Can You Envision an Army of Youth
Intent on Exalting Jesus
Across Our Nation Today?
[Editor’s Note: Recently, nearly fifty senior Christian leaders convened to discuss the desperate spiritual condition of our nation right now. They concluded that the greatest need of the hour is to witness (in their words) “a nationwide Christ Awakening.” But that will require the emergence of a whole host of younger leaders to step into the arena and become proactive on behalf of such a movement. Yet there are troubling signs that the Church is actually losing its youth in great numbers. Can the Spirit of God turn this lethal trend around before it is too late? Here David Bryant explores this crisis and presents the only remedy.]
Four hundred years of oppression and slavery ensued for the Hebrew people when, as Exodus 1 tells us, “a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”
What might be the fate of America if leaders of a new generation arise who no longer really know the Lord Jesus—a far greater deliverer of God’s people than Joseph ever was?
Current statistics should deeply disturb us. For example, research reveals that about 80% of the youth from thousands of US congregations are deserting the Church soon after they move out of their homes. 80%!
It appears a whole generation of “Christian” young adults are emerging who know very little about the real Christ and who he is today—and thus have little passion for his fame and reign.
What ill does this bode for the future of the cause of Christ in our nation? Or, for our nation as a whole?
Let’s take further stock of this sobering situation. Then, let’s see if there is any remedy—before it is too late.
Bored With Jesus?
Just this past week, George Barna Associates, the foremost pollsters of American Christianity, published its recent findings about Christian youth in our nation. I don’t think you’ll like what they uncovered!
This September approximately 20 million teens will become college freshmen, with as many as 60% coming from families of practicing Christians.
As they pursue the next four years, 69% of them tell researchers they intend to be laser-focused on gainful employment and financial independence after graduation, above all else.
What’s so amazing is that even more than non-Christians, practicing Christians—even those who profess fervency about their faith—proved to be more intent on college achievements than on following Jesus in their pursuit of lifetime success.
In fact, only around 30% of the Christians indicated interest over their four years of studies in actively focusing on deepening their walk with Christ or integrating that walk into their professional goals.
To say it another way: Approximately 70% of our evangelical youth are NOT very enthusiastic about who Jesus is today, or about where Jesus is headed today, or about what Jesus is doing today, or about how Jesus gets exalted today.
In other words, after eighteen years under the tutelage of Christian parents and congregations, many now show themselves to be rather “ho-hum” about God’s Son. Essentially, they are bored with Jesus. They are far more excited about their majors and campus parties and future career possibilities.
Recently The Center for Reaching a Post-Christian Culture confirmed that today’s Christian young adults “often leave spirituality and the Christian faith in the dust” with “the pursuit of hobbies and relationships with friends clearly more important to them.”
How did this crisis of vision and passion toward Christ among our youth come about inside the life of God’s people in America?
Could it simply be—tragically be— a matter of “like has produced like,” that, as the old saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?
The True Heart Condition
of Many American Christian Youth Today
In 2005, a watershed sociological study of American teenagers led by Drs. Smith and Denton concluded that the common spiritual outlook of youth in general and Christian youth in particular could be called (now a famous phrase) “moralistic therapeutic deism,” or MTD.
Introduced in their book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, the finding about MTD rose from a research project called “The National Study of Youth and Religion,” conducted among approximately 3,300 teenagers.
Get this: The researchers concluded that many young people hold beliefs found in all the major world religions. For example, they believe in some kind of god who created and ordered the world and now watches over human life on earth; that he is a god who wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other; and that this god does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
Clearly, Jesus is not factored into this equation at all.
That is why, the study concludes, “a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually [only] tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but is rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”
Listen to the Experts
Let’s turn to the insights of Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean, professor of Youth, Church and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, in her book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (Oxford University Press). She may be the foremost authority on where the Christian GEN Z generation finds itself today. She writes:
The problem does not seem to be that churches are teaching young people badly, but that we are doing an exceedingly good job of teaching youth what we really believe, namely, that Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little, and the church is a helpful social institution filled with nice people.
