The Glass is Half Full

Originally published February 15, 2008.

Concerning this generation of teens and young adults, I believe the glass is really half full.

I know study after study is saying that teens are leaving the church in droves when they graduate from high school.Study after study is saying that the younger generation has a bad connotation of Christians and thus are not seeking out the Church or even God as an answer for their lives.There are the stories of how this generation is so much more narcissistic than previous ones.Add to all that are the all-too-common stories of how debaucherous young men and young women act these days.Can behavior standards get any lower?For some, it could seem as if the glass is half empty.

However I am seeing the glass as half full.And this is why.

 

While on business in Kansas City, I was privileged to visit IHOP or the International House of Prayer which is a prayer center open 24/7.I was actually able to squeeze in two visits which I was grateful for as I knew coming at two different times would give me two different perspectives.Both times I was surprised at how many twentysomethings were there.IHOP seems to be powered by twentysomethings.This was started by a Boomer generation pastor but the actual work is being done by twentysomethings.For my second visit I chose the time period from 10 p.m. to midnight on a Friday night expecting a trickle of a crowd.That is not what I found.I found over a thousand twentysomethings, rest-of-us somethings (who were in the minority by far), and teenagers.On a Friday night!They spent their Friday night in worship, in prayer, and in intercession for America.I saw plenty of youthful passion, but instead of it being at a dance club or after-football game party, I saw it poured out before the Lord.

I watched more than I prayed and I thought, “All these twentysomethings and teens will be going to jobs and colleges in the next few years with these experiences.From these experiences, they are going to change their world which God gives them.”

No matter what your opinion is on Teen Mania, they have graduated tens of thousands of young adults from their Honor Academy fully equipped to change the world their God gives them.Then there are the other programs such as Mission Year, The Simple Way, Master’s Commission, and so many others I can not think of at this moment.There is a prayer movement bubbling on many college campuses.These young adults are going to be working on Capitol Hill, in hospitals, in entrepreneurial start-ups, in non-profits, etc.They are going to be ready and equipped to change their world that God gives them.

On top of this, there are actually youth growing up in their faith outside of the Christian subculture.They may or may not have some of those faith crises that are being studied in these studies.

When I was growing up it was taught that if you wanted to serve God you could become a pastor or a missionary.Now more and more of today’s young people are being taught that they can serve God and change their world in whatever job or career they make.

Never before, I believe, have so many young adults been turned out into the world trained and ready to serve God in whatever capacity that may be.

While on this Kansas City trip, I was also able to take two of the grown youth from my church out for dinner.One young women’s name is Amanda and she is in her first year at Kansas City Art Institute where they have given her a full scholarship.If you know art then you would know that this is a very prestigious art school.It is not easy to get into, even more difficult to get a scholarship, and openly not accepting of Christians.Amanda describes her school as a very dark place where she is extremely cautious to share her faith verbally.She also knows her light is so bright it puts others on the defensive quite often.Yet they still wanted Amanda as one of their students even though her art reflects Light.

I’ve known Amanda since she was 12-years old when her family first came to my church.She’s been the youth group girl, then the rebellious middle adolescent, then the prodigal youth group leader, then an intern at IHOP (the one in Kansas City) near her art school, (Isn’t that one of those God-coincidences that can make us all smile), then returning to our church, joining the worship team and leading our own IHOP prayer watch on Friday nights, and now as a 27-year old art student.I’ve known that the call on her life is in the art world.She has worked that skill enough to have the Kansas City Art Institute want to invest in that skill.As sad as our church was to let Amanda go again, we know she is going to make a difference in her world.She will be able to in a way that no one else can.

That is the story of just one grown youth whom I know.I have plenty more.These grown youth are not just holding jobs to provide for their growing families but they also believe their jobs and their families are part of God’s plan for their worlds.I believe there are also tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of Amandas out there doing the same.I live in the Washington DC metro area.I know of Capitol Hill workers who are impacting Capitol Hill because of their lives grounded on faith.The fruit of these trained young lives (thanks to many faithful youth workers) has yet to be fully felt in our culture but I believe it will soon be.

In the September 2006 issue of Time, 16-year olds were featured in a cover article.Sixteen-year olds from all over America were asked to submit essays, some of which were included in the print magazine and more of them included on their website.This essay from Kelvin Bates hits on what I believe we love about teenagers.Though I’m not sure about Kelvin’s faith beliefs, his outlook as a 16-year old also tells me that the glass is half full.

"I think that today's teenagers are rejuvenating and broadening the American traditions of individualism, acceptance and self-determination. We celebrate our individuality and diversity--ethnic, religious, political, etc.--rather than hiding it. We are accepting of other viewpoints: my classmates are not afraid to say whether they're Republican or liberal. We identify our religious beliefs, and my friends' coming-out stories are accepted by their peers. We stand up for our beliefs, whether that involves a gay-straight alliance club at school or a downtown rally to bring attention to the genocide in Darfur.

"Most of all, we are motivated to determine our own identities. Until recently, I never understood why being 16 was considered a passage into adulthood--even college is still two years away, we can't vote, and we're still under the auspices of our parents. But I've realized that this is the age when teenagers truly begin to become who they are. We do this by testing many viewpoints and experimenting with many beliefs. Being 16 is about finally making my own opinions with the information I'm given, rather than accepting others' opinions as my own.

"So be careful what you say around a 16-year-old; we are the future of America, and we're creating our own values every minute of every day."

Yes, Kelvin, I am listening to you.Hopefully all of us youth workers are.We want you to be the future of America and we want to help you create your own values every minute of every day.

You see, the glass is really half full.And thankfully, you are a part of it. This is a great time to be in youth ministry.