Speaking Life into Students and Young Adults: Valuable Lessons for 2 Generations

speaking-lifeOver the past 10 years, I have seen firsthand the gap between two very different generations. The ‘Millenials,’ also known as Generation Y, are those born between the early 1980’s and the late 1990’s. Generation Z are those born between the late 1990’s and the mid 2000’s. I have had the privilege of working closely with the individuals and families of these generations. Some of them I call my best friends, some my own family, some leaders, and still some students.

I have seen these generations thrive in ways nobody could ever imagine, but I have also seen them fail to live beyond the low expectations others set for them. Every generation can learn quite a bit from the generation before them. But I am not sure we have ever seen two back-to-back generations that offer as many valuable lessons for each other the way Generation Y & Z have lived out.

I have been their pastor, their leader, their friend, their brother, their counselor, their coach, and their father. I have picked them up when they have fallen. I have cried with them, laughed with them, and yes, even yelled at them. They have challenged me in ways they don’t even know, and I love challenging them in ways they sometimes can’t stand. They have lived in my house, eaten my food, sat at my dinner table, watched my children, played with my dog, and made my wife laugh so hard she peed her pants! I have poured blood, sweat, and tears into their successes and failures. I have walked them through family crises, death, defeat, victory, and success. They have prayed over me, visited my newborn children in the hospital, walked with me through my parents divorce, and given me a sense of hope when all hope seemed lost. I have traveled with them to Kenya, Haiti, Washington D.C., Phoenix, AZ, Ducktown, TN, and many places in between. I love these two generations dearly and pray many of them continually seek God’s face in every aspect of their lives!

I say all of this to reassure you that every word you are about to read is written out of a heightened love and a desire to see Generation Y & Z become the individuals God has called them to be! Based on my experience and observation here are a few life lessons Generation Y & Z can learn from each other!

Accountable Community I love hearing our Millenials share their desire for authentic community. I remember my first few years as a youth pastor. I realized right away that I was never going to be able to fake a message. My students wanted to see me living out what I was talking about before they were fully bought in. I pray today’s middle and high school students never lose sight of the importance of authentic community. At the same time, I hope they raise the bar of community to include deep accountability. Many of today’s young adults want incredible community without the accountability. My prayer is that we see a generation rise up willing to hold each other accountable to the truths of God’s Word!

Commitment to The Church – Generation Y understands what it means to serve God’s Kingdom. I could share story after story of Millenials who haven given of their time, energy, and resources to grow an area of ministry. Many times I have seen them serve up to 40 hours a week without receiving a single penny of compensation! Although at times I feel the local church has done an injustice to our twenty-something’s, I have seen many of them rise above the lack of financial compensation to see God’s Kingdom grow!

I understand that the local church has taken advantage of many Millenials, but I have also seen many of them bounce from one ministry to the next because of the struggle to commit. They get bored, lose interest, and feel like they are not accomplishing what they want to accomplish, so they simply move on. I have seen this happen in the blink of an eye, without any notice! I pray Generation Z understands the importance of committing to The Church, even if it doesn’t mean always being in the spotlight!

Passion, Passion, Passion – Have you ever heard of Passion Conference? How about the Passion Movement? Passion City Church? How about the Passion Worship Band? Every single one of these is an effort to attract the Millenials! While I do not completely agree with their motives, I cannot argue with their success. Their purpose is to unite ‘students in worship and prayer for spiritual awakening in this generation.’ They have seen over 60,000 young adults gather together under one rough!

Generation Y is extremely passionate. I have come in contact with many young adults that could turn the world upside down if they committed to it. They are gifted, talented, knowledgeable, adaptive to change, and they desire to achieve success. But many of them have become so passionate about a variety of things that they really aren’t committed to passionately changing anything. Imagine if these two generations passionately caught Jesus’ call for discipleship! I truly believe they have the voice to turn our culture upside down for the cause of Christ!