A CNN online article, “More Teens Becoming FAKE Christians,” notes more of Dr. Dean’s conclusions. She says that teens are being shown a “gospel” that is really just a watered-down faith that portrays God as a “divine therapist” whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem. She argues that many parents and pastors are unwittingly passing on to their youth this self-serving strain of Christianity—what she terms an “imposter” faith—and that MTD offers plenty of reasons for teenagers to want to abandon churches.
“If this is the God they’re seeing in church, they are right to leave us in the dust,” Dean says. “Churches don’t give them enough to be passionate about.”
Calling the summer she compiled her findings one of the most depressing seasons of her life, elsewhere she says it this way:
If churches practice MTD in the name of Christianity, then getting teenagers to church more often is not the solution (conceivably it could make things worse). A more faithful church is the solution.
The religiosity of American teenagers must be read primarily as a reflection of their parents’ devotion (or lack thereof) and, by extension, that of their congregation.
What if the blasé religiosity of most American teenagers is not the result of poor communication but the result of excellent communication of a watered-down gospel so devoid of God’s self-giving love in Jesus Christ, so immune to the sending love of the Holy Spirit that it might not be Christianity at all?
Finally, she suggests:
Perhaps most young people practice Moral Therapeutic Deism not because they reject Christianity, but because this is the only ‘Christianity’ they know.”
Let’s hear from one more authority, whom many believe to be the best-known trainer of young adults for Christian ministry (thousands have graduated from his classes). Dr. Richard Ross, a professor at Southwest Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, writes:
The limp faith of Christian teenagers is not because the adult church has failed to pass on its faith but because it has passed on its limp faith . . .
Emerging young adults do not embrace the supremacy of Christ because they have not been around church adults who embrace the supremacy of Christ. Instead, the children of the church have learned to embrace what the adults embrace—the pursuit of personal happiness, comfort, and increasing prosperity.
The X-Rays Do Not Lie
Yes, the spiritual x-rays of teens coming out of our churches should raise huge danger flags inside every congregation! This is serious; this is deadly. The fate of Christianity in America lies in the balance.
Is there any hope—any remedy?
If the greatest hope for the churches across our land is to experience a genuine Christ Awakening movement at the grassroots—and if that Spirit-driven renewal of our vision for God’s Son descends upon us in its fullness at this hour—could such a spiritual revolution so thoroughly reverse this MTD trend as to raise up an army of youth for Christ?
Could this army be made up of young people who are not only genuinely, demonstrably passionate for Christ for all he is today but also who become a force in our nation intent on serving that awakening and bringing about expanded glory for the ascended, reigning, saving Son of God within every segment of our national life?
My answer is an unequivocal “YES!”—and here’s why I can say that.
“His Troops Will Be Willing . . .
His Youth Will Come to Him”
Not to sound too simplistic, but the transformation we seek can be found in one text of Scripture—in Psalm 110, from which the phrases in the above subtitle are taken.
Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted or referenced Old Testament passage by New Testament writers. Nearly every book draws from it at some point, which demonstrates that the early church saw in this one passage a clear portrayal of what they were experiencing every day in their own lives (as recorded, for example, in stories in the book of Acts).
Essentially, as Psalm 110 implies, you could say the first-century Christian movement was made up of an “army” of new believers who had “come wholly alive to the whole vision of the whole Christ” (which happens to be my definition of a “Christ Awakening” today as well).
As a result, they moved out to spread the gospel and exalt Christ everywhere they went among every group they touched. Thousands came to the Savior over those first decades as a result.
Just look at how Psalm 110 describes these amazing dynamics (emphasis added):
The LORD says to my lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”
The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing
on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy splendor,
your young men will come to you
like dew from the morning’s womb.
Five Themes of Psalm 110
Essentially, these are the steps it outlines, all of which were experienced by the early church and are still being fulfilled in Christ today.
- Crowned: Jesus has taken his seat as King of Kings—which began the day of his Ascension. He has been given all authority in heaven and earth as Redeemer and Ruler of the universe.
- Advancing: From that moment on, the Father promises to give him increasing victories until even his enemies sit at his feet (as we read in Philippians 2 about every knee bending and every tongue confessing Jesus Christ as Lord).
