Challenge Your Youth by Dr. Alvin Reid

The following post is taken from The Gospel Coalition by Dr. Alvin Reid



 Posted By Alvin Reid On September 3, 2013

Morgan introduced herself after I spoke at her church. She enthusiastically described the ministry she and her friends had started to fight the blight of human trafficking. They were seeking to offer gospel hope to girls vulnerable to the industry and those rescued from it. At the time I met her, she and her friends had raised almost $4,000 to send overseas to rescue young women. Now, nearly two years later, they’ve raised more than $40,000 to build a safe house in Calul, Moldova, a nation whose number one export is trafficked women.


Did I mention Morgan was only 14 when I met her? Morgan and her friends Brianna, Maleah, McCall, Claire, Kristie, and Elise launched a movement propelled by the gospel. A bunch of middle school girls decided not to waste their high school years in order to make a remarkable impact for Christ.

Open Your Eyes

Morgan gives credit for this ministry to her family and to her church—a congregation serious about taking the gospel to the nations. At 13, she and her mom went on a church trip to India. Morgan would be the first to admit their ministry never could have taken off without their parents, student pastor, and congregation encouraging and supporting them. The ministry these girls birthed (Save Our Sisters Today) is just one example of believers living the mission while they’re young. Virtually every church has youth like Morgan. But are the churches doing what they can to find these youth, direct their passions, and commit to encouraging them?

Parents who love Jesus yearn for their children to love Jesus as well. Student ministries seek to engage students with the gospel and help them live out the gospel. But there’s a problem. Too many churches assume a posture toward youth more reflective of MTV than of the Bible. Too often, and with little reflection, we view teens as adolescents in a timeout between childhood and adulthood. “They are just kids,” we say. “Boys will be boys.” Youth ministries are often pressured to offer events more than engagement, trivia more than truth. But if students can learn trigonometry in high school, they can certainly learn theology in church.

Extended Boyhood Epidemic

Our culture today teems with immature young men: the average 21-year-old male in the United States has played 10,000 hours of video games [3]. When you consider, as Malcolm Gladwell has shown, that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at something, no wonder so many 20-something males struggle in the adult world. Moreover, the National Study of Youth and Religion found young adults in churches have often been taught the Bible from the perspective of what sociologist Christian Smith has termed “moralistic therapeutic deism.” The cumulative result is a generation of churched youth marked more by activity and moralism than by the mission of the living God.

But what if we stopped this trend? What if we challenged the youth in our churches to live missionally?

Often in Scripture we read of remarkable young people. Sold into slavery at 17, Joseph lived for God regardless of his circumstances. Samuel heard God’s voice as a lad when God’s word was rare. David killed Goliath as a teenager, the youngest and scrawniest of many sons. Josiah led a revival, and God called Jeremiah, each while they were young. Daniel and his friends were possibly as young as today’s middle school youth when they were deported to Babylon, yet they stood for their faith. And in the New Testament, we encounter Jesus’ disciples—young men themselves—as well as Paul’s specific exhortation to Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth. This array of evidence must not be ignored.

Jonathan Edwards said the Great Awakening was essentially a youth movement. Less than a century later, in 1806, college students sitting under a haystack sparked a worldwide missions movement. Near the end of the 19th century, a student volunteer movement saw thousands of young people take the gospel to the nations.

So, granting the vast changes in the past 200 years, how should we see youth today? Not as children finishing childhood but as young adults entering adulthood, capable of understanding and living out the gospel as missionaries in an increasingly unChristian culture. We who lead youth as parents and student pastors must see ourselves as missionary strategists equipping students to live on mission now, not later.

Five Suggestions

What does this transformation look like?

1. Build your student ministry and your parenting on the gospel. Show them, as Tim Keller observes, that the gospel isn’t merely the ABC of salvation but the A to Z of Christianity. A missional vision that doesn’t arise out of response to the gospel leads to legalistic activism, not biblically driven ministry.

2. Involve them in the mission locally. We’ve tried to help our own children, now grown and married, to see how this mission looks through simple things—from how we engage our next-door neighbors to how we treat servers at restaurants.

3. Don’t keep them in the dark about the mission globally. One of my mantras is, “Get your children out of the country before they finish high school.” By the time our daughter Hannah was 18, she’d been on mission trips to four continents. Our son Josh has traveled to three continents and done mission work in several major U.S. cities. These trips help teenagers see that the gospel isn’t just their parents’ home-brewed superstition; it’s true and worthy of proclamation to everyone, everywhere.

4. Demonstrate missional lives. Let them see you living missionally while you teach them how to do so. Discipleship is usually more caught than taught.

5. Believe in them. Youth need three things: a vision for their lives as big as the gospel, encouragement to live radically for Jesus Christ now, and the permission to do so.

Missionary statesman Stanley Jones was asked once how he helped so many young people become effective missionaries across the globe. “I take a young person,” he replied, “and I put a big crown over their head. Then, I help them to grow into it.”

If we’re centered on the gospel and committed to living missionally, we can do the same with today’s youth as well.

Mission Trip Bingo

Now that the summer is winding down and students are getting back into their routines, I thought we could have a little fun.  Keep this in mind for your next mission trip.



Things I Didn’t Learn In A Classroom

After ten summers in student ministry I thought I would write down a list of the things I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way. Here we go……

  1. You will always get weird looks buying supplies for the next event from Walmart. Who else buys pool noodles, shot glasses, a slinky, pickled pig’s feet, spam, and 100 ping-pong balls in the same purchase?
  2. Always. Point. Them. To. Jesus.
  3. Camp still works. When you’re at camp with your students join them during rec and don’t be too cool to lather on some face paint to rep your squad during rec. Have fun; don’t take yourself too seriously—even if you did get hosed in a Singing Bee competition.
  4. Dodgeball is still a fan favorite. Sometimes students don’t need an over produced event that you’ve been planning for 6 months; they need a pool or slip-n-slide and hot dogs. Don’t just plan an event, participate. Ask for help. Don’t do it alone.
  5. Don’t take the summer off just because you’re students are out of school. Be intentional; both planned and spontaneous. If they have a job, stop by to see them. If they play a sport, show up after conditioning with an ice chest full of Gatorade. Never underestimate the impact a cherry-limeade can have. Students like food and their friends do too: invite them to lunch.
  6. Coffee. Lots of coffee.
  7. Getting on school campuses is still effective. Build relationships with students, administration, teachers, coaches, and resource officers.
  8. Don’t forget the parents. Build trust by building relationships.
  9. Connect your graduated seniors to the college-aged ministry in your church BEFORE they leave for school in the fall. Also, give them the names of some churches near where they will be living to get plugged in to.
  10. On a mission trip something unexpected always happens.
  11. Students can change the world, like Jack Andraka. God still uses students to impact and influence the church, Like Zach Hunter.
  12. Spend quality and quantity time with your family when you’re not traveling. Set a quick pace, but don’t forget to Sabbath. In the hectic pace of the summer schedule don’t forget to carve out time for you and Jesus.
  13. Make sure students understand what a red flag warning means at beach camp. No joke. Seriously, not a joke.
  14. Students are more likely to respond positively when you ask them to do something rather than bark orders at them like a drill instructor at Paris Island.
  15. Don’t shy away from having the tough conversation with a student. After all, our job does not afford us the luxury of skirting the tough issues.
  16. Sometimes the best way to learn is to jump into the deep end.

Here’s to many, many more summers investing in the lives of students, parents, and families.

What’s on your list?