Owning your Entitlement – Yes, you read that correctly… I believe Generation Y has taught Generation Z the wrong view of entitlement. Today’s teenagers feel they deserve everything! They want life handed to them on a silver platter, alongside a gold fork and a diamond-studded knife. Let me say this… entitlement has been taught the wrong way. As Christians, we are blessed with the opportunity to experience life to its fullest, not because of who we are, but because of what Christ did for us on the cross! We are entitled to experience life with Him – as His son or daughter. Generation Y has turned that and said, ‘We are entitled to experience freedom!’ Generation Z has taken it a step further and said, ‘We are entitled to whatever we want!’ And their parents and grandparents are all sitting back saying, ‘Sonny, when I was young…’

I believe it comes down to a question of identity. Do you find your identity in friends, sports, school, culture, music, relationships, work, or in who Christ is and what He did for you on the cross? As we grow closer to Christ, we will not struggle with identity crisis. We will not become consumed with what we think we need or deserve. We will own our relationship with Christ and find ourselves entitled to His love, grace, mercy, and faithfulness!

God’s Wisdom versus Man’s Ideas – The Millenials are full of great ideas! Today’s young adults are so passionate about making a difference. They want to experience the latest and greatest idea that will draw emotion in order to create change. But I often wonder, what is the end goal? What should that change look like? Do these two generations truly understand what Jesus meant when He said, ‘Follow Me’? That was more than just a great idea. It was one of the wisest statements ever made! Jesus offered more meat in those 2 words than any butcher could handle in an entire lifetime! My kids do not need the latest and greatest idea. They need the wisdom found in the pages of Scripture. Simply put… they need the truth of God’s Word!

When it comes to wisdom, we must also be willing to trust in the advice of those older than us. Generation Y & Z must understand they are loved, not judged. Don’t take offense when one of us old geezers critiques how you live your life. We may look foolish, but many of us are fairly wise. And beyond that – we have a desire to see you succeed beyond what you can imagine! Trust us, we have been down the block a few times. We may not know what we are talking about when it comes to music or social media, but when it comes to Biblical wisdom and life experience, the older generations can teach you tons!

My heart breaks to see what many students and young adults within Generation Y & Z has to face. Several authors call this the fatherless generation. The hurt caused by broken families is immeasurable. The pain created by a lack of identity and issues of self-worth has caused suicides, school shootings, and self-harm to skyrocket. I have seen the tears, heard the horror stories, and fallen flat on my face at the feet of Jesus, begging Him to take away the pain that so many of our students and young adults bear. I have bore their pain in the midst of life’s most difficult crisis. I have stayed awake many nights revisiting conversations I have had with countless guys and girls within these two generations. My heart breaks as I watch so many of them miss out on the life Christ has called them to live.

Let me wrap up by saying this… If you are a part of either Generation Y or Z, be proud of who you are! Find your identity in an authentic relationship with Christ. Don’t listen to the statistics. Don’t allow culture to shape your generation. Don’t leave the success of God’s church in the hands of the generations after you. Take ownership of your faith and create the revolution that I know you are capable of establishing!

If you are not a part of either of these generations, what are you doing to speak words of love, wisdom, and affirmation into their lives? They are broken and in search of something. Are you encouraging them based on their identity in Christ or discouraging them because of their laundry list of identity issues? Love them. Father them. Spoil them. Invite them around your dinner table. Let them babysit your children. Give them the example that many of their parents failed to give them. Offer them the space to serve and lead. Show them Christ. Treat them to something fun and exciting. Teach them. Speak life into them. And never forget… they could be the ones taking care of you someday!

Missional Student Ministry According to Jesus

UP-IN-OUT-logoRunning from event-to-event, weekend-to-weekend can be extremely draining! Many pastors and ministry leaders face burnout and exhaustion because of the lack of vision and direction. We live lives and carry on with ministry out of what ‘looks good’ instead of what God truly desires of us. What would it look like for you to do as Jesus did and talk as Jesus talked – to live your life as He lived and to lead your ministry as He led?

