As a Christian parent, are you concerned that your children have doubts about the faith you are passing on to them? As a youth pastor or minister, are you troubled by the apathy so many of the kids in your youth group show toward spiritual things? As a Christian educator, are you worried that you are out of your depth with the questions your students have about the Christian worldview?
Being all three, I can relate. The fact is that the generation currently coming of age, Generation Z as they are called, are living a profoundly different adolescence than even the most recent generation before them. So, how do we Christian parents, pastors, and teachers help them stay grounded in the faith and thrive in the culture?
Here’s the thing…
Thankfully, we have some help.
In their newest book, So the Next Generation Will Know (set to release May 1), renowned Christian apologists Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace offer a guide to engaging what is quickly becoming the largest and most secularized generation.
Someone born between 2000 and 2015, the typical brackets for Gen Z, has had a vastly different childhood than even those born between 1984 and 1999, the typical brackets for millennials.
Gen Z’s experiences are unique just by merit of being “digital natives,” meaning they are growing up in a world where digital technology is everywhere. They learned how to swipe before they learned how to speak. It is how they spend their time, maintain their relationships, and find the “truth.” It is why they are so visually oriented and have keen mindfulness of diversity. (p. 48-52)
One thing that struck me is that Gen Z has not experienced a unifying tragedy. “The Greatest Generation” had World War II. Baby boomers had the Vietnam War and the JFK assassination. Gen Xers had the Challenger explosion. Millennials, of course, had 9/11.
Yet while Generation Z has not had a tragedy of that magnitude, their upbringing has not exactly been pleasant. The authors write:
They are the first generation without any memory of September 11 and were raised in a world still coming to grips with the reality of terrorism and what that means for immigration, government oversight, and so on. Older members of Gen Z will recall the economic crash of 2008 and natural disasters, such as earthquakes in Haiti. Younger Gen Zers grew up practicing drills for the possibility of a school shooting. (p. 47)
The social pressures which Gen Z experience are not much different than those encountered by previous generations. However, due to the ubiquity of social media, those pressures follow them into places that in the past have been a refuge: their homes. The bullying that used to only happen “out there” now follows them home by way of cyber-bullying. The need to look unnaturally pristine now confronts girls before they ever leave the house by way of Snapchat and Instagram. The fear of missing out haunts boys who now have the ability to see the party to which they were not invited.
Add that reality to an already demanding schedule. Is it any wonder that “two out of three teens today feel overwhelmed by everything they need to do each week”? (p. 53) Or, should we be surprised by the fact that reports of loneliness and depression are skyrocketing?
The authors tap into decades worth of studies, and the facts about GenZ are staggering. The percentage of teenagers that claim to be atheists today doubles the percentage of atheists in the general population. (p. 30) As they enter college, they are three times more likely to identify as religiously unaffiliated than college freshmen were thirty years ago. (p. 32) The 52 percent of GenZ students who frequently attend church their freshman year in college shrinks to 29 percent by their junior year. (p. 30) According to a definitive study, only 4 percent of Gen Z has a Biblical worldview. (p. 55)
The multitude of studies and statistics discussed throughout the book reveal several reasons that older Gen Zers give for having left the faith of their upbringing: (p. 31)
It is at this point that the genius of the book begins to unfold. McDowell and Wallace point out what becomes a glaring reality behind all the reasons Gen Zers give for turning from Christianity. There are really only two things missing from their upbringing: truth and love.
The authors write:
Young people are seeking reasonable explanations and authentic relationships; these are the two inseparable rails that will lead us toward a solution.” (p. 33)
McDowell and Wallace proceed to outline how we adult Christian influencers can “speak the truth in love.” The chapter titles are clear on this theme, from “Love Responds” and “Love Relates” to “Love Trains” and “Love Engages.” Reading like 1 Corinthians 13, they remind us that the love we have for our young people ought to manifest itself in several tangible ways.
Youth ministry has often fallen on either side of that equation. On one hand, church leaders have focused on teaching to the neglect of relationships. On the other hand, they have emphasized the relational activities to the neglect of truth.
To correct this false dichotomy, the authors call “for teaching apologetics and Christian worldview [that] is anchored and rooted in a uniquely Christian approach that unites truth to relationship, law to grace, justice to mercy.” (p. 42)
The primary strategy that McDowell and Wallace propose is something that every Christian parent, youth pastor or minister, and Christian educator can implement in unique and complementary ways. We need to have two whys for every what. (p. 99-101)
The what is whatever Biblical concept or Christian truth claim we present. Most Christian parents and church leaders do a decent job on this front. However, the authors later encourage us to raise our expectations higher than typical youth ministry goes. (p. 109)
The first why is essentially why we believe what we believe. This is where the recent surge of Christian apologetics has picked up much of the slack. Christian apologists, like the authors themselves, equip parents and leaders to equip our young people.
The second why goes a step further. It explains why it matters at all. Breaking past the barriers of apathy built up in the hearts of many teenagers, this why displays the relevance of the Christian faith to their everyday lives. It is one thing to know what Christians believe. It is better to know why we believe it. It is best for our young people to know why they should believe it.
This strategy is the impetus behind the outline presented for the content we teach: TAB. (p. 120-128)
Throughout the remainder of the book, the authors lay out a seamless approach to both the theoretical and practical aspects of teaching young people a thoroughly Biblical worldview.
The most provocative feature of the book, in my opinion, is actually found in the margins. As each chapter proceeds, the authors provide specific applications of the ideas they explain, titled “If you’re a youth pastor or minister,” “If you’re a Christian educator,” and “If you’re a parent.” These marginal sections offer immensely helpful suggestions. Ministers are offered outlines and titles for structured TAB lessons and sermons. Educators are offered conversation starters for classroom discussions. Parents are offered open-ended questions to help open communication with their children.
This is just one of the many ways in which McDowell and Wallace bridge the gap between theory and practice.
In the introduction to the book, Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles writes:
I realized right then and there that this was not about the trophy or the win, but about what the Lord had done in my life and the responsibility I was about to have to share His love with others. (p. 17)
From one of Sean McDowell’s former students, a testimony that I find common in my own students:
I had to graduate and be challenged before I realized how important it is. But I was listening more than you probably think. (p. 40)
Our instruction—especially toward those who are younger—is a vehicle for truth, fueled by loving relationships. (p. 41)
Today’s biggest challenge in teaching worldview to young people is the way our increasingly secular culture fosters the compartmentalization of faith. (p. 82)
Yet according to the Christian worldview everything has a spiritual component and the whole world is a mission field. We simply cannot separate the two. (p. 83)
Relationships are built on time and attention, extended opportunities and small ratios. (p. 107)
Here is a principle we hope you will adopt: start the conversation with your kids before they are confronted with the issues elsewhere. (p. 160)
This book is as thought-provoking as it is concise. It is as conceptually challenging as it is practically helpful. I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say this book has the potential to revolutionize how Christian parents raise their children and how church leaders minister to them. If you are a parent, a pastor (youth or otherwise), a Christian educator, or a cross-section of all three, I recommend this book to you with enthusiasm.
Amazon currently has So the Next Generation Will Know on pre-sale for just $12.37 (http://amzn.to/2CftJza). Buy it before the release date (May 1) and they will send you an amazing pre-release package. Just follow these instructions: http://bit.ly/2O6OEsT
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