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Bethel College baptism
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Reclaiming the Next Generation

Be encouraged –

God is working in the next generation.

Despite negative future-of-the-church chatter or speculative doomsday statistics, Jesus will build His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Bethel CollegeCase in point, consider Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana.

I recently served there as its keynote speaker for Spiritual Emphasis Week. What God did in just a matter of days was nothing short of a revival.

Let me say that again – it was nothing short of a revival… because what God is up to and desires for this generation is so much more than than mere revival…

and it requires more than a matter of days.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

My invitation came from Vice President for Student Development Dr. Shawn Holtgren. He has like many of us ached over the spiritual condition of the emerging generation, having faced his own defining moment as a college student years ago. When Shawn was a freshman at Bethel he actually planned to transfer out to another school. Bethel itself was on the verge of closing.

Doomsday statistics. Negative chatter.

And then… revival.

An ordinary speaker who loved Jesus came through to share his heart and story in chapel. He spoke about a powerful movement of God he’d personally experienced and offered a simple question – if God did that for him and others “back then,” then couldn’t He do it yet again even now?

Shawn HoltgrenShawn describes how students were cut to the heart, coming to Jesus for salvation, clamoring for phones to call home to reconcile with family, confessing sin to each other and forming a commitment to start discipling one another. Shawn was convicted to stay at Bethel and go all in. It led to him becoming who he is today on campus – which includes being a leader of leaders for spiritual directors.

When you get genuinely influenced by God,

you can’t help but become an influencer with God.

Rick Lawrence in Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry calls this being “ruined for Jesus” in the JCYM_guidebest way possible.

That leads up to what happened when I was there as the Spiritual Emphasis Week keynote… and what happened even before I was there.

Pay attention – there’s a potential template in here for all of us.

I began receiving handwritten postcard after postcard from students and faculty in the mail for weeks, telling me how I was being prayed for. Each described how they looked forward to what might happen and how God was already moving on campus – even if only a handful of them could sense it. They prayed for me personally, including my family and church.

“Wow.”

prayerPerhaps that’s why the first thing I did in my opening session was challenge everyone to kneel and hold hands with others next to them as we invited God to move in us and through us.

“Now.”

In a letter to Bethel’s board, Shawn describes how it all came together:

Prior to the start of the school year one of our rugby players gave his heart to Christ. Early the next morning he was up studying the book of John with one of his teammates who is a youth ministry major. Two weeks later… a freshman student surrendered himself to God in the library when a Resident Assistant explained the Gospel to him in a way that he understood. I invited him to share a brief word of testimony in chapel the following Friday, during which one of his hall mates was moved to give his life to Christ.

challengeThe following week, September 14-18, was our fall Spiritual Emphasis Week, which simply became a continuation of what God was already doing. Throughout the week our speaker, Tony Myles challenged the Bethel community to embrace afresh the “story of God” from creation to Kingdom come.

Countless students responded to the call to follow Christ. On Wednesday morning the altar was filled with students offering their lives to God for the first time.

On Thursday hundreds of students were commissioned to be lifelong disciples of Jesus.

bethel_picAnd on Friday, we held a special baptism service in the Reflection Pond for seven students who committed their lives to Christ.

Hundreds of students, faculty and staff surrounded the pond in support of these individuals who were publicly identifying with Jesus. It was an inspiring for all.

I’m tempted to do what we’re all tempted to do – celebrate the revival and momentum… one-hour chapel services becoming multiple-hour chapel services… altar calls that involved students huddling around each other in prayer.

Or… we can go deeper.

Isn’t that what you crave in your student ministry? Something deeper?

You don’t just want a great ending to your next retreat or youth night, do you?

You want to see more than a revival…

you want to see Kingdom Living.

Perhaps we can take a lesson from Bethel College in reclaiming the next generation:

  • baptism15aPrayer: Do we say a quick prayer for the ministry we’re already up to, or do we allow prayer to marinate everyone in God for weeks and weeks prior to taking a big step together spiritually?
  • Kingdom: Do we pursue the next spiritual revival to plant a flag and take a selfie as we do, or do we claim the ground we’re on as Kingdom-centric holy ground where God is already at work?
  • Body: Do we try to get everyone to attend an event we’ve created, or do we empower everyone to be active as members of the Body of Christ who are on a mission to develop everyone we come in contact with?
  • Development: Do we get Christian kids to hang out with each other, or do we show them what it means to spur one another on spiritually?
  • Faith: Do we let the naysayers tell us what is likely in this generation, or do we let God show us what is possible in this generation?

Let me say it again – God is working in this generation.

Since I left Bethel, more than 375 new students have gotten involved in discipleship groups, and over 140 are now being personally mentored by a faculty or staff member.

It’s Romans 11:5 being lived out – “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.”

I’m so thankful for whatever way I added to this, but even more so for Bethel’s example in nurturing something that is beyond one Spiritual Emphasis Week.

What if this is happening (or aching to happen) in your ministry?

What’s your story?

How can we pray with you?

Thank you for loving students!

– Tony / @TonyMyles

2 thoughts on “Reclaiming the Next Generation

  1. Avatar
    Darin Peppers

    That’s strong stuff!! I too believe in our next generation! They are passionate and the #1 influence on each other. Equipping them and the local church with a plan of action to take Christ to their campuses if what First Priority is all about!! It begins with prayer and unifying the Body of Christ in our communities.

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Reclaiming the Next Generation

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