Never Underestimate Teenagers

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Look around us right now. I believe we are moving closer to a civil and religious revival of sorts. The Next Great Awakening in America. Do you see it?

We see students on TV. We see students on the internet. We see students in the streets. We see students on social media. We see students at the White House. Is it their day? Let's hope so. For many reasons.

Lessons From Crises

We may be witnessing another civil and religious surge in America. Remember the 6 months after the tragedy that was 9/11? The unity in America was breathtaking as we watched our government leaders on the steps of the Capitol building singing together. Every night we saw stories on the news of the survivors and the slain that was both inspirational and overwhelming. And the resurgence in the attendance at our churches from the deep pain that was felt became one of the great moments of our religious lives in America.

And the outcome of the 9/11 attacks has been relative safety and national security for the last two decades. Unfortunately, the civil and the religious awakening didn't last.

But, let's hope that things are different this time. Could the recent mass shooting in Florida bring about a different result than 9/11? Could we see another civil and religious surge in America rise out of a national crisis?

Parkland, FL

In the wake of the post-Parkland shooting tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School, we are poised for a change. But, we are watching the political disunity that comes with the gun control debate. We are viewing stories on the news of both incredible heroism and unfortunate failure. And we are seeing students taking leadership in public in every sector of society. Including government, education, entertainment, athletics, and social media. Will we see it in the Church?

That remains to be seen.

What is undeniable, is that we are in the beginnings of a post-crisis moment in our nation once again. And let's hope that our nation's youth will help to lead us to another civil and religious revival. The Next Great Awakening. It's not too far a stretch to think that young people might be the key to the rise of another American civil and religious revival.

The Impact of Teenagers on History

We don't have to look far to see the impact of teenagers like Alexander the Great (who conquered his first colony in 4th century Persia at 16), Joan of Arc (the 13 year old French revolutionary in the 15th century), Louis Braille (inventing language to the blind in the 19th century at age 15), Mozart completing an opera at 14, or even our contemporaries Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates who both took their companies public by creating Facebook and Microsoft at the age of 19.

And what about The Boy Scouts of America and the YM(W)CA which both transformed the inner-cities of America with clubs and neighborhood events that were begun by young adults and teens with the goal of bringing hope to the urban centers of our nation.

Young people are rising again in America and leaving their impact on our society. Why?

Here are 4 traits that we see in the Millennial and the GenX age range that could be the triggers to another civil and religious revival:

1. Child-likeness

There is a difference between being child-LIKE and child-ISH. The simplicity that is created through children is something we cannot lose in our society. Too many times I have heard adults scold the adolescent mind-set. That there is a juvenilization in our society that is holding us back. From Jesus to Bonhoeffer there has been much said about child-LIKENESS. It is at the foundation of the gospel. 

How does juvenilization hold us back? I want to say, 'Holding us back from what?' From the same kind of adventures that scolding adults enjoyed when they were young? Why is it that everyone who is young wants to be old, and everyone who is old wants to be young again? Maybe it is the affinity for child-LIKENESS. Sure, we need more theology in Youth Ministry. In the Church for that matter. But don't throw the baby out with the bath water!

So, knowing this, what do we do as Youth Leaders?

We must capture the faith and the trust in our young people. We can do that in two ways: First, by creating family for them in the midst of the eroding vacuum of the family unit around them. And second, by building their theology from the bible and not culture. I believe we have failed to often at those two things in the Church and specifically in Youth Ministry. 

Maybe the solution to our problems in our society right now are really simple. Even though they might be difficult to achieve. And that lack of family and theology has caused many problems in society. Much of the solution to the problems in our society (depression, suicide, anger, racism, sexual dysfunction) could come from parents (family) and principles (theology).

And that begins with building young people. Not fixing adults.

2. Risk-taking

I am aware of some studies that place this GenX squad in safety mode. You know, the 'snowflakes' and the 'safe places' people. And I understand that to a degree. But, when it comes to crisis and to cause, this generation will die on their 'hill'. (I will deal with that in trait #3) You see, what we are witnessing in them today is risk-assertiveness and not risk-aversion. We are seeing risk-taking and assertiveness in this public display of activism in our nation today for the safety of their campus and our country.

So, what do we do as Youth Leaders?

We must guide them with our wisdom while not hindering them from their passion. Parent them in the absence of parenting. Wisdom and passion are not inseparable. You see, assessed risk-taking will increase the success of a cause or project greater than it will decrease it.

These students today are looking for the help of adults. It really is true. Even though they may not know how to show that at times. And I believe the wisdom of adults and the passionate risk-taking of GenX is going to lead us to a civil (legislative and campus safety) and a religious (spiritual and church growth) revival. What many are calling, 'The Third Great Awakening'.

3. Cause-oriented

This is one of the most evidential traits of the Mills/GenXer's. To this generation, their 'hill' is their cause. And it is worth dying for. It is their reason for being, what wakes them up every morning. When people (not just young people) have discovered their 'hill', they become world-changers. Because understanding that purpose will result in GenX leaving their legacy behind them for generations to see. Whatever that legacy or cause is. And family is the incubator for dreams and legacy!

With this in mind, what do we do as Youth Leaders?

We must help this generation define its identity or its 'hill'. Mentoring in a personal way can bring dream-development. Dreams are best shared in the context of family. It helps to know why we are here. To know what our purpose is. And that cannot be fully know without understanding what our Creator wants for us. 

I talk weekly to teens who are searching for the 'why'. Why am I here? Why should I get up in the morning? Why do I matter? Identity is one of the greatest ways to bring personal fulfillment. And understanding identity from the Creator's viewpoint is often the beginning of successful completion of a cause.

4. Teamwork

I love this one. We see it in sports teams, work related projects in their part-time job, school homework projects or labs, and even in the growing diversity in this generation. Look at the handful of students who have come front and center as voices of the Parkland shooting.

They have given themselves the hashtag #MarchForOurLives and #NeverAgain so that they can build solidarity. Even their social media following and school partnerships across the nation have gone viral. This support is seen in record-breaking posts, follows, likes, and retweets, and unifying school marches and activism, that screams teamwork.

How does this change the way we do Youth Leadership?

Where better to learn teamwork than the family? Our Youth Ministry and organizations should create a culture of family and teamwork. You've heard before that 'Teamwork Makes The Dream Work'! Create teams. And more teams. And then one more team! Students solve homework in groups, they play sports in groups, they hang out and go to events in groups, and they activate in groups.

As a Church we must capture this teamwork for the sake of the Kingdom. Identify your students core competencies and skillsets and set them to work for the gospel and the Kingdom. Set them in motion for local and global projects they can work on such as feeding programs and Speed The Light (a global missions program).

Never Underestimate Family

At this moment in our nation, our efforts must be about the family. Did you notice it in this blog? I see family in every one of these traits. It is the family setting that can place value on child-LIKENESS. It is the family setting that can allow for safe risk-taking. It is the family setting that can help children define their identity. It is the family setting that builds unity and teamwork and togetherness.

What we are seeing today is merely a repeat of history. And we don't have to look far to see the impact of teenagers on this moment in history. If we are going to see lasting change, this dialogue must be more than gun control. This conversation must be more than mental health. This narrative must be more than school or public safety.

If we lose the emphasis and focus upon rebuilding our families and our children, we lose the lasting civil and religious surge we are seeing in America.


Jeff Grenell