3DM focuses on the Up, In, and Out lifestyle of Jesus. In other words, He prioritized His relationship with the Father, focused on creating a culture of discipleship within those closest to Him, and carried out a life of outreach and mission beyond His social comfort zone. What would it look like for us to do this within the context of our ministries?

God has been challenging me over the past few weeks to truly abide in His presence. It is not that I was completely missing the mark of His calling, but there are definitely areas that need pruning. I need the Father’s direct sunlight, while allowing the shade and comfort of the Holy Spirit to infiltrate my entire life.

Our relationship with the Father places focus on the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’ In other words, we are able to find true purpose and meaning to our lives when we abide in His love. When we experience authentic spiritual growth, fruit will appear that we did not even think was possible.

As we look up and answer God’s calling on our lives, we must not miss the community He has placed around us. Many of the students and young adults I work with want relationships, but they don’t want commitment and accountability. In other words, they want the fun, but not the challenge; they want the fruit, but they don’t want to experience the pruning process.

God puts specific people in our lives to hold us accountable. He also places a responsibility on our shoulders to establish a culture of discipleship within our families and ministries. Are you being used by God to see lives transformed within your sphere of influence? When it comes to the impact we can have, it is not always about the large numbers. Typically, we will have far greater impact on fewer people than on large crowds. We must start small as we dream big!

As we grow closer to the Father and create a discipling culture, we will not miss the opportunity to share Christ with the masses! We will focus on the lost, spend time developing a vision for outreach, and live as the hands and feet of Jesus. We will see people as Jesus sees them, instead of how our ignorant human flesh sees them. We will be quicker to forgive and slower to lash out in anger.

Our mission must begin with a growing relationship with the Father, where we truly find ourselves abiding in His presence. As we do this, a culture of discipleship will be created, and we will ultimately live out as His hands and feet to a broken world!

One of the things that I have been specifically wrestling with is how this lays out into the vision of student ministry. I am in the process of a major project – evaluating all aspects of student ministry directly from the perspective of missional living.

I have narrowed it down to three basic questions that I am hoping to lay out over the next few weeks and months in book form.

  1. What does it look like to authentically lead students into the presence of the Father?
  2. What must happen within the four walls of our ministry in order to create a successful culture of discipleship?
  3. How can we see a true revolution take place within our communities, schools, and homes?

I would love to hear any and all feedback in regards to how you see this happening, specifically in the context of Student Ministry!

Attraction vs. Discipleship: What are we Feeding our Students? (Part 2)

disciplemakingmission

Everybody is doing it. Just this one time won’t hurt. Relationships solve every problem. You are #1. Popularity and power are keys to success. Music is life. Image is everything. But he loves me. We are attracted to each other in every way possible!

In a culture that is full of lies and falsities, many of our students are missing the mark of authentic discipleship! Much of our time in youth ministry is spent attracting students, yet we often find ourselves using the same tactics as SnapChat, Nike, Apple, Abercrombie, and Starbucks. The image of our ministry is everything! We want the latest and greatest of everything! We want to be in the spotlight of our schools. We want leaders to thank us and show their appreciation for us. We want our senior pastors to acknowledge our works and abilities. We want parents to see their kids are having fun and staying safe when they are with us. We want to fit in with the ‘cool kids!’ We want to be edgy with our messages and ways of communication. We want students to think we are hip before they mention our love for Jesus.

What are we feeding our students? What do they take away from their time in our ministries? What are we communicating? How are we attracting new students and connecting them into a journey with Christ?

I challenge every ministry leader, every youth pastor, every volunteer, and every parent to see their responsibility of making disciples before they ever think about creating cool ministries full of popular students! We often become disillusioned in our quest for discipleship. We trick ourselves into believing that if we attract the right students we will grow an awesome ministry. While that can be true based on numbers it does not always equate into a culture of discipleship. Here are six warning signs that can appear within a Culture of Attraction versus six key focuses we must strive towards in order to develop a Culture of Discipleship.

