Friday, August 20, 2010

CALLING EMERGING GENERATIONS TO DO BIG THINGS FOR GOD

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.

Notice that this verse spreads our growing impact around the world, “…to the ends of the earth.” That’s the comprehensive reach of missions. Our churches must intentionally enlarge our sphere of influence from reaching out in our local communities to a global impact through our financial support of missionaries and through the purposeful equipping of our own people so that we can continually send people out into a world-wide harvest. Readers, let me ask you another question. When was the last time your church sent out one of your own young people as a full-time, vocational missionary? Acts develops the record of the first century church being very intentional about sending equipped and trained missionaries. Acts records the narrative of how the early church accomplished our Lord’s instructions found in Acts 1:8

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.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

STUDENT-LED REVIVAL: Asking God to Work In & Through the Next Generation

I need to tell you about one of my heroes. His name is Art Bowser and he taught church history courses during the years I was in Bible college. Probably because I needed another history course to graduate, I decided to take his The History of the Great Revivals my senior year. Most of the dates and historical names are long gone from my memory, but I’ll never forget Mr. Bower’s desire to learn all he could about great movements of God in the lives of human culture. He loving and longingly taught us about Martin Luther and The Great Reformation, the Wesley Brothers and George Whitfield, and the amazing work of D.L. Moody.


It certainly wasn’t the facts of history that endeared Mr. Bowser to me; it was his enthusiasm for true God-centered, heart-changing revival. He had a great knowledge about the chronological dates and he had learned much about history’s human influencers, but what impacted me most was his great love of genuine revival. His passion was contagious.

Here’s what I remember most from Mr. Bower’s Great Revivals course: most of the great revivals in history began (humanly speaking, of course) with students.

I’m sure there’s a level of human logic here that makes sense. Students often possess an idealistic outlook that propels them to seek change. They see things as they are currently and they idealistically want things to be different in the future. Students realistically have their entire futures ahead of them and they have the energy and enthusiasm that drives them toward accomplishment and achievement.

However, Mr. Bowser taught me that there maybe another factor involved in student-led revivals. It just may be that God uses students to change things.

Readers, I honestly believe that this may be the most compelling reason why I love youth ministry. God has given me multiple opportunities over the last 35 years (since I started working with youth in college) to see great works of God in and through the lives of young people. A major part of my ministry career has been a personal involvement in some significant and large-scale youth and youth ministry events. I had the opportunity to have a small role in the beginning of a state-wide youth Bible conference that attracted over a thousand teenagers each year for several years in a row. I led a national youth conference for a fellowship of churches where hundreds of teens participated in worship, ministry, and preaching. I also served on the leadership team at 2 different Bible colleges that gave me the occasion to direct their annual youth conferences. Without any exaggeration these events often resulted in God doing momentous things in and through the lives of students!

Not only did I have the great privilege to see God at work in the lives of teenagers (and, let me tell you, it never ceases to amaze me to see our Lord do incredible things in the lives of students), I also had the unique advantage to hear reports from numerous churches about how God used kids, over and over again, to be a genuine catalyst for revival in their home churches after the event was over.

Art Bowser was right. God does use students to launch great revivals.

At this point it’s important to note that genuine God-centered revivals are never produced via a formula or recipe. If that was the case, man would have undoubtedly put “one-and-one-together” in an all too human attempt to manufacture what only God can truly generate. Authentic revivals are exclusively and entirely of God. However, even a cursory study of the history of revivals reveals that God also used fervent and intentional prayer as an essential ingredient of a true spiritual resurgence.

One of my favorite stories from the annals of historical revivals is that of the Haystack Prayer Meeting in northwestern Massachusetts in 1806. God supernaturally used the passionate prayers of 6 students in an amazing way that led to what is often referred to as the “Student Volunteer Movement”. Up until that time, the United States was usually not considered a sending nation for global missionaries. Yet, historians now credit this “Second Great Awakening” for propelling over 10,000 foreign missionaries into the world’s harvest fields. Some have had lasting influence for Christ generation-after-generation in countries that are now closed to Christian missionaries. God used a simple, but fervent prayer meeting to make a lasting difference for eternity.

