Truly Embracing Students as the Church of Today

Growing up in an active ministry and in a strong church I often heard “teenagers are the church of tomorrow.” At the time it never bothered me because, well I was a teenager and assumed that these adults who said that didn’t really expect much of me. I was a follower of Jesus, but after all, I wasn’t trained, I couldn’t even recite all 66 books of the Bible and at the age of thirteen I had never led anyone to Jesus. As a result, chubby bunny, Little Caesar’s Pizza, and looking for a girlfriend at church were my callings and passions.

As I got a little older I started feeling the pressure to “be the church.” I was a young adult now, headed to college, and needed to adult. The problem was there was never any expectation on me to actually lead anyone to Christ as a teenager and I was totally clueless as a young adult as to how to even talk to someone about Jesus. Up to that point in my journey, my job was simply bringing friends to a youth group event or a Wednesday evening and leave the heavy stuff to the adults.

As I’ve journeyed in ministry through being a youth pastor and now a lead pastor I’ve discovered a very important truth…students are the church of today and we need to allow them and expect them to lead.

If we are to reach young people for Christ we must be willing to do three things to make this a reality.

Listen to Them

I’ll never forget when I sat down across the table from my 6th grade sone and heard him say, “Dad, I think that God is calling me to plant a church.” Internally I very quickly went through all the reasons this wouldn’t work. My initial reaction was to tell him that may be a great idea but not for a 12-year-old. That’s crazy talk. Luckily I didn’t react that way. Instead, I asked him questions about what a church plant would look like. Who did he want to come to this plant? Why do you want to plant a church? I took the time to listen and to let him know how important his voice was as it related to reaching his friends for Jesus. At 40 years old I still think bowling is a great evangelistic tool. It’s not.  It’s time for me to listen to the church of today.

Equip Them

After hearing about this vision to plant I had to come up with a plan of getting my 12-year-old equipped to talk to his peers about Christ. Luckily discipleship and evangelism go hand in hand. My son Cabot and I already met weekly for one on one discipleship and our focus had always been on how we would lead people into a relationship with Christ. I had already started equipping him for “such a time such as this.” Equipping though took time and effort. It took a commitment to meet and I had to follow through. For our students to learn to lead their peers to Christ we must create the opportunity for them to learn and be equipped.

Sitting through a message on Sunday morning tailored for adults won’t cut it. If we expect teenagers to be world changers we must take the time to invest in them.    

Deploy Them

September 8th was a tough day. I remember sending Cabot to school that day ready to lead this new church plant after school. I wasn’t going and he was on his own. I was left with nothing else to do at the point but trust and pray. I had listened to what Cabot told me about this calling, I had equipped him the best I knew how, and now I was sending him out. As I waited for him to come back home from that hour-long worship time I was nervous that no one had come. I didn’t want him to be a failure and I was ready to give the “we all learn from just being obedient” speech. Fifty-four students came that first week! They met every Monday all during the school year and they averaged thirty each week. Halfway through the year, the gospel was presented in a way that an invitation would be given. Again, I was relegated back to my living room wondering what was happening hoping at least one committed their life to Christ. That day the trajectory of five students’ lives were changed as they decided to follow Jesus. I honestly was floored!

As I sat there that evening I thought about Cabot and I’s initial conversation about his feeling about God wanting him to start a church. My kid almost got shut down! He almost got nothing from me. I’ve learned as a lead pastor to listen to all age groups in the church. They are all important and they all play a role.

What I’ve learned, though, is our students have many more days ahead of them than they have behind them. They are the church and we should allow them to lead.

The days of gospel concerts, bowling nights, and showing low-quality Christian movies are over as it relates to evangelism. These methods tend to be ineffective. I’ve discovered if I want to know how to reach lost teenagers, I need to ask our students and then give them the tools to lead. 

Jeremy McLaughlin
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