- Conquering: His kingdom will not prevail over his enemies but rather in the midst of his enemies—which is the role played by every congregation as we become the focus of his saving reign and the advance of his righteous, loving purposes among those around us.
- Mobilizing: The impact on all believers who follow him is that we become so captured by the hope of his certain triumphs and so passionate to be with him in his battle against sin, death, and dark powers that we gladly and willingly rally to him, ready to serve him and live for him and die for him with our whole beings.
- Youth Focused: But then, Psalm 110 zeroes in on one facet of this army: There at the forefront—alive and filled with energy, ready to go, fresh like the break of day—are the youth, who are leading the way.
The youth are leading the way!
This final prediction is just as certain as all the others, and as all the others it is just as certainly ready to be fulfilled in and through and by and for King Jesus.
In fact, in the history of many of the great spiritual revolutions, the Church witnessed armies of young people who rose up to exalt Christ in their generation, causing the rest of the Church to follow in their wake. Historian J. Edwin Orr’s Campus Aflame documents three hundred years of this phenomenon.
Waking Them Up to the Supremacy of Jesus:
How God Will Mobilize an Army of Youth
Intent on Exalting His Son Across Our Nation
For sure, there are a growing number of Christian leaders who believe the primary remedy for this current crisis among our Christian young people is to “reintroduce” them to the real Jesus—the Jesus of Psalm 110; the Jesus of Colossians and Revelation and John and Ephesians; the Jesus who is the Lamb who occupies the center of the Throne of the universe!
First of all, within churches and homes everywhere there must unfold a huge paradigm shift—a whole new focus on God’s Son for all he is in all we see, seek, and say about him.
Actively, intentionally, congregations and parents everywhere must labor to generate in their life together a persistent spiritual environment where our priority is, as it says in Colossians 1:18, that “in everything Christ is to have the supremacy.”
If we saw that kind of passion and focus on Jesus as supreme in our homes and churches, our youth would grow, as a way of life, in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3) and their vision of the wonders and glory of Christ right now would increase more and more, even from their earliest years.
All of this would help them gain greater reasons to put their hope in him and offer their lives to him—not only in their homes but also when they head out into the world to campuses and careers.
A Final Word to Adult Believers
- Imagine the magnificent possibility for a Christ Awakening among youth today as you view this very short video on “Christ Kids.” It was produced to stir up your faith about this!
- Remember what the experts are telling us: American teenagers primarily (not necessarily) reflect the devotion (or lack thereof) of their parents and churches. If they see a watered-down gospel modeled by adult believers around them, theirs also will be “limp.”
Do you see any truth in that? Is any of this reflected in your walk with God’s reigning Savior? Are you currently helping your sons and daughters and the youth in your congregation to embrace the supremacy of Christ by your words to them and the example you live out before them?
- For the sake of the Christ Awakening for our nation (and for your congregation) that must come, take up a new resolve: That you will do whatever is needed to help the young people you touch to see vibrant, active, Jesus-loving, adoring, passionate parents and disciples.
- In addition, commit to train these emerging servants of the King to know their Bible much more “highly” and “deeply” and “strongly”—to become apologists who do not retreat but who stand strong, empowered by the Spirit and by their knowledge to answer the difficult questions they will face in colleges and universities and workplaces from atheists and agnostics and people of other faiths—so they can boldly and convincingly declare and share what a great salvation they have found in Jesus and what a life of purpose and meaning they are living under his reign.
Here are five books that can help high school and college students be better prepared to stand strong in their faith in Jesus and in their witness for him: More Than a Carpenter by J. McDowell and S. McDowell; and The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, and The Case for the Real Jesus, all by Lee Strobel. There are simpler versions of these last four books for ages 11-13.
- Make them aware of all the ministries of ChristNowOnline (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and ChristNow.com—all of which have been developed with the younger generation as the prime audience to reintroduce them the glory of Christ on the social media platforms they frequent day by day.
- Pray through Psalm 110. Pray that with increasing victories the Father will make Jesus’ enemies his footstool. Pray that his scepter will be extended more and more over all of the earth, and that he will rule in the midst of his enemies. Pray he will raise up a mighty army of Christ-exalting youth who are passionate for Jesus’ glory and who will lead his willing troops.
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and to Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com.