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Youth seen as potential spark for fourth ‘Great Awakening

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP)–The spreading influence of youth ministry in public schools may spark the greatest wave of revival in America’s history, say youth pastors who attended the recent National Network of Youth Ministries conference.

“We could be seeing the beginning of the fourth ‘Great Awakening’ through what’s happening in campus ministry,” said Randy Brantley, youth evangelism associate for the Arkansas Baptist Convention.

“This is what God seems to be doing around the nation. There seems to be an incredible spiritual hunger among students, whether in Long Island (N.Y.), San Diego or Little Rock (Ark.) There’s a felt need when we present Christ to them.”

Ironically, the limits placed on sharing the gospel in public schools the past 35 years are creating more youthful evangelists, said one former youth minister.

Jadell Forman of Tulsa, Okla., who writes and publishes youth ministry materials, called this the positive side of adults not being able to witness in schools.

“Kids are missionaries in public schools,” she said. “They can share the gospel (while) adults can’t come in and do that. Some think that’s sad but I see it as a wonderful opportunity for teens to share the Lord. It puts a destiny on them because it gives them a spotlight they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Another encouraging aspect of the spread of campus ministry is increased networking among different denominations to accomplish the task, Brantley said.

“Campus ministry transcends denominationalism but not our core beliefs,” he said. “Its mission is evangelism. There’s not a Southern Baptist who wouldn’t agree the purpose of evangelism is to win people to Christ. We don’t agree on all points of doctrine and theology, but we
agree that kids are lost and need Jesus to save them.”

Aiding this move is a dedicated group of pastors and workers, said Richard Ross, youth ministry consultant for the Baptist Sunday School Board. He senses an urgency among evangelical leaders to reach today’s teen generation because of:

— a deep concern over the lost nature of most youth, and the pain and suffering they experience “in a culture spinning out of control.”

— a growing conviction that Christ’s return may be imminent. That means business-as-usual approaches no longer are acceptable, he said.

“From denominational headquarters to local communities, cooperation and linking arms represent the future,” said Ross, who played a key role in initiating the popular “True Love Waits” sexual abstinence movement.

“Denominational labels are not particularly important to teenagers at school. Christian teenagers facing a pagan culture know they need each other for support and growth. They know they can make a greater impact on their schools than they could alone.”

Dean Finley of Springfield, Mo., who is involved in coordinating Home Mission Board youth evangelism efforts, said this kind of biblical unity was the object of Jesus’ final prayer in John 17.

While individual churches retain their importance, he said in today’s busy society it is difficult for one church to get society’s attention.

“When all youth leaders are working together and sensitive to what God is doing, it’s an opportunity to impact the culture,” the field ministry official said. “Unless we come together as Christians and speak as one voice, we don’t get heard.”

David Bryant, president of Concerts of Prayer International, was the keynote speaker for the conference, with the theme, “Streams Into Rivers: Moving Together Toward Spiritual Awakening.”

Referring to Ezekiel’s vision in chapter 47 of the prophet’s book, Bryant encouraged youth ministers to look forward to a deepening relationship with God. Don’t be afraid to join with other denominations to usher in spiritual renewal, he said, because the Lord gave Ezekiel
this vision for such encouragement.

Bryant told of his two deep convictions throughout nearly 30 years in ministry — that he would someday see the greatest revival in history and that youth will be in the center of that movement.

“(I am) utterly convinced we are already in the early stages of that revival,” he said. “God is committed to making his Son the focus of everything. That’s what revival is all about.”

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  • Ken Walker