Years ago when I was starting out in ministry, I was working with young people. I directed a summer youth camp and conference program during my seminary days and couple of years after graduation. What a thrill it was to see some of the young people come to know Jesus Christ. As I travel throughout the country, in and out of many different churches, from time to time I run into some those now grown children that I had the privilege of working with and teaching the Word. I think of a man who is now the pastor of a huge mega church in the north. We had spent much time together during his teen years in the church as well as that camp and conference setting. And there are so many others. What a rewarding experience that was.
I also had a couple of Young Life Clubs during those seminary days. I later pastured a church in the Atlanta area where I had earlier led a Young Life Club and some of the teenagers in the clubs, now adults, were members of that church. The senior pastor with whom I worked during those early days had a placard in his office and I will always remember it: “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.” What a truism and how consistent with the Scripture!
But on the other hand, I remember a man who was in charge of placement at my seminary saying to me on one occasion, challenging me work in another setting, “Don’t spend so much time with the calves, that you forget the cows that give the milk.” I’ll never forget that statement either. During my years as a pastor, I always made it a point to work with the young people. They matter to me. I said in an address to the 25th PCA General Assembly meeting in St. Louis, one of the reasons I left the mainline church to help start the PCA was because I wanted to communicate to the younger generation that truth mattered, and that we cared for them and wanted them to have a church home that would teach them the Christian world and life view, and I was never more serious, when I said that.
At Christian Education and Publications I have found a place to continue to express that interest and for the past five years, our strategic faith plan has focused on reaching the rising generations, particularly the millennials. If you have read Equip for Ministry in the past or heard me speak, you already know that. The difference at this point is that we do not have the opportunity to work directly with the young people, except on occasion in our local church home. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was about two years ago when one of the older teenagers approached me, after I had preached that morning, to ask if I would help him develop a biblical world and life view. We have had a great experience studying and praying together since that time. He is now in college.
Our role in the PCA is to train, equip, and serve as an encourager and resource to those involved in ministry to the younger generations. We develop curriculum, conduct training workshops, and everything else that we can do with the older generation to challenge them to see the opportunity to reach this younger generation. We have a fulltime staff, as well as regional trainers committed to helping you and your churches to plan and implement an effective ministry that communicates to your younger generation that you really care about you.
This past year we added, a fulltime coordinator of Children’s Ministry. Sue Jakes, who has worked with us and our Sunday school publisher, Great Commission Publications. We have asked Sue to write the lead article. In that article you will see something of her heart, as well as ours, regarding this important task. Reaching this next generation has always been a god-given assignment to the church, but as we look around us today, especially since Sept. 11, 01, that assignment has taken on a new urgency. We are living in a dangerous world politically, economically, morally, and spiritually. By the time you read this article, we may have already gone to war to fight terrorism.
I have spoken by request on several occasions recently on the topic of Islam in America. (We will address that in later issues of Equip for Ministry). I need say no more at this point except that this fastest growing religion in the world and in America has targeted young people. They are being quite effective and our youth are extremely vulnerable. One statistic shows that around 80% of Muslim converts have had some kind of church background.
Both postmodernism and the growth of neo-paganism in America remind us that we are not exposing our younger generations to the truth of God in a life transforming way. As I stated to one of the groups mentioned above in response to a question, what do you see for the future with Islam as it relates to America? My response was “humanly speaking, not good. Muslims appear to be better prepared to talk about Islam and the Muslim faith than are Christians about our God and faith. If you read some of the polls and trends, many which we have mentioned in this publication, and we have reviewed many of their books, Gallup, Lindsay, Barna, American Demographics, etc. We are raising a biblically illiterate generation of young people in America. While local and national leaders are discouraging things like Bible reading and prayer in the educational systems, they are allowing other religions, such as Islam, to have their privileges.
We want our readers to know that we at CE/P are concerned and committed to doing all that we can do to help those of you in local churches to have the best discipleship program for your young people that you can have. Of course the programs are secondary, so we first emphasize the most important element of all and that is personal relationships and a sense of community. The younger generation both want and need relationships with older committed Christians.
I was so pleased this past Sunday to be in a church both for preaching and training leaders where one of the elders, a retired executive with a major corporation spoke to the youth group on Sunday evening. As I talked with him on that afternoon, I could detect a sense of excitement and challenge about that opportunity. He told me, I am going to tell them that we need to know that things in this world do not last and that we should not be too wrapped up in the world. He had on a coat, a shirt, and tie. He opened his jacket and he had ripped his shirt to shreds to illustrate his point. We smiled about that. Those young people were blessed because that man’s attitude was infectious.
In this issue, we have the lead article by Sue Jakes. I encourage you to read it carefully and respond to the questions for discussion. The “In Case you’re Asked” section talks another opportunity through Christian schooling to minister to this younger generation. You will also see several news articles about some things that we are doing at CE/P and in the PCA to minister to this rising generation. The book reviews are important, especially the one dealing with Islam.You will also find a listing of the various conferences and seminars that CE/P will be conducting. They are listed both for your information and prayers.
I am reading a book on Christian education that I will review in future issue of EFM, entitled Christly Gestures. The author Brett P. Webb-Mitchell talks about the importance of baptism in the education process of making disciples. He writes, “We perform the gesture of many profound vows at our baptism. The crucial ones in the education of Christians are the ones uttered for the child by parents or guardians and the ones uttered by the adult being baptized, and the gestured utterance of the members of the congregation-that they will raise the newly baptized into what John Calvin would call an “understanding of our baptism.” I believe if we took this ministry to the younger generation seriously, there would be more young people who do not abandon the church in their teens and later life and more adults who are excited about their Christian faith because they are sharing with the next generation.
We are here with our training, resources, and consulting to assist you in developing, expanding, or improving your ministry to the next generation. We need to work together in this task. The challenge is more than any one person, church, or denomination can do, but if we work together, praying, being intentional, and knowing the situation, I believe we can be a part of the solution and not a continuation of the problem. By the way, that is the only way that our church, the PCA, and your church locally, or you as an individual will see the long rangeimplications and applications of this challenge.