#29: The Christian Witness to Gen Z
Since Christ’s command in Matthew 28, every generation of believers has stood on the foundation laid by faithful believers before them. This generation is no different. So, how will we minister to the next generation? Listen in as Dr. Kevin Smith speaks with Randall Breland and Seth York about the challenges and opportunities involved with ministering to Gen Z.
Dr. Smith: Welcome to Peculiar People Podcast. My name is Kevin Smith, Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Peculiar people is a podcast where we seek to examine what it means to be a fruitful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ in the days in which we find ourselves. We anchor ourselves in Peter’s exhortation in 1 Peter that we ought to be peculiar people, that we would show forth the light of the One who has brought us from darkness into the marvelous light, and we do this by talking about Christian witness in a variety of settings and situations. I’m excited today to talk about Christian witness to Gen Z, and Christian witness to students, and I have two brothers from a ministry I admire tremendously. Crossings is the camping ministry affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. They operate campsites there in the commonwealth of Kentucky, a place I served before I came here to the Baptist Convention of MD/DE, and I’m excited to have Brother Randall Breland and Brother Seth York on to talk about ministry to Gen Z. I’m excited to have them tell us a little bit about the camp and how they serve the Lord in ministry, and certainly want to note that Brother York is the son of a dear, dear, dear, dear friend of mine, Dr. Herschel York, who was the pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY, and my colleague in preaching at Southern Seminary and the Dean of our School of Theology there at Southern. It is a joy to talk to him; it is a joy to talk to Brother Breland. Welcome to Peculiar People Podcast, brothers.
Randall Breland: Thank you.
Seth York: Great to be here. Thanks so much for having us.
Dr. Smith: I wanna get right in. For our listeners, why don’t you describe Crossings, and the mission and ministry of Crossings, and maybe you each can tell kind of the role you play in that ministry.
Randall Breland: I defer to Seth, he’s the veteran.
Seth York: (laughs) Crossing is a wonderful ministry that, last year we were anticipating having about 19,000 students come through our ministry through a couple of different locations, and some travel teams, so we host churches from all over this area of the country, and just Gospel-centered, relationship-based camp, where convictionally you come here as part of a church because it is very much the core of who we are that we want to come alongside the work that the local church is doing and assist what they are trying to accomplish week-in and week-out, so we very much want to partner with what they’re doing. We don’t want to replace it in any way. So you come here as part of a church and there are no emotional alter calls or anything like that, and when students want to make a decision we’re always pointing them back to their groups, to those people who are going to be walking through life with them. So that’s a very core part of the DNA of who we are. But simultaneously we have a lot of really fun stuff that we do here—all the ziplines and blobs and waterfront and all that—but very much we see that as a “hook,” if you will, something that will get a lost student excited, willing to come to a Baptist camp for their summer, and then hit them with the Gospel Gatlin Gun, you know, just constantly, in every way, turning those every day conversations into Gospel conversations.
Dr. Smith: Amen. Brother Randall?
Randall Breland: Yeah, Seth hit the nail on the head. I would just double underline that goal of turning everyday conversations into Gospel conversations. I would say the two folds of our ministry are building relationships with students and churches to help disciple them in the Gospel and also evangelize them with the Gospel. It’s a joy, it’s a privilege to get to do that with so many students and kids every summer. I often joke, we used to go out exhibiting, telling youth pastors and churches “you can’t eat ice cream without hearing the Gospel at Crossings,” and it’s a joy to come into a ministry where I didn’t build these DNA elements, it was already here, there’s just a robust commitment to sharing the Gospel multiple times every day, multiple ways, always the same message, always the same Gospel. And there’s a robust commitment to opening the Bible, teaching the Bible, and there’s a robust commitment to relationships. I mean, relationships are one of God’s chief means of grace for helping us all along as we are growing in obedience to Him and answering his call in our lives.
Dr. Smith: Amen! Amen, well part of being peculiar people is the fact that we are changed at some point in our lives by the good news of the Gospel and we ourselves are seeking to follow Christ and at some point you sense some kind of call to ministry. And so we’ll start with you, Brother Randall, would you share a glimpse of your testimony with us, because it always interesting, I think, to find out how people became peculiar people.
