This article was originally published on churchleaders.com in 2014. Considering the most recent school shootings, its message still rings true and necessary today.
In light of the recent school shooting in New Mexico, last month’s school shooting in Colorado and the long string of school shootings which have buffeted this nation since April 20th, 1999 (the Columbine massacre), it’s time for the church to act decisively, strategically and effectively.
We need to work together to save the next generation, not just from school shooters, but the more subtle (but no less dangerous) enemies of suicide, drunk/drug driving and bullying.
But how? What can youth leaders, parents and pastors do to stem the rising tide of evil that is waging war against our young people? While there are no quick fixes, I would like to present a simple strategy to save the next generation. But before we talk about strategies, let’s take a glance behind the curtain to remind ourselves of the real enemy, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
Our battle is ultimately a spiritual one because behind many if not all of these school shootings, bullying incidents and teen suicides, there is some sort of demonic activity. Sure there are other issues involved, but at the deepest level, these problems are spiritual in nature. That’s what Ephesians 6:12 reminds us of in a clear and eye-opening way. And a primarily spiritual problem requires a primarily spiritual solution.
Thoreau put it this way, “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil one strikes at the root.” Only prayer, love and the gospel of Jesus Christ can strike at the root of the evil that lies at the heart of all of this violence.
The church has a simple solution to a complicated problem. When I use the word “simple,” I don’t mean simplistic and I sure don’t mean easy. It may be simple to understand, but it will take Spirit-fueled sweat to make it happen on middle school and high school campuses across the nation.
The plan is this: Pray, Pursue, Persuade.
1. Pray with Passion.
“Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved.” Romans 10:1
Don’t underestimate the power of intercessory prayer (like I did for years.) It is the bazooka in the closet that breaks spiritual strongholds. It is the surgeon hands that restore broken hearts. We need to pray as families, youth groups, men’s groups, small groups, women’s groups, youth groups and campus groups for the next generation. Because 85 percent of those who trust in Jesus do so by the age of 18, wouldn’t it make sense to focus at least 85 percent of our evangelistic “knee grease” there?
When I drop my kids off at school in the morning, we drive by Arvada West High School and we pray for revival on that school campus. We pray for lost teenagers to be rescued by Jesus and that the Christian teenagers would be mobilized for loving, bridge-building, prayer-driven evangelistic action.
However you choose to pray for the next generation (and mobilize the Christian adults and teenagers in your world to do the same) is up to you. But do something. Do something now. Do something from now on.
2. Pursue with Love.
“When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:22,23
We need to train teenagers to reach out to the lost starting with the bad, the broken and the bullied … like Jesus did! What if we equipped them to pursue deeper relationships with teenagers already in their circle of friends and then inspired them to build their circle, starting with “those kids.”
This may mean encouraging teenagers to sit at a different seat in the cafeteria once a week, training them in listening skills and demonstrating how to ask good questions. When teenagers are loved and listened to, they are valued. This should be the case regardless of how someone views Jesus or responds to the Gospel. We are called to love people period, and we must help our teenagers be the ambassadors of Christ’s love at their schools.
3. Persuade with Truth.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
We, like the Apostle Paul, are called to the ministry of reconciliation. We do this by gently persuading others to respond to the message of the gospel. The Greek word for persuade is “peitho” which means “to make friends of, to win one’s favor, gain one’s good will or to seek to win one.” It is used at least 8 times in the New Testament in direct connection with evangelism.
Teenagers must be equipped, not to coerce others to convert, but to gently and lovingly persuade others to embrace Jesus as their Savior. This takes training and practice. This takes prayer and patience. This takes you leading the way.