Reaching the next generation with substance, not style

Kevin DeYoung, pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, did a series this week on his five-part plan for “reaching the next generation” with Christ: “Grab them with passionWin them with loveHold them with holinessChallenge them with truthAmaze them with God.”  The focus of the series is this: substance is more important than style, truth and depth and holy living are more important than a cool presentation or appearance, and a challenging, God- and gospel-centered message is more important than being non-threatening.  In fact, DeYoung argues, these meaningful things are often what people want, rather than something watered-down or shallow.  Presentation is important, he says, and there’s nothing wrong with thinking about presentation, but more important is what you’re presenting.

The whole series is good, but I thought that I would pull out a couple of things out.  From the post on love:

The evangelical church has spent far too much time trying to figure out cultural engagement, and far too little time just trying to love.  If we listen to people patiently and give people the gift of our curiosity we will be plenty engaged.  I’m not arguing for purposeful obscurantism.  What I’m arguing for is getting people’s attention with a force more powerful than the right lingo and the right movies.We spend all this time trying to imitate Gen X culture or millennial culture, and to what end?  For starters, there is no universal youth culture.  Young people do not all think alike, dress alike, or feel comfortable in the same environments.  Moreover, even if we could figure out “what the next generation likes” by the time we figured it out they probably wouldn’t like it anymore.  Count on it: when the church discovers cool, it won’t be cool anymore.  I’ve seen well meaning Christians try to introduce new music into the church in an effort to reach the young people, only to find out that the “new” music included “Shine, Jesus, Shine” and “Shout to the Lord.”  There’s nothing worse than a church trying to be fresh and turning out to be a little dated.  Better to stick with the hymns and the organ than do “new” music that isn’t new or do the new music in an embarrassing way.

As the post on holiness makes clear, DeYoung sees these five ideas as important for parents, too:

Remember, the next generation is not just out there.  They are also in here, sitting in our churches week after week.  We often hear about how dangerous college can be for Christian teens, how many of them check out of church ones they reach the university.  But studies have shown that most of the students who check out, do so in high school, not in college.  It’s not liberal professors that are driving our kids away.  It’s their hard hearts and our stale, compromised witness that opens the door for them to leave.

One of our problems is that we have no done a good job of modeling Christian faith in the home and connecting our youth with other mature Christian adults in the church.  One youth leader has commented that how often our young people “attended youth events (including Sunday school and discipleship groups) was not a good predictor of which teens would and which would not grow toward Christian adulthood.”  Instead, “almost without exception, those young people who are growing in their faith as adults were teenagers who fit into one of two categories: either (1) they came from families where Christian growth was modeled in at least one of their parents, or (2) they had developed such significant connections with adults within the church that it had become an extended family for them.”  Likewise, sociologist Christian Smith argues that though most teenagers and parents don’t realize it, “a lot of research in the sociology of religion suggests that the most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents.”

The take home from all this is pretty straight forward.  The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.  Granted, good parents still have wayward children and faithful mentors don’t always get through to their pupils.  But in the church as a whole, the promise of 2 Peter 1 is as true as ever.  If we are holy, we will be fruitful.  Personal connections with growing Christians is what the next generation needs more than ever.

He closes the series with this observation:

We have an incredible opportunity before us.  Most people live weightless, ephemeral lives.  We can give them substance instead of style.  We can show them a big God to help make sense of their shrinking lives.  We can point them to transcendence instead of triviality.  We can reach them with something more lasting and more powerful than gimmicks, gadgets, and games.  We can reach them with God.

Imagine that.  Reaching the next generation for God by showing them more of God.  That’s just crazy enough to work.

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