Randall Breland: Yeah—hallelujah! Thank you for asking that question. I grew up in Jacksonville, FL, and I attended off-and-on an Independent Baptist Church, with all the trappings that would come along with 1990’s Independent Baptist Church—
Randall Breland: Good and bad. We loved the Bible, and we loved the KJV. But I was not converted until 17, by God’s providence, I was in a severe car crash and walked away from it and the Lord used the car crash to wake me up and to start taking life seriously, so started going to church again and the pastor was preaching through the “I AM” statements and John, and I remember just coming to this stark realization that, “I believe in God, but I have not surrendered my life to Him in any measure, He is not my Lord, and realizing if he’s not my Lord, He’s not my savior. It took a month-and-a-half of struggle and talking to my youth pastor and pastor and other people in the church, and come to realize that I need to repent and put faith in Jesus, and so I did, July 19, 2001, and that was right before my senior year of high school and the Lord began working immediately. There were some things that were very slow to change, but I think one of my strongest impressions of that time of the Lord working was an immediate desire to be in the church and at the church and with God’s people all the time. TO the point that, I was a sports guy, and I don’t know if this was wise but I just quit high school sports because it competed with church. I’m not telling teenagers “you need to quit sports,” but for me I just wanted to be with God’s people, so I traded baseball for building 3-D puzzles with my youth pastor three nights a week. And we would have good conversations about life and the Bible and the Gospel and I was disciple over 3-D puzzles. But praise the Lord! Then felt a call to ministry, went to Liberty University, and then have two degrees from the great Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and grateful for the faculty there, and now a pastor at Kenwood Baptist church, I think Dr. Smith you’ll know Jim Hamilton and Danny Burke?
Dr. Smith: Yes.
Randall Breland: It’s really a privilege.
Dr. Smith: Amen, amen. Well, as a pastor and one who has invested a lot of time in my life in the pulpit it is exciting to hear a testimony that includes the “I AM” statements from the Gospels (laughs). Brother Seth?
Seth York: As you mentioned, I have a great Gospel heritage. My grandfather was a wonderful preacher, pastor’s heart, and of course my dad is the finest man I know. And I have a great respect for him. I think I have a unique testimony in the sense that I was a pastor’s kid but I do not begrudge that upbringing, man, I am grateful for the opportunities that I had as a pastor’s kid. I did make a profession of faith when I was five years old. I remember finding an Evangelism Explosion Gospel tract, and I remember taking it to my parents at our house, there in Lexington, KY, and saying “I don’t know, if God was to ask me ‘why should I let you into heaven,’ I don’t know what I would say. And I want to be able to have a good answer for this.” You know they broke down the soul stuff with me and I made a profession of faith and was baptized there. But then I began my circuitous route to becoming truly peculiar, if you will, to use your all’s terminology. Then I started my kind of “standard life” as a pastor’s kid, with some time away, but in short I am grateful for my parents, my wonderful parents, my church, and people who cared for me, and people at Southern that conspired against me to help me turn my life around and get in a right relationship with God. I remember Dr. Muller, for instance, calling me and having me drive him places and drilling me about decisions I was making in my personal life. Or Kevin Ezell having me over to paint his basement when he was hammering me about decisions I was making in my personal life and for that I’m incredibly grateful. Or a guy named David Miller who also really poured into me and did some things, but anyway, so I made that profession of faith which I believed to have been genuine there when I was five but then, the Lord, He loved me so much that He did not allow me to remain in my sin and I thank the Lord for those people who conspired against me and ultimately for me. And then I kind of just drifted along a little bit through life still and ended up working in some political media stuff and got to a point where I had to ask “what is it that I really want to accomplish with my life?” and again God in His providence sort of guided me here. I wish I would have had the wisdom and knowledge to have chosen what I ended up doing, but God just divinely intervened and brought me here to Crossings, which has been one of the great gifts of my life is to be part of this ministry with these people which God has used for my sanctification in a great way, and so to be a part of this ministry I am very grateful, it’s very much a part of my story.
