I miss my grandpa. I never knew my real dad—he skipped town before I was born. During my early years, Grandpa was my sole role model of manhood, teaching me things like how to fish and defend myself on the streets of Denver. He died when I was 15, but his impact on my life lasts to this day.
Grandpa was a man of few words, but every once in awhile he would tell me about “back in the day,” when he was my age, during the Great Depression. I have often wondered what it must have been like to live back then. Then one day it hit me–”back then” is right now for me.
Right now I have the privilege of being the dad I never had to a three-year-old named Jeremy. Someday, God willing, Jeremy will marry and have kids. I hope I’ll be able to sit with my grandchildren and tell them my own “back in my day” stories. Here’s what I hope I can say to them …
“Back in my day many churches were spiritually dead, seeing less than two converts per year. But then something amazing took place–God raised up an army of teenagers who turned everything around. These young evangelists shook their campuses, reached their friends, re-defined youth ministry and spiritually transformed America.”
I hope that I can say that I lived to see millions of Christian teenagers unashamedly living and giving the Gospel to a generation desperately in need of hope. I hope I can say that I lived through a spiritual Great Depression that was brought to a screeching halt by another Great Awakening in America.
I am optimistic about this coming teen-led awakening because God has a track record of using improbable people to accomplish impossible feats. He used a young shepherd boy named David to kill a nine-foot-tall giant named Goliath. God used a young girl named Esther to save a nation. And Christ chose ordinary men to become His disciples and shake the world with the Gospel.
Church history indicates that many spiritual awakenings can be traced back to youth ministry. From the first and second Great Awakenings to the Haystack Prayer Meeting, young people have often been on the leading edge of the spiritual movements of God.
My Primary Mission
There is another reason why I am awaiting a teen-led awakening in this country. For ten years I was the preaching pastor at a large church in Denver. But in 1999 all of that changed. When the Columbine massacre struck, I found myself at a crossroads in my life. Although I loved the church that God had allowed me to shepherd, a desire to raise up teen evangelists became my primary mission.
This horrible school shooting not only ripped a hole in my soul, but it tore me out of the church that I loved and riveted me squarely into the mission to which I was called.
My passion is equipping teenagers through Dare 2 Share conferences all across America. As I look at the thousands of teenagers who attend our weekend training events, I see unbelievable, yet often untapped, passion and potential.
There is no better time for energizing teens to evangelize than right now. But there is a problem.
As it is, church youth ministry is not getting it done. Many ministries are more about catering to the carnal kids rather than truly calling teens to great things. Some ministries have become a sanctified babysitter’s club that tantalizes teens with fun and games rather than equipping them to know, give and live their faith in meaningful ways. As a result of this mindset, we are losing most of our teenagers to the world after they graduate. Why? We have failed to train them, to challenge them, to push them.
Teens get pushed to succeed everywhere except church. They get pushed to perform by coaches, teachers and parents. But in most churches teens are coddled or throttled–not pushed to succeed. No wonder they are leaving the church in record numbers! They’re bored to death, and I don’t blame them.
But I believe that a new brand of youth ministry is coming. In some circles it’s already here. Pastors, youth leaders, parents and grandparents are growing increasingly restless with the typical approach to reaching teens.
What does this kind of youth ministry look like? First, it is passionate about Jesus. More than anything else, these teens love God. They are desperate to please Him with their lives. Their youth leaders settle for nothing less than pushing and praying their teens toward full surrender to Christ.
Second, these ministries are focused on the Great Commission–on getting teens to reach their friends and shake their campuses for Christ. These teens are beginning to think in terms of how they can reach others instead of how they can serve themselves. Suddenly, heaven and hell and everything in between becomes very real to these teens. They begin to own their faith instead of borrowing it from their parents and pastors.
At Dare 2 Share Ministries we have launched something called “The e-team Revolution™”–a national program that helps youth leaders make their ministries more evangelism-centered. (“E” stands for evangelism.) Teens who seem drawn to evangelism are taught the Prayer-Dare-Share Strategy–to pray consistently for their friends, to dare to invite their friends to youth group and finally, to share the Gospel afterward.
We also challenge youth leaders to present the Gospel at the end of every lesson so that teens will know that any time they bring an unsaved friend he or she will hear the Gospel presented in a clear and compelling way. Currently there are over 2,000 registered e-teams in 42 states. The average active e-team is seeing 5-10 teenagers come to Christ per month! We pray that God might unleash an army of teen evangelists who regularly reach out to their lost classmates with the Gospel.
How can you help launch this next great generation into a spiritual awakening? Start spreading the vision to the youth leaders in your church. To learn more about this evangelism-centered movement in youth ministry, visit the Billy Graham youth Web site, passageway.org, click on “Spiritual Help” and look under “Evangelism” for the online article, “Equipping Teens for Evangelism.” The article explains how to launch these simple strategies in a youth ministry right away.
Most important, pray for God’s guidance–and pray that this generation of teens will develop a deep passion for God and a willingness to share the Gospel boldly.
With His help, we can someday say to our children’s children, “Back in the day, guess what I saw God do?”