Matthew Skirton believes we need to be more bold in what we are calling young people to.
“I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.”(Romans 1:16) These words must have been extremely challenging to receive for the early Christians in Rome. As followers of Jesus, facing all sorts of trials, temptations and struggles, surely they would have been tempted to compromise, internalise their faith, and play it safe by not sharing their hope and the promise of salvation with others.
A recent study by the British Social Attitudes Survey showed that the share of the UK population identifying as having no religion continues to grow, with 65% of 18–24-year-olds saying they belong to no religion and only 18% saying they are Christians. Hostility to the message of the Bible and its teaching is undoubtedly growing in our country. Young Christians are finding themselves in an increasingly secular society, with many feeling unable to talk about their faith in public.
As I reflect upon the challenges faced in the UK today, especially by young disciples of Jesus, I wonder how we can best help them be confident and unashamed of the gospel. Rather than encouraging them to simply cling to a fledgling faith, hoping that they’ll keep turning up at church each week, what if we enabled them to look beyond themselves to such an extent that they see Jesus and understand more fully what it means to follow Him and make disciples?
Paul did not urge those early Jesus followers to retreat and focus solely on trying to hold on and survive. Instead, he urged them to boldly, unashamedly proclaim, share and demonstrate the truths of the gospel. The boldness of those early followers came from the working of the Holy Spirit and the fact that they had simply ‘been with Jesus’ (Acts 4v13).
Perhaps our approach to discipling young Jesus followers today should be far bolder, far more radical and, dare I say, more biblical, as we emphasise that all disciples of Jesus are called to make disciples. The sharing of our faith and making of disciples is not just an optional extra for a special few, but should be a natural part of every Jesus follower’s life.
This is the purpose behind Operation Mobilisation’s (OM) TeenStreet events, which started in 1993 with just 53 teenagers and today numbers in the thousands in 15 countries across the world. In the summer of this year, the event launched in the UK for the very first time. The call to live out God’s love boldly permeates the entirety of the programme, which connects UK teens to a global community of young people and brings them hope and boldness through discipleship.
It’s all about disciples becoming disciple makers. Not being ashamed of the Gospel, and recognising the need and calling that all followers of Jesus have to make disciples. Through TeenStreet we seek to help teens see how God is continuing to move powerfully in people’s lives and bring revival all over the world - and how He can do the same both to and through their lives in the UK. They have a key role to play in reaching the world with the Gospel, the problem is that often they just don’t know it yet.
The benefits of this approach to teens are multiple. Broadening their understanding of how God is moving internationally can strengthen teens’ faith, help them remember that they are not alone, recontextualise their view of God and also spark their passion to step into their calling and get involved in His transformative work. Discipling and connecting teens to Christians from a diverse array of UK backgrounds who have taken part in spreading the gospel worldwide is key to achieving this.
One of the teenagers at TeenStreet UK 2022, Abigail, described having a moment of deep connection with God, saying: “I now have a dream to tell people about God’s love in places that are difficult to reach with the gospel. Sometimes people discourage me. But if our purpose as Christians is to make disciples of all nations then we must be willing to talk about our faith everywhere. I’m open to God calling me anywhere.”
Lift their eyes
Discipling teens so that they understand their purpose in God’s plan is essential to encouraging them to lift up their eyes, live out their faith and develop a passion to share God’s love. We rejoice that many who have attended TeenStreet in the past have gone on to share the good news with different mission agencies and churches by serving as cross cultural disciple makers around the world.
We cannot just teach our teenagers how to survive in the UK as Christians. We need to inspire them with the knowledge that God is moving and transforming lives everywhere, and that they have been gifted with the unique skills and abilities to help reach the millions who have not yet heard the gospel, both inside and outside of the UK. By sharing a larger vision of what God is doing in the world, faith becomes less about the individual, and more about a worldwide community of Jesus followers, united in our calling to make disciples of all nations.
I wonder, as parents and youth pastors, are we just trying to shepherd our youth from one event to another, praying and willing them to hold on and show up at church or youth group? Or, are we showing them that they have an important role to play in sharing a glorious gospel that has the power to transform not just their lives but also the lives of people around the world?