Spending a week embedded in the youth culture at Falls Creek earlier this summer has left a significant impression on my mind and heart. I have spent many hours pondering some of the experiences and encounters I had with Oklahoma Baptist young people. I discovered a large number of intellectually-bright, spiritually-aware, sold-out, gospel-centered and culturally-challenged teens. This discovery has caused me to draw some conclusions about Southern Baptists and the local church ministry.
Contrary to common belief, many Christian teens are looking for ways in which to develop a growing, dynamic faith. These young Christians want to know Jesus on a personal level. They each have a longing to grow in understanding of the way prayer and daily time in the Word really makes a difference in each of their lives.
Every survey I read tells me that parents are still the most influential people in their children’s lives. If Oklahoma Baptists want young people who have a dynamic, living faith marked by a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus, we must be parents who demonstrate this relationship. Teaching is vital, and training is more important still, but living out our faith and demonstrating in visible ways through real life experiences is most important. Parents have the primary responsibility to disciple their children.
Yet, it has become very clear to me that teens who live in two-parent, Christ-centered homes have become a minority. Family dysfunction and parents devoid of a growing relationship with Christ dominate so many teens’ lives. This being the case, the church must take greater responsibility in connecting on a personal basis with our teens. These young people need mentors who will invest in their lives, one on one, and disciple them.
Older people need to apply for the job of discipler. One thing my week as camp pastor at Falls Creek did for me was to impress on me that young people are open to relationships with older adults who will love, listen and guide them.
A second, and extremely important, observation is in regard to defense of the faith. Christian young people, as a whole, are unprepared to defend biblical truth. Too often teaching and training in the church is shallow, at best, and leaves teens with only a thin veneer of biblical acumen. Tragic! These young people are intellectually astute, and they want to understand what and why the Bible is so countercultural on moral issues of the day.
My prediction is very strong. If Baptists do not provide a solid apologetic approach to teaching biblical truth, there is going to be a major declination of biblical living in the days ahead. Young people are not obstinate and rebellious; they are just ignorant. They must be given solid truth that helps them approach the hot button moral issues of the day with intellectual and biblical confidence. If the church ignores this enormous need, our young people will continue to go away to colleges and universities and be beaten into submission by godless professors and friends. These young people are sent out like defenseless sheep to the slaughter. Christians, we are guilty if we do not take seriously the church’s responsibility to prepare these young people for the battle of the ages for truth.
It is not wrong to have pizza parties, paintball nights and a variety of fun events for teens— indeed, these are a must. However, parents and the church must take full responsibility to take this incredible generation of teens and train them for the cultural battles they will face. They must be given tools to defend their faith with confidence. Any less is a default by Christian parents and the church on their God-given responsibility.