There’s another, more familiar, illustration of how God is currently using students to make a significant impact for Him. Most readers probably have some level of awareness about the student-led prayer movement “See You At The Pole”. In the early 1990’s a “small group of teenagers in Burleson, Texas came together” asking the Lord to use them to impact their high schools for Christ. Here’s how the SYATP web site recalls the beginning of this campaign. “Compelled to pray, they drove to three different schools that night. Not knowing exactly what to do, they went to the school flagpoles and prayed for their friends, schools, and leaders.” Another incredible prayer movement was born. Last year over 3 million American high school students met at their school flagpoles in a remarkable demonstration of student-fueled prayer.

I believe with all my heart that students can make history when they band together to cry out to God!

Friends, it’s time for another prayer meeting!

The Lord Himself gave us this strategy in Luke 10:2 for launching a new generation of workers. “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into His harvest.

We must be obedient to our Lord’s command. It’s time to call a new generation to pray intentionally and fervently for our Lord to send out workers into His harvest! The need for new “harvest workers” has never been greater. The population of the world is growing by a billion people in less than 12 years – and will reach 7 billion people sometime in the year 2012. At this moment, 1/3 of the world’s population is under the age of 21; and the most telling statistic of all – close to 90% of people accept Christ before they leave their teenage years.

We are asking pastors, missionaries, church leaders, Sunday School teachers, and youth leaders everywhere to schedule and organize an intentional prayer emphasis for Harvest Sunday on October 10, 2010. (Yes, that day is: 10/10/10!) Perhaps through our collective prayers, God may choose to launch another great movement of students heading into the global harvest.

Place this date on your church calendars (10/10/10) and schedule some time that day for fervent prayer for harvest workers. Pray in Sunday School and in church services, schedule an early morning prayer breakfast, organize your church people to pray around the clock, organize small prayer groups, etc. Be creative and intentional. The important thing is to pray for and with students.

Please join together with other churches and youth workers all around the world to pray specifically on October 10, 2010 for God to once again use students in a mighty and world-changing way for His glory! Who knows what He may choose to do.

For more information on Harvest Sunday – or to post ideas of what your church or youth group is planning to do – take a look at: http://www.harvestsunday.org/.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

DO BIG THINGS: A Biblical Strategy for Accomplishing Things That Matter

The Great Wall of China. The Pyramids in Egypt. Man landing on the Moon. The invention of the computer. Certainly man has accomplished some amazing things. However, each of the things listed here, as Christ tarries, will someday crumble and be eclipsed by even bigger and more impressive accomplishments.

My challenge to students this summer has been not to attempt hard things or even great things for the sake of human achievement in-and-of-itself; but, to set our hearts on doing “big things” for God – things that will pass the test of time, and in fact, last for eternity.

The Apostle Paul has something like that in mind when he penned his last words to his student (Timothy) in 2 Timothy 4. Paul writes that he knew that his time on earth was limited and vanishing with each day (see verses 6 through 8.) In his final list of memories, he names several people – some of whom were friends and coworkers and others were enemies and deserters of the faith. Yet, his primary focus here was on the Lord. He remembers how the Lord “stood with” him in days past and the Lord would bless him in the days ahead for his faithfulness to Him.

I love Paul’s language in verse 17, “the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear…” Even at the end of his life, the great Apostle, kept his dreams and goals. He was absolutely committed to fulfilling God’s grand purpose for his life. Notice the scope of his proclamation in that verse: ALL THE GENTILES.

It reminds me of the extent of imposing language in the Bible’s “Great Commission” verses: Matthew 28:19 & 20, Mark 16:15, and Acts 1:8, “all authority”, “all the nations”, “all the world”, “all creation”, and “the remotest parts of the earth.”

Wow, that’s big!

I believe that God wants each of us to consider “big things” – things that will last for eternity. Even at the end of his life, Paul had big dreams and big goals. He was incredibly passionate about accomplishing things that would last for eternity. That must be our passion as well. We must be about the business of trusting God to use each of us to accomplish BIG things for His glory. The truth of it is that it is God Himself who is doing big things.

Here’s how I ended my challenge to students this summer: “What are those things that are so BIG that only God could accomplish them?”

Here’s the point. The Apostle Peter sums it up very well in 1 Peter 1:24 – "the glory of men is as the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls off…” All human accomplishments will fade and fall, but what we do for God lasts forever.

Let’s do BIG things!