Article by Danny Mitchell
Have you noticed lately that teenagers are doing some pretty amazing things? Take Zac Sunderland for example. This seventeen-year-old homeschooler from California was recently featured in ESPN: The Magazine, chronicling his attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. That’s right. 25,000 nautical miles by himself in a boat built in 1972 that he bought for six thousand dollars. During his voyage, he has been chased by pirates, caught in severe storms, dealt with equipment breakdowns, and is currently about 3,000 miles from home. To a reporter’s question about what he plans to do next, Zac responded that while he does not have plans yet, he does know that going to college to work a 9-5 job will be difficult. You can follow his exploits on his blog, www.zacsunderland.com/blog.
Or how about Bonnie Richardson from tiny Rochelle, Texas, (population 600) who for the last two years has single-handedly won the state team track championship for her school? Bonnie is the entire track team, and at each track meet she runs 7-9 events in the course of a day. The town and school are so small that they do not have a track for her to practice on. She trains on a dirt track for running events and at a rival high school for the others. You can read about her incredible accomplishments at highschool.rivals.com.
Perhaps you have heard of a teenager from Atlanta named Zac Hunter, who at the age of fourteen decided that he needed to do something about modern-day slavery around the world. As a seventh grader, he started Loose the Change to Loosen Chains to try to raise money to release the estimated 27 million people in bondage. This teenage abolitionist went on from there to write books called Be The Change and Generation Change. A quick Google search will let you read several articles written about him.
Finally, let me mention one other website about young men who are doing incredible things. On www.therebelution.com, brothers Alex and Brett Harris challenge teenagers to stop wasting their lives and do significant things for the glory of God.
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Here is why I mention these young people in a magazine about discipleship. It seems to me that though most PCA churches express a verbal commitment to youth ministry, we fall short at giving students the chance to practice their faith. Dr. Chap Clark, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of several youth ministry books, believes that churches that call teenagers to radical obedience and do not allow them opportunity to put into practice their faith are in actuality abandoning teenagers. Let me explain.
Regardless of what adults may think, teenagers are influenced by what adults tell them; but they often lack the social, emotional, physical, or spiritual development needed to process what they have been told on their own. Studies continue to show there is a short window of opportunity for information to be acted on until it becomes irrelevant. This reality makes me wonder if student ministries that talk about dropping nets and following Christ, stepping out in faith, dying to self, living for Christ, being salt and light, and going into all the world to make disciples but do not give students opportunities to do these things, or that only allow students a chance to lead recreation at VBS once a year, might actually be guilty of perpetuating the myth of the irrelevance of God’s Word to “real” life.
I can already hear the push back from people regarding my last statement. I know that some feel the church is a place of protection and shelter for young people, and I have personally experienced what happens when teenagers who radically step out fail miserably. I hear the stories from youth pastors of conflict that has arisen when adults were afraid of teenagers doing ministry at the homeless shelter or practicing street evangelism. However, after twenty years in youth ministry I am more committed today than ever to the belief that God calls even thirteen-year-olds to radical obedience. Sometimes that call has messy results. Will they at times goof it up? Absolutely. Will they do it differently than you would? Probably. But as I said at the start of the article, teenagers are doing some pretty amazing things; and perhaps it would behoove the church to have adults move out of the way and see what plans the Lord has for this next generation.