Here is an in-depth breakdown of the first three…

1. Emotional Rollercoaster vs. Foundation in Christ

2. Events & Programs vs. Relationships & Community

3. Elevating Self vs. Elevating God’s Voice

4. Reliance on Yourself vs. Reliance on God – It is for us easy to rely on ourselves when life is going great. We can own our success and strive to be more awesome than the person next to us. When times get tough we tend to blame God and point our finger at those around us. Within ministry, it is easy to put one’s successes and failures in the spotlight. We tend to highlight celebration stories and call out failures and mistakes. Through all of this, we become inclined to focus on the abilities of the individual instead of God’s love and abilities through the individual!

Our students need to know they cannot rely on themselves. Every time I trust myself, I fail others. As I fail others I miss the purpose God has for me. When we trust God, we will impact others, and ultimately bring honor and glory to the Father! By relying on God, we will see life in a whole new way! God is love and we tend to be full of revenge. God is patient but we want things done immediately. God is faithful even as we fail Him! Our students struggle with balance, structure, and consistency. Relying on themselves is going to lead to an unbalanced, unhealthy, inconsistent walk with Christ. As we teach our students to completely rely on the Father, they will experience life to its fullness!

5. Large Group vs. The Whole Person – Is your level of success measured by how many come to your weekly student ministry gathering or how many individuals are drastically changed for the cause of Christ? Before I continue, please understand that when we see disciples made, numerical growth will take place. But, often we see numerical growth happen without authentic discipleship occurring. We must not measure success based on the number within the large group!

For many youth pastors, much your time is spent impacting the largest amount possible at one time. In other words, we pour into our weekly gatherings to make them fun, inviting, attractive, and full of energy. Although there is nothing wrong with that at a surface level, are we missing the whole person? In other words, are we missing the individuals God has called us to directly impact? As we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see a model of ministry focused more on the 3 and 12 then on the 70, 120, and 5000. He poured into Peter, James, and John – opening his life to each of them in a very personal way. He looked at every aspect of Peter and desired to see him become whole! Peter took that example and carried into his ministry throughout Acts. Yes, there was time poured into large gatherings, but Jesus had a heart for the individual person.

As you look at your schedule, how do you break up your time? Are you spending a good portion of your time ministering to those closest to you or is all of your time eaten up by the attractional aspect of programs and events? Who are your 3 and 12? What does that relationship look like? Are you living a life worth imitating in order to create a culture of discipleship?

6. Living for the Moment vs. Living on Mission – Culture has brainwashed our students into believing the living in the moment is more important than the overall mission. In others words, the decisions you make today won’t impact your tomorrow. Have fun and enjoy every moment to its fullest. Lie! I made choices in high school that have impacted my relationships as an adult – both with positive and negative implications. Many of those were ‘in the moment’ decisions that were exciting, adventurous, and fun. I did not realize how they would impact the mission God had for me. When we live moment-to-moment we tend to struggle with boredom. I have seen so many students bounce from one ‘great’ relationship to another because they become bored with what is happening right now. This can easily transfer into ministry. I have seen so many youth leaders live in the excitement of one event or one service. When the normal routine of ministry kicks in, boredom hits. I truly believe this is why so many youth pastors bounce from one place to another or from one level of leadership to the next.

As we live on mission, the excitement of God’s calling will always get us through the difficult moments. There will always be circumstances that don’t make sense. As they times arise, are we living in the moment or living on mission for God? Is there an eternal focus and purpose driving every aspect of our ministries or are we just bouncing from one fun event to the next? As we live on mission we will experience the awesome impact a culture of discipleship can have on every moment within our ministries!

My prayer is that our time, energy, resources, and passion are poured into a culture of discipleship! Attraction is important, but seeing lives focused on a love for Christ is most important. We must be rooted in Christ, focused on relationships and community, hearing God’s voice, relying on God, compassionate for the individual person, and living on mission for God! I would love to hear how this is played out within your ministry. Where do you struggle the most? Where do you see the most success?