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Revival may take root in today’s youth, prof says

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Alvin Reid has written multiple books, holds the Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a mentor to future pastors.

Away from the office, though, the 44-year-old professor speaks frequently to youth groups and college students. He also plays a bass guitar in One Way Up, a lively praise band, along with his son, Josh, 15, and Josh’s best friend and a seminary student.

The latter is part of the lasting impact of the 1995 Brownwood revival. Today, Reid is convinced that the church as a whole has underemphasized the role of youth in spiritual awakening.

He explores that role more fully in his newly released book, “Raising the Bar: Ministry to Youth in the New Millennium” (Kregel Publications).

“When I came to Southeastern [in the fall of 1995] I never dreamed that most of my preaching and writing would now be about youth ministry,” Reid said. “But I’m so convinced that this coming generation has the best promise. I’m very excited about young people and the potential they have.

“Part of Raising the Bar is that teenagers are not children; they’re young adults and we ought to treat them that way. Not every teenager is ready to lead in worship. But if they are, why not let them? Why wait until they’re 20 or 25 if someone 15 can go win a medal at the Olympics?”

While Reid has volunteered at church youth functions, he called his view largely that of a youth ministry outsider. From that perspective, Reid suggested it is time for less fun-and-games and more Bible teaching.

In his book, he wrote that a refreshing wind is blowing among the youth of America.

Those who study today’s generations have observed a shift among teens and pre-teens, Reid noted, recounting that a Florida youth pastor told him, “Student ministers are realizing that this generation of young people [is] not satisfied with the latest game or ice-breaker. They want real, honest biblical substance.”

“Millennials,” or people born since 1982, have many distinct, positive characteristics, Reid said.

Crediting Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of “Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation,” for most of 10 positive traits he has listed, Reid said of today’s young people:

1. They are optimistic.

This is a contrast to the “busters” who preceded them. Reid referred to a recent survey in which nine of 10 millennials described themselves as happy, positive or confident.

2. They are cooperative team players.

“I have personally noticed a remarkable change in youth groups in the past three years, particularly in their commitment to group activities, including evangelistic outreach. They are remarkably committed to missions projects and personal evangelism when sent out in teams.”

3. They are not distrustful and accept authority.

One study of 12- to 14-year-olds found that the people they looked to the most for answers were their parents. Reid quoted researcher George Barna: “It is the rare teenager who believes he or she can lead a fulfilling life without receiving complete acceptance and support from his or her family.”

4. They are rule-followers.

From 1995-2000, homicide, violent crime, abortion and teen pregnancy dropped at a faster rate than any previous period. Reid quoted one writer who said the 1990s witnessed rapid improvement in adolescent conduct.

5. They are watched over, not neglected.

While broken homes abound, this generation’s parents show a greater concern for the well-being of their children than those immediately preceding them, Reid said.

In the summer of 2002, he said child abductions received unprecedented attention not because such crimes are on the rise but because of national concern for children.

6. They are colorblind.

If a church wants to exclude someone on the basis of color, in a few years they won’t have any youth left: “My son gets angry at the thought of a church that would have the audacity to exclude someone on the basis of the color of their skin,” Reid said.

7. They are bright.

Reid said this generation understands technology better than his parents, recalling how his daughter was adept at handling CD-ROMs at the age of 4. “If they can learn chemistry in high school, they can learn theology at church,” Reid said.

8. They believe in the future.

The idealism of the ’60s generation is seen in this group without so much of an anti-authority edge. The author mentioned a recent news report on the rising number of G-rated movies, citing youths’ influence on marketing.

9. They want to be challenged.

While many decry public schools’ low academic standards, Reid said the level of expectation in most churches is just as low.

As a contrast, he mentioned First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., where 180 youth meet at 7:15 a.m. on Sundays to sing or play in the youth choir and orchestra. When the pastor challenged students to dedicate a year to mission work after high school, 17 went to Argentina.

10. They are seeking genuine spirituality.

Reid again cited Barna, who found in a survey that while two-thirds of teens are interested in a meaningful relationship with God, less than one-third are active in a church.

“Obviously, youth ministry in America has not produced a generation of young people who are passionate about the church,” Reid said. “However, it is also an indictment on the state of the church in America.”

Yet, Reid said he finds an optimistic sign for the future in a U.S. Census Bureau projection: In 2006 there will be more youth in America than at any time in our nation’s history.

“I just think in the providence of God, our Lord knew that,” Reid said. “So that may be our hope.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: RAISING THE BAR.

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  • Ken Walker