Dr. Smith: Amen. We thank the Lord for the different routes in which He brings us to Himself. I have a question: Obviously much of what happens at Crossings is in conjunction with local congregations, but you all are probably just more familiar than I am, but with statistics and studies of congregational life in the United States, sometimes they are, congregations are gaping holes of people between say 18-25 or 18-30, and I’m always encouraging pastors to see “hey, that gaping hole is not addressed between 18-30. That gaping hole is there because of what happens between 13-17, and so I’m just kind of curious, in the students you encounter, what do they think about local congregations and local congregational ministry? Do they even grasp kind of the mission of the church?
Randall Breland: You know, if I could briefly speak here, we talked a little bit beforehand about what you might ask us and this is a question that came up and I told him this story. I lead the college ministry at Kenwood and they are on the top end of Generation Z. So they represent those who are 13-17 now and we had a young lady who was saved at our camp in Jonathan Creek, and moved to Louisville, to go to University of Louisville, and we met her at a University of Louisville outreach event, she came to Kenwood and worshipped with us, and then one of my college leaders took her to lunch afterward and asked her, “What did you think? How was your time with us?” and she told my leader “well, you guys are like a cult.” And when my leader told me this story I immediately felt a little defensive. “What did she say? We’re not like a cult.” But the more I thought about it I thought, “Okay, this girl grew up in a rural, Western Kentucky church, I don’t know much about her church, I assume it was healthy, but she became a believer late in her teenage years, and things like someone standing up and proclaiming and authoritative word for 40 minutes, and someone getting up and opening an authoritative book like the Bible, and reading part of a Psalm and the whole congregation chants the second half of the Psalm back to them, and then we recite the Apostles Creed every single Sunday, so we’re all reciting this creed together, and I go “okay, this is all really weird to her. She has not experienced what’s normal and what historically is good, she doesn’t understand why we’re doing all these things. And so I think they feel unfamiliar and often find even our practices in the church just different. And that’s actually good, it is peculiar, in some sense I’m glad she thought we’re like we were a cult. And you want to say “well, we’re not a cult, but let us explain our unity and what we’re trying to do together as peculiar people. That led to some good conversations with that young lady, and she landed at another church in town but I was thankful that we had an opportunity to shape her for a brief moment.
Dr. Smith: Amen, we have windows on our buildings, we are not a cult. You can come in and visit, look, and anything you want to do. (laughter) Brother Seth?
Seth York: I think as far as how they view the church as, we hit Gen Z probably more than any other, they’re actually very entrepreneurial. They are very driven; success is really a big motivating factor. When they’re very young we’re forcing them to think about where they want to go to school, what they’re going to be studying, what they’re going to do with their lives, we’re pushing them towards this thing. In a lot of scenario, secular scenarios, they can find significance, they’re very much drawn to causes, and so they’re really motivated to feel like they’re a part of something bigger. And so the church has a great answer for this, but I don’t want to sound too critical, but only one that functioning properly, in that sense, be if a student comes in there to your church and you say “if you want to make a difference you need to be here a little while, go through these steps, wait til you’re a little older, when you come here at first we’re going to stick you in here, you get the lesser teaching, the lesser expectations, all the playtime, and when you get older you can begin to make a difference. Well, they really want to make a difference, and in the world they feel like they can. They can go to some public demonstration and stand literally shoulder to shoulder and be peers with power, if you will, but then when our churches aren’t functioning maybe as they should they can go in there and feel like a kid, and that can be demotivating to them, and that is a healthy desire that they have that I think we can really miss out on when they come to our church because we should be saying, “no, you can make a difference. What we’re doing here makes a difference. This is a part of something, the movement, that is very old and is still ongoing and is worldwide and you can change the world by being a part of this thing.”
Dr. Smith: Amen. Amen. Paul says in Romans, as the book opens, “I am eager to preach the Gospel to you all who are in Rome. I am not ashamed of the Gospel, it is the power of God unto salvation.” and so I’m wondering in your evangelistic observations, what are students thinking when they’re encountered with the Gospel. What do students think about the Gospel?
