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To reach into Generation X culture, he urges innovation, understanding

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–They speak a foreign language, dress exotically, have odd eating habits and participate in strange tribal customs, including piercing and coloring their bodies.
And they are as close as the bedroom down the hall, the neighborhood high school or nearby college or the local shopping mall.
They are disgusted with the world and want to change it, but they are not sure how.
Their generation has been labeled “X” to symbolize their seeming apathy and worthlessness. But one missionary to this group sees the X as God’s stamp of approval.
“What the devil meant for bad, God has meant for good because X is the symbol for Christ in Greek,” said Tim Bisagno. “Do I not think that God is interested in a generation named after his own Son?”
God must have decided, “I’m gonna call this one Generation Jesus,’” Bisagno continued, with God perhaps saying, “I like that one because they’ve been rejected and I know my Son is going to be rejected as soon as I send him to earth. I can use that.”
Bisagno is director of Mission X, a ministry begun in 1994 in Houston, which includes “MXTV,” a weekly Christian rock music and evangelism television show. The first year more than 270 young people prayed to receive Christ after calling the show and speaking to a staff member or volunteer.
Mission X also produces two-minute radio spots for parents of youth, holds monthly worship and Bible study “Steigers” and conducts weekly discipleship classes. The ministry’s band, Inhoud, plans international evangelism tours to countries on nearly every continent.
Innovative, cross-cultural evangelistic methods are needed to reach America’s young people, Bisagno told Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students in early February, but use new methods without changing the message of the gospel that “always has and always will cross cultural differences and language barriers.”
“May God help us,” Bisagno said, “May God help us to reinterpret the gospel to this generation. May we speak clearly, because they’re screaming for an answer.”
Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill agreed with Bisagno, closing the chapel with an emotion-filled prayer that God would “help us to be missionaries to a generation named for your Son.”
“To learn their language so that we might communicate the timeless truths of God’s Word,” Hemphill continued in a trembling voice. “We often see them as lepers with earrings and colored hair and tattoos. But, Lord, help us to risk the touch for the sake of the gospel.”
Appearances aside, Bisagno said young people are not apathetic but passionate about changing a world that “disgusts” them, noting this generation has more volunteerism and more entrepreneurs than any generation in history.
Speaking for Generation X, Bisagno said, “I need you as my leaders to teach me how to risk. Show me that by having your pastors express vision and by the teachers showing me the hearts of the historians, not just the stupid facts.
“Please show me that if I will take a risk that was born out of the heart of God it promotes faith and it brings life.”
Bisagno asked Christians to answer the following questions for young people: “Is there anything out there? Does it exist — anything that is the same yesterday, that is the same today and will still be there tomorrow?”
When this generation gets passionate about God,” Bisagno said, it will change the world. However, if Christians do not act decisively now, Bisagno predicted young people will direct their passion wherever they can find a thrill, whether it be drugs, extreme sports, sex in any form, a relationship with anyone who seems to care, or suicide.
“We need a challenge, and we want a challenge and we’re going to find a challenge and we want a risk and we’re going to take the risk,” Bisagno said young people are saying. “We will because it’s way too deep within our spirit not to.”
Bisagno told the audience that Christians must do “more than just pray for this generation. We’ve got to understand them.”
Saying many church leaders and parents are in denial or confused about the plight of young people, Bisagno cited a Newsweek article reporting on deaths from heroin overdoses by “good kids” in the Dallas-Fort Worth area the previous three months.
Much of Bisagno’s message was in first-person, speaking as a member of the younger generation, outlining beliefs that mold its worldview.
The first is that they feel the pillars of society — family, government and church — have failed.
“I’ve got to take care of myself because no one else is,” Bisagno said young people are saying.
He cited contradictions within young people that lead to “a sense of guarded hopelessness.”
“Even though I live at home longer, I seem to grow up too soon,” Bisagno said. “Even though I’m highly individualistic, I need to belong. Even though, yeah, I’m disillusioned, I’m not going to give up.”
Quoting lyrics by singer Alanis Morissette to sum up the attitude, Bisagno said, “I’m broke but I’m happy. I’m poor, but I’m kind. But what it all comes down to is that everything is going to be fine, fine, fine. … If it’s here today, it’s going to be gone tomorrow so get used to it and smile.”
Second, Bisagno said, today’s youth view relationships as more important than things.
“Teenage girls are having babies to have a sense of family,” he said. “Boys join gangs for the same reason. It’s not the stuff, it’s you that we want.”
Advertisers have figured it out, emphasizing not their products when marketing to young people but trying to connect to shared experiences and relationships, Bisagno said.
“To me there’s no relationship without connection,” he said young people believe. “There’s no connection without respect. And there’s no respect without authenticity.”
“Be authentic; we’ve seen the hype before,” he continued. “We don’t connect with the flashy youth program. We connect with the authentic youth minister. We more readily connect with a speaker who’s open and available and realistic enough to speak of his shortcomings more than we’ll listen to the preacher whose speaking of tomorrow’s ‘second coming.’”
Thirdly, America’s youth believe they are the authority on morality because churches and parents largely have abdicated their role, Bisagno said, especially with regard to sex.
“I see the church as avoiding the issue,” he said young people say. “I see Mom and Dad not even sitting on the same couch anymore. What could they know about sex? Remember I learn by example and I live by experience.”
Young people rely on experience to learn, because they are growing up in a culture with no moral absolutes, Bisagno said. Reinforced by a media barrage that proclaims there are no boundaries, relativism is inescapable for young people, he said.
“You should do theology like you do a crossword puzzle,” Bisagno said young people would say. “You should do it in pencil, because to do it in pen would mean that you’re quite arrogant. You actually think that you wouldn’t have to change your answers.”
This attitude is a survival skill learned at a young age by members of the first generation marketed to as consumers, Bisagno said.
When toy advertisements that “brainwash” children into believing products can do the impossible don’t match reality, the children are left disillusioned.
“We’ve reached for the silver star in the sky and realized and found and learned that it’s made out of tin foil and cheap glitter,” Bisagno said.
When things are rarely what they seem and change is the only constant, he said, young people are left with only one thing to trust — experience.
“If my experience feels right, then it probably works,” Bisagno said young people believe.
That trust in experience, however, is the key to drawing them to church, he said.
“At least initially we come [to church] to catch the feeling and to be with our friends and to experience the power,” he said young people believe.
But the initial experience must be accompanied by instruction in the truth because young people long for it, but they must see the truth lived, not just talked about, he said.
“Until I see the teachings move from the classroom in the churches into the living room,” Bisagno said, “I really don’t have any other choice other than trust my experience.”

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  • Matt Sanders