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!

Creating an Effective Missions Strategy for Student Ministry

Over the past few years I have spoken with students and young adults in regards to the effectiveness of missions.  What did they gain from their missions’ experience?  How have they grown spiritually?  In what ways were they impacted to show more compassion and humility on a daily basis?  The continual answer I have found breaks my heart.  Students and young adults are not getting a true missions experience, instead they are being sent on a glorified retreat that turns into a social hangout.

In my opinion today’s high school and college student does not need to be given another opportunity to hang out in a social club.  They need to face the facts of a lost and broken world.  They need to be hit with the truth of a hurting society that is in need of the love and compassion of Jesus.  One student who recently visited the country of Bolivia said it was simply a retreat.  We are organizing trips to build earthly relationships instead of focusing on growing the Kingdom of God.

So… what do we do?  Where do we go from here?  How do we impact today’s teenagers and young adults through a mission’s experience?  I believe first and foremost we must create a desire for missions in our own backyard.  Many of our students miss the needs staring them in the face.  They do not realize that they are coming in contact with homeless, widows, and orphaned children on a daily basis.

A couple of years ago I held a localized missions week for our students, where we set aside an intensive time of missions training.  We brought in several guest speakers involved in compassion and outreach ministries within our local area.  We also organized several groups of students each day that went out into the community and were involved in hands on missions work.  We connected with the homeless, the orphaned children, the elderly, at risk youth, and the widows.  Each student had their eyes opened to the need for missions and compassion ministries right in their own backyard.  It created an awareness and passion to carry out the love of Christ to the hurting around us.  We must constantly create this awareness through local missions trips, volunteer service, and student outreach teams.

As youth leaders, we must also show the importance of organized missions trips, with the emphasis on ‘organized.’  It is so easy to pack up our suitcases, load on the plane, and travel to a third world country.  I fear too often this is being done, and we are forgetting the importance and significance of the mission God has called us to.  We want to show our students a third world country to make them feel bad and completely humble themselves.  Instead of making my students feel bad, I would rather create urgency in them to act based upon how God has blessed them.  As the American church, God has blessed us with the capability to reach out to a hurting world in a gigantic way.  I desire to cause my students to feel blessed by what God has given them, and in turn feel privileged to share it with the entire world.

Missions’ trips must also be more than a time of social hangout.  It comes down to organization and intentionality.  What are you doing to create spiritual growth in each individual and in the entire group as a whole?  How are you impacting those around you for the cause of Christ?  Is your debrief time serious or just another time to laugh and goof around?  I am not downplaying the importance of down time and relaxation during a mission’s trip, instead I am pointing out the significance of spiritual growth and spiritual impact while on trip.

Whether it is Africa, Haiti, or our own backyard, we must not lose sight of sharing Christ’s love and the Gospel with those we come in contact with.  Organizing effective missions trips and experiences is key to creating a heart of compassion within our students and young adults.

I would love to hear what you are doing to create an effective missions strategy, specifically within the context of student ministry.

Upcoming Blog on Missional Involvement: Creating Missions Partners