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Millennials swayed by evidence over authority, evangelists say

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Today’s youth minister does not only have to reach the hearts of young people, he has to challenge their minds as well, a former atheist-turned-apologist said urging the “Culture Shock ’98” youth ministry conference Sept. 14-16 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.
“The next generation of youth minister is going to have to be keenly able to engage the minds of young people,” said Frank Harber, an evangelist and apologist from Fort Worth, Texas.
No longer is it simply enough to ask teens to believe in Jesus, Harber said. The millennial generation is extremely skeptical, he said. They need empirical evidence and like doubting Thomas they ask, “How do we know the way?”
Just as the early church evangelists preached the gospel and engaged the Greeks with philosophy, youth ministers need to equip teens with evidence to intellectually defend their faith, Harber said.
Harber recounted an incident when he publicly debated a teen atheist at a crusade where he was speaking. Harber refuted the teenage boy’s claims that God did not exist and the Bible contained 36 errors.”At the end of it, I gave an invitation and 17 young people came forward and received Jesus Christ,” he said.
Harber said the teen atheist is one example of a generation of children who are going to be highly antagonistic to the gospel. “They’re smarter than we are, they have access to information, they understand how to find information on the Internet, and increasingly it’s not going to be enough to simply tell them that Jesus is the truth because the Bible says so.”
Jay Strack, an evangelist from Orlando, Fla., described teenagers today as more complex than ever. “This is a culture of unequaled freedom and baffling complexity,” Strack said. “We must come to a sobering conclusion that it is a combination of rebellion and society that has created this separate teen community, a world where kids are left on their own to make their own choices and to determine their own fate.”
Describing the teenage generation as a “tribe apart,” Strack identified four factors that have created a teenage subculture: the crumbling of the home; the crisis in the classroom; the corruption of the culture; and the coldness in the church.
Strack said youth ministers need to “be real” with teens today because they don’t want their youth pastor to be just like them.
He said the time Harber spent with the teenage atheist trying to understand his views is a great example of reaching millennials where they are. “I believe that as much as anything, it’s going to be the fact that (Harber) cared enough to have a relationship with a young boy who is a royal pain,” Strack said.
Before engaging teens intellectually, Strack said, adults need to move beyond the millennials’ rebellious appearance. “See the kid’s hearts, not their clothes,” he said. “Deal with their hearts, bring them to Jesus, and then we’ll worry about how they look.”

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  • Greg Carpenter