Seth York: I’ll start on this one. We’ve seen a shift, I’ve heard it recently in the context of the Christian sexual ethic, but it certainly pours over to how we present the exclusivity of the Gospel as well, fifty years ago everybody was good to identify as a Christian, and then it kind of shifts to “well, I’m not a Christian, but it’s nice that you do that.” And now there’s this understanding of “well, if you hold to the exclusivity of the Gospel you’re damaging me, and beyond that it’s making people kill themselves because of your lack of acceptance of their way of life.” And I think a lot of it goes back to this connection to a cause, they feel like “this is not a cause that I want to be a part of,” but you think about having some general apologetic for Christianity, and just take the Christian sexual ethic as an example, if society held to this do you think we would be better or worse? You can very easily point to “This is healthy for people, this is not hurting people, this is helpful.” And then you have your personal testimony—“This is how it changed my life, this is how it helps me understand the world.” So at a glance to Generation Z it feels very off-putting and offensive, and to some extent the Gospel will always be offensive because of our sin, but in another sense this is God welcoming you in and making you a part of something, help you see who you really are in Him—loved, accepted, and made for something greater.
Dr. Smith: Amen, Amen. I think it’s interesting, somehow it seems lost on people that Christians are not the only ones making exclusive truth claims. The claim that “there is no God” is an exclusive truth claim. The claim that Allah or Buddha is God—all these are exclusive truth claims but somehow in our society it’s like “oh, the Christians are claiming this exclusivity about Jesus and that He is the only one begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,” but that is interesting. Let me ask you, we are in a day of affirmation, we are in an affirmation culture, we’re in a participation trophy culture—how do young people think about the thing in us that creates the need for the Gospel or the need for redemption and the thing of being fallen and sinful and broken? The wages of sin is death and the gift of God is eternal life. Jesus Christ came to save sinners and to save his people from their sin. How does Gen Z respond to just the reality of sin?
Randall Breland: Yeah, if I can speak here I think it’s a new category for them, and as Seth has said, exclusivity is difficult, and truth, if we talk about truth, let’s start with truth—truth to them is this moving target. I’m Gen X, Seth is Gen X, you know for our generation, and those before us, Baby Boomers, truth is this absolute concrete category, but now our culture has told them “we make our own truth” and “we make our own morality.” So I think they view this category of sin as an imposition, and offensive, and on one side I would say “well, we have to listen to Paul when he says the Gospel is foolishness to the world and it is going to cause offense,” so I do think it’s difficult for them to receive, and one of the things we’re talking about a lot at Crossings and thinking through is “how do we help them understand this essential Gospel category? If you diminish sin, you’re not preaching the Gospel. We often say, when we talk evangelism, if we convince someone they’re a sinner, we’re half there. And I think there’s so much truth to that. And we’re learning the research on Gen Z is saying “well, they’re spiritual, but they’re not religious” which means they’re happy to talk about God, they have a belief in God, but the problem is they have an understanding of God that’s shaped by culture and not the Bible. So I think we’re really trying to do what Paul did on Mars Hill and instruct them on Who is God? Well, He’s your Creator, your Maker, and your judge. SO you’re answering to Him. And sin is not something that just rebellious to Him, sin is something that going to hurt others and it’s going to hurt you. And God has made a righteous way for you to flourish in life and to please Him. So I think if we start with God and work down to how they’re accountable to God, we can help them grasp the category, so I guess my answer is: the misconceptions of sin is because there are such misconceptions about who God is.
Seth York: I think they have a keen awareness of the effects of sin—
Dr. Smith: I was going to ask you that question, yes.
Seth York: You do not have to convince them that the world is broken, or that they are broken. I think of generations previous to mine, you know, I think of even good, moral family members of mine, great men, that are without Christ. You know this is a different objective to me when we talk about brokenness. They feel like they are generally good, they’re generally happy, this is like, so, sin is—they understand conceptually but not as on them. You know, with Generation Z it’s like “You know that feeling you have of rejection after you leave all this binge-scrolling on Instagram, and you see how broken the world is in it’s efforts to escape brokenness only results in more brokenness,” and I think of the three circles tool—that resonates with them. They’re going “yeah, I am trying to escape this brokenness” and I’m saying, “Well, that’s because of sin.” And if you can connect sin and concept, you say “it’s all over you,” and they’re like “Who are you to say that?” But just think about how you feel, just think about this anxiety you’re experiencing, or this thing you’ve seen that’s affected your parents, that’s a result of sin in the world. And that resonates with them.
Dr. Smith: Yes. I was going to ask you if people see the consequences of sin. Earlier you mentioned the