only 22% are following Jesus? Staggering. We must ask ourselves about the relationship between the gospel and discipleship. With the former, are we faithfully patterning the biblical witness (the biblical data)? And the latter, are we faithfully patterning the biblical witnesses (Jesus and the apostles)?

Many in our pews are still living in a Graham-Bright era of Christendom. But, many in the millennial generation no longer share the same cultural values that have been assumed for so long. Now, surely all the blame shouldn’t be cast upon Graham and Bright. These great preachers, like Whitfield, didn’t want to see people become like “a rope of sand.” Yet, 21st century Church, look behind us. Do you see the Millennial generation following us as we follow Christ?

I don’t want to end on a downer. Contrary to the overall perception, there are Millenials who want to follow Christ, but they want to experience Jesus up close and personally, not just in the pews after hearing a convicting, rhetorically-driven soteriologically-based gospel presentation; rather, they want to brush shoulders with those who imitate Christ and embody Him.

So, I’d like to encourage you with examples of folks who are putting in the hard work, who are making Millennial disciples-who-are-making-disciples in the 21st century.

What if we took a pledge to actually do what Jesus says? Well, that’s what Randy Harris, professor at Abilene Christian University, envisions and challenges the young men that he disciples to do. They read and commit to memory the Sermon on the Mount. Then they faithfully live the life that Jesus calls us to. They take to heart Jesus’ words at the end of the Sermon:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!

And then there is the legendary Soup. Roy A “Soup” Campbell is a middle-aged African American in Memphis who makes disciples. I’ve heard stories of young, Caucasian men getting Soup’s number and calling him to see if he would disciple them. One story goes that after a few weeks (this guy is busy making disciples), Soup calls back and tells the fellow that he will have to meet him at the stoop of his house (which isn’t in a “safe” area of town) at 5:00 a.m. Sounds sketchy, right? But he came, and many continue to do so. Why? Soup is making disciples who are making disciples. People literally wait in line to be discipled by Soup, and Soup is dead serious about discipleship. He makes people covenant with him if he is going to disciple him. Soup isn’t especially theologically trained, didn’t go to seminary. No, he counted the cost and has followed Jesus, and as a result people want to know this Jesus that Soup follows.

Church, there is hope. But we have to look back further than the 20th century. We have to look back to the trailblazer Himself. And we have to show young adults Jesus and how he is moving in the 21st century.

G.K. Chesterton once said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” Maybe many of us haven’t really tried following Jesus, and it’s time. It’s difficult, but it is the most amazing adventure we can ever be part of. Let’s ensure that our ropes aren’t sand, but are sturdy, and built for the journey towards the Promised Land.

Jim Lo ~ The Power of Student Prayer

. . . when you pray go into your room . . .and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  – Matthew 6:6

10929903_10152945796909064_5058865526324947824_nInto the silence of the early morning they marched.  A small percentage residing in the dormitories began to stir from the night of rest, but since it was only 6:15 in the morning, the number doing so was fairly small.  Most were still sleeping, snuggled comfortably under warm blankets.

Silently the army of 40 soldiers marched.  Most on campus had no idea that this small army even existed.

Each Wednesday during the academic year between 30 and 90 gather to walk and pray over the campus.  They don’t talk to each other, but they intentionally focus their attention on God while praying to him.

This army has lifted up a variety of things to the Lord.   One week the prayer was for peace and protection.  That day a wonderful worship experience took place.  After walking and praying for the campus we gathered together in a circle.  Our routine is to use this gathering as our means of closing our prayer time together.  The group holds hands, and one person is asked to pronounce the benediction.  On this day, however, something wonderfully special took place.  One student in the circle spontaneously began to praise God.  She prayed, “Heavenly Father, I praise you for Jesus Christ being our Prince of Peace.”  Before long others began to also shout out praises to the Almighty:

  • I praise you, God, for being holy.
  • I praise you, Father, for being omnipotent.
  • I praise you, Lord, for being awesomely wonderful.
  • I praise you, God, for being the Creator, which allows me to then be creative.
  • I praise you, Heavenly Jesus, for being Healer – One who is able to heal one’s spirit, emotions, and body.
  • I praise you, Father, for being there for us at all times.
  • I praise you, Lord, for being victorious King and loving Lord.
  • I praise you, Lord, for being the great and powerful I AM.
  • I praise you, Lord, for being the shepherd of my soul, who leads us to streams of living waters.
  • I praise you, Jesus, for being the Son of God.
  • I praise you, God, for the comforting touch of the Holy Spirit.

For over ten minutes these student-soldiers of prayer kept verbalizing their praises to God.  My heart thrilled listening to the words of adoration which were emanating from these early risers.

PHOTO: Jim Lo. The “power” of IWU flows to us from God through the prayers of His people. IWU morning prayer walkers.

Each week different things are prayed for.  On one occasion the prayer centered around the themes of reconciliation, refreshment, and revival.  Another day these prayer warriors prayed for students, professors, and the university president.  Some other themes have been healing, hope, and holiness; safety, strength, and supply; and for God to be glorified at our university!

One day a student approached the student chaplain in charge of our early morning prayer walks and asked, “Why do you have these walks so early in the morning?  Wouldn’t it be better to have them later in the day when students are more awake and energized to walk?  Besides, when you walk so early in the morning no one knows that you are doing a prayer walk.  Don’t you think that you will get a lot more attention if you do them later in the day?”

I was interested to hear how this student leader was going to respond.  “Jesus told us that we are not to show off with our prayers.  He instructed us that when we pray we do so, not to be seen by men, but to be heard by God.  One has to be willing to enter the silence of God to experience his spectacular power!”

Silently this group walks, believing that out of this silence we will one day experience God’s “spectacular!”

Dominique A. Robinson ~ Preach This, Tweet That: What Black Millenials Are Looking For From the Preacher

Preaching has always been a lively communal dialogue between the preacher, God and the congregants within the Black Church tradition; however, technology and social media have invaded this dialogue for Black Millennials. Their idea of interactive preaching goes beyond the “preacher, music and frenzy” that W.E.B. DuBois refers to. Black Millennials want church as they know it to reach beyond the four walls of the sanctuary. For them, preaching is no longer what happens when the preacher stands behind the lectern but preaching happens when one’s truth is shared no matter the medium or mode of communication.

Though Black Millennials may look, sound and even act like their ancestors they are an entirely different breed of Believers. This generation of Black youth and young adults has a disjointed spirituality. Though they hold firm to the belief that Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins as an innocent man and was resurrected for them to gain a chance to eternal life they do not believe that his gift of the Holy Spirit can change racism and violence. They believe that God is present with them in the loss of their grandmother or while trying to matriculate college but not present during the prevalent loss of Black young lives at the hands of officers; this has created a dichotomy in what they believe and live[1]. This current-day lynching legacy is not new to Black people but the overwhelming access to, sharing of and posting of the images of Black lifeless bodies and the brutality of police officers has created a different sense of fear, anger, anxiety and protest in Black Millennials that is drastically different than their elders. Black Millennials no longer want to hear the “three points and a poem” sermon; they want answers about what is happening in our society and they want to be able to post, tweet, and share those answers.

Listeners can use their mobile devices to easily verify and share what the preacher has stated. They can pose questions, invite participation from those not physically present, and share photos and videos relevant to the topic at hand. This new level of verification and sharing via social media and technology challenges preachers and the preaching moment in ways they have not been strained before.

God is still talking to and through preachers but preachers need to learn how to effectively reach this angry, hopeless, disjointed, technologically-driven generation. We must reconnect Black Millennials to the Black Church by way of preaching to them in a way that speaks directly to them in their language. Preaching at its most effective state is contextual; I would like to offer the term iHomiletic™ as the “new” method of preaching to Black Millennials. In an interdisciplinary way, this method utilizes homiletics, Christian Education tenets, youth ministry, and social media/technology with a primary focus on homiletics. Similar to the term iGeneration, iHomiletic™ “is derived from the Apple lineup of popular products which especially took off in the younger market, specifically the iPod music device and more recently the iPhone. The little ‘i’ and the subsequent capital second letter is a homage to Apple’s impact on today’s youth, though the company does not own the rights to the term.”[2]

The iHomiletic™ is a technique of preaching that deals directly with where Black Millennials locate themselves socially, culturally, psychologically, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. It addresses their questions and makes the Gospel practical and relevant to their lives.

Like the very successful manufacturing of Apple products, the iHomiletic embodies a high quality design. Homiliticians who embrace and employ the iHomiletic know the “product” that they are creating; “they are light on their feet, inquisitive and interested in being wrong. They are motivated by failures and optimistic about change.”[3] These homiliticians know that the product – the sermon – must have focus and simplicity. The iHomiletic, like Apple products, must have a clean, flawless, and operational design. All of what impacts Black Millennials must be seamlessly incorporated into the sermon development and articulation. The iHomiletic is a way of preparing and delivering sermons to Black Millennials that starts and ends with their questions about life, makes the Gospel user-friendly, compact, sleek, practical and relevant; and makes God easily accessible.

The preacher must be willing to take risks, be intentional in encouraging and accommodating feedback, and do so with integrity. The iHomiletic allows for the preacher to engage in the 21st century “call and response” where congregants do not wave their hands, stand, sway and “holla” back at the preacher but congregants create hashtags for their sermons, post memes related to their worship experience, post photos or recordings of the preaching moment or even the “frenzy.” This way of developing sermons integrates Christian Education and adult learning principles. It is an embodied theology that permits the preacher and congregants to engage one another, establish instant connections, and mirrors life outside of church as experienced at work or school.

The iHomiletic’s use of social media can become significantly helpful to connecting to Black Millennials. It meets Black Millennials where they are within and outside of the church walls. It assists them with being able to cope with evils of the day in the same mediums – social media and technology – they they are being bombarded with discouraging images and news.

I hope that I have made it clear what the iHomiletic is and how it can be helpful for preachers as they seek to reconnect with a generation that seems to be too focused on posting and sharing. In the next post I will share how to develop an iHomily™.

[1]  Evelyn L. Parker, Trouble Don’t Last Always: Emancipatory Hope Among African American Adolescents (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2003).

[2]  Zack Whittaker, “Defining the iGeneration: Not Just a Geeky Bunch of Kids,” ZDNet.com, June 20, 2010, accessed July 14, 2014, http://www.zdnet.com/blog/igeneration/defining-the-igeneration-not-just-a-geeky-bunch-of-kids/5336.

[3]  “How to Design Like Apple” (video), 2012, accessed October 17, 2014, http://www.onlinemba.com/blog/design-like-apple/.

Originally published here.

Jack Jackson ~ Reflections on Dean’s “Almost Christian”

I recently read a book that has been on my shelf for a couple of years, Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. Dr. Dean is a professor of youth ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, who also happens to be a United Methodist. I haven’t been as convicted by a book in a long time.

In this book she reflects on various aspects of the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR). The basic thrust of her book is that most American youth, even those that profess a Christian faith, actually do not believe in the story of God in Christ, but instead affirm what Christian Smith and Lisa Pearce (the NSYR directors) call Moral Therapeutic Deism (MTD). As Dean writes, the study “reveals a theological fault line running underneath American churches: an adherence to a do-good, feel-good spirituality that has little to do with the Triune God of Christian tradition and even less to do with loving Jesus Christ enough to follow him into the world.” Rather, teenagers approach their faith practices as “good” things to do, like other extracurricular activity, but not essential to life.

Let me first say that I recommend the book to anyone in youth or pastoral ministry, as well as any parents that care about their children’s discipleship. As I read through the book I was repeatedly challenged by Dean’s assertion that the blame behind the wide acceptance of Moral Therapeutic Deism in today’s youth does not lie with youth themselves, but rather with their parents and the churches these youth attend. In essence our children aren’t disciples because we aren’t disciples. We’re more focused on our kids’ happiness and success than we are on their discipleship.

So I ask you, is this true? If so, I’d love to hear from people who think they are actually raising their own children, much less youth in their church, to follow Jesus.

What is happening in your family’s discipleship? What does family discipleship look like? How is your church facilitating your family’s discipleship? Are we going about discipleship as a family, or as a bunch of individuals? Any thoughts?

Philip Tallon ~ Could Jesus Save Aliens? Why Answering Silly Questions is Serious Business in Youth Ministry

If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it 1000 times: “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Very true.

But it’s also true that once they know how much you care they’ll care how much you know.

So study hard, future youth pastors, because your students are going to have some interesting questions. And these questions will require you to draw on stuff you studied in seminary you never thought would matter.

They’ll ask you somewhat predictable questions about science & faith, and the problem of evil.

They’ll ask you less predictable questions about how the canon of scripture was formed, or about the book of Revelation.

But sometimes they’ll ask you something totally unpredictable.

For example, I was leading an apologetics seminar at winter retreat, and a student from a different church asked this question, “If we discovered aliens on other planets, could Jesus save them too?”

Total curveball.

At this point I had three options.

a. Dismiss the question.

b. Delay the question for later.

c. Answer it as best I could.

There are some times when ‘a’ is okay. There are, of course, silly or inappropriate questions. But this wasn’t a question asked lightly. It was an honest query and I wanted to answer it as best I could. In youth ministry we want students to ask questions. We want students to come to us with their doubts and struggles. And so if we blow off their questions with a joke (as I easily could have with this one), they’ll stop bringing their questions. Every question matters.

I also could have delayed answering, but this was a formal question-and-answer time and part of the point of the exercise was for students to have their questions answered right then. It’s a little bit like doing street magic. Answering questions off-the-cuff has more charge than building content into your lessons.

So I delved into an answer, beginning with an admission we can’t really know the answer with certainty. Scripture teaches us all things necessary for salvation, but not about things like quantum physics or the nature of the circulatory system. Scripture isn’t written to satisfy all our curiosity about the entire universe, it’s written for us to understand how God redeemed the human race. And it does that perfectly.

However, we can build off what we know to speculate a bit. So I gave the students some possibilities to think through.

The problem with the idea of Jesus saving aliens is just that the church has always affirmed that the eternal Son had to assume a fully human nature in order to save us (cf. Chalcedonian definition and Hebrews 2:14). But aliens, it’s reasonable to think, might not have a “human nature” in any meaningful sense, and so the incarnation & death of Jesus would not benefit them. There’s the challenge that aliens pose in a nutshell.

Then I offered three hypothetical solutions to the theological problem:

A. One solution, which I cribbed from C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, could be that these aliens might not be fallen aliens. Perhaps it’s only in our little corner of the universe where disobedience to God runs buck wild. If aliens were unfallen, they wouldn’t be in need of the kind of reconciliation Jesus makes available for us.

B. Another solution, offered even more tentatively, is that perhaps the Son (or one of the other members of the Trinity) could become incarnate on another planet without undoing the hypostatic union between the Son’s divine and human nature. In this way, God could become incarnate in a range of worlds. Some people really hate even offering this as a possibility, but Thomas Aquinas, at least, seemed to believe this was compatible with Christian theology (ST III, Q3, Art. 7).*

C. Finally, it may well be that in bridging the divide between creation and creator the incarnate Son already offers redemption for all fallen created beings. Aliens from Kepler-22 (or wherever) – even if their flesh was silicone-based and their blood was liquid nitrogen – could perhaps still possess a shared nature with us, such that Christ’s assumption of “flesh and blood” would be equally effective for saving them.

All this is might seem to be a long and unnecessary reflection on a completely hypothetical question (and many will surely say that it is), but I don’t think so.

Talking about aliens was a great opportunity to teach students about the Wesleyan understanding of scripture, to delve into the logic of the two natures in Christology, and to unpack how Christians connect incarnation to salvation. I got to show the student I cared about his question, and maybe helped him learn a bit more about Christian theology.

Taking questions seriously helps to grow a culture of inquiry, which is just what we want. As Fuller Youth Institute has observed, students who regularly ask tough questions are more likely to hold on to their faith, and many college-age atheists cite the church’s inability to respond to their questions as a main reason for leaving the church.

So take questions seriously – even the silly ones. It matters. It really does.

*FOOTNOTE: I posed this question again on Facebook before writing the article, and got a wide range of responses. Some people thought it was completely possible. One person quoted Larry Norman, saying Jesus was a UFO. And one person objected to the line of questioning altogether as silly and slightly dangerous. I was concerned with the responses on both ends of the spectrum: those who too quickly accepted the possibility without thinking through the theological implications, and those who dismissed the question asking itself. The point of opening up these issues in a Christian way is precisely to seriously explore the question.