In the eighteenth century, God shook the American colonies in a revival movement known as the First Great Awakening. In his treatise entitled Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England, written to describe and defend the movement, Jonathan Edwards observed the role of youth in this revival, while indicting older believers for their indifference:
The work has been chiefly amongst the young, and comparatively but few others have been made partakers of it. And indeed it has commonly been so when God has begun any great work for the revival of his church; he has taken the young people and has cast off the old and stiff-necked generation. Jonathan EdwardsStern words for our day as well!
I believe God has opened before the leaders of the church today a great and open door to see a generation of radicals unleashed on the culture. I believe God has assembled an army:
- an army utilized by cultists, but often spurned by the church;
- an army enlisted by our government in times of war, but too often left on the sidelines of spiritual conflict;
- an army chosen to represent nations at the highest level of athletic endeavor, but pushed aside into secondary status in the body of Christ;
- an army challenged academically in school while given baby food spiritually in church;
- an army poised to live for Christ, but too often told just to stay out of the way.
The army to which I refer is the army of young people in the nation today.
Why young people?
First, my study of spiritual awakenings historically has caused me to wonder why more has not been written on the role of youth in the activity of God (perhaps because old people write church history texts!).
Second, discussions with colleagues and others in student ministry, as well as the impact of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism on this generation, have led me to the view that what we have done in youth ministry in recent decades overall has not been effective. Entire cottage industries related to youth ministry have produced a subculture that is financially lucrative but spiritually anemic. Youth ministers, including many in my classes as well as scores with whom I have talked over the past two years, indicate a growing dissatisfaction with the present state of youth ministry. Who can blame them, with a church culture that treats teens like fourth graders, and youth pastors like baby sitters?
What if we treated young people as young adults preparing for adulthood rather than children finishing childhood? Young people learn trigonometry in school; they can learn theology in church!
What if we equipped students to think and live like missionaries to this culture now instead of waiting until they were older?
We can. Not only can we, but we must. It’s past time to raise the bar.
Jonathan Edwards, “Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England, and the Way in Which It Ought to Be Acknowledged and Promoted, Humbly Offered to the Public, in a Treatise on That Subject,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Ed. Sereno E. Dwight (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1834), Vol. I, 423.