Perhaps you’ve heard about Zach Hunter. As a 12-year-old, he began an international campaign (Loose Change to Loosen Chains) “to raise money and awareness for a fight against modern-day slavery. The concept was simple: encourage his peers to gather and give their loose change, which then went to deserving organizations working to free slaves around the world.” (See page 185 in Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris.)
As of this writing, Zach (now 18 years old) has spoken to over 500,000 people at live youth events, appeared on national TV numerous times, written best selling books (see Be The Change and Generation Change), and even delivered a speech at the White House.
Quite ambitious for a teenager, right?
Maybe not. I believe that God is stirring some of the emerging generation to be a human catalyst for BIG things. This is a generation that wants to accomplish something meaningful – something important. I want to do all I can to call this generation to be a part of the biggest thing ever – the work of Christ in the lives of people. What Christ is doing is so important, so big, that it will last forever. I believe this generation wants to be a part of something that big!
Christ Himself explained it very clearly. “Go into THE ENTIRE WORLD, and preach (proclaim) the Gospel to EVERY PERSON, and I will be with you ALWAYS.” (My personal paraphrase of Matthew 28:19 & 20.)
The Great Commission is clear. We have a big job to do, but the amazing thing is that the Lord Jesus Christ is right there with us, empowering us for this great adventure of serving Him and making an impact for eternity.
Now that you’ve thought about this concept for a few moments, the practical aspects of how to challenge students to do this are probably rather overwhelming. However, here are 4 quick strategy steps for you to prayerfully consider in your church.
1. Give your students the opportunity for interaction with other church youth groups.
Let’s never forget that we are part of the body of Christ and the family of God. God’s work in this age is through His church (see Matthew 16:18). It’s so important for your students to see that God is at work through His church in other cities in other places. Plus, real fellowship with other Christian young people is imperative for teenagers. I love the story of “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” in Daniel 3. I tell teenagers all the time that it was probably much easier for Shadrach to stand up for God because Meshach and Abednego were there, too. In fact have you noticed that those three young men are always mentioned together? There’s something very powerful when we realize that there are other people out there who love God and who have the desire to stand up for Him! Take every opportunity you can to involve your young people in area-wide youth events or church camp where they can meet and fellowship with other Christian young people. We must show our kids that the work of Christ is going on in other communities and in other churches.
2. Involve your students in large-scale youth events.
Another way to give your youth group positive exposure to the larger body of Christ is to take your teenagers to some large-scale youth conferences or events. I have personally had the opportunity to be involved in some significant large youth events for over 30 years. I love to see God at work in the lives of kids. It’s thrilling to see students respond to the leading of God in their lives. Plus, it’s a very positive thing to show your students that other church youth groups from other places are excited about hearing the Word of God, worshipping the Lord, and serving Him with their lives. I encourage all local church youth workers to identify and then participate in large-scale youth events with their teenagers. These events have the great potential to change kids’ lives – and your whole church will be ecstatic when your church youth group returns on fire to live for the Lord and to serve Him faithfully in their home towns.
3. Give your young people exposure to other age groups in your own church.
It’s also critically important for you to show your young people that church is designed by God to be intergenerational in nature (see Titus 2: 1-7 for example). I am afraid that too many youth ministries today build loyalty to the youth group instead of to the church as a whole. Youth workers, I must emphatically, yet humbly say, that if that’s the case in your church – you are making a mistake. No wonder so many young people who grow up in church walk away from church after they graduate from high school. But, I also want to emphasize here that it’s the adults (the leadership group in your church) who must set the example for growing and maturing students to be welcomed into the overall life of the church. How are you actively welcoming your church’s young people into the life of your church? Are you encouraging your graduating teenagers to fellowship with the adults in your church? Do you actively welcome the college-agers in your church to participate in the adult Sunday School classes? Do you provide specific and significant ways for your young people to be involved in service or ministry in your church? Why not?
I love the concept in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers…” (New International Version). Yong people can set an example to other age groups. I’ve seen it happen in specific churches over and over again. However, it’s important to be very clear here about one detail in this verse. It requires exposure to set an example. Your youth cannot set an example if they meet downstairs in the basement with no contact with other age groups. The various generations need positive exposure to each other. Externals such as musical tastes and fads in appearance often go away if the different generations sense a common love for God and a unifying desire to make a genuine impact for Him.
4. Develop a comprehensive outreach and missions strategy for your church.
This final suggestion will be much harder to accomplish, but the end results will exponentially increase the global impact of your church and can effectively lead to your church producing new generations of missionaries and Christian workers. Take a few moments to notice the outreach strategy that is found in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (New International Version). The early church was instructed to be very intentional about its ever-widening outreach strategy – and it is essential that our churches today follow the exact same approach. Our evangelistic efforts are to start first at home, in our own Jerusalem. Church leaders, what are you doing to motivate and train your people to reach out into your own communities? (By the way, it’s no secret that many youth groups are better at this than most adults.)
The concentric circles of impact as described in Acts 1:8 expand to our Judea and Samaria. What are we doing to reach out to the general area around our churches? It’s especially intriguing to notice the emphasis on Samaria in this text. Do you remember the stories of Samaritans in Scripture? Most readers are familiar with the accounts of the Samaritan Woman at the well in John 4 and the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. In both cases it was unusual and out of character for the Jewish people of that day to associate in any way with the cross-cultural Samaritans. Do you realize that we often do the same thing and ignore our closest cross-cultural neighbors? It is human nature, I guess, to ignore the people around us who belong to a different ethnic group. That’s another reason why we must be very intentional about developing a strategy for effective outreach. In only makes sense that if we develop a growing sensitivity for ethnically-diverse people around us that we’ll also enlarge our own compassion for other people-groups all around the world.
This is a generation that can accomplish BIG things. They have the desire – and they have the Biblical mandate. All they need is some encouragement and motivation. We can be those things for them. I envision churches everywhere calling on a new generation to attempt great things for God. May the Lord be with you!
Note to readers: A message I preached to teenagers on the subject of doing “big things” during this summer’s Teen Leadership Conference at Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit, PA is available on the TLC2010 Web site at: http://www.bbc.edu/tlc2010/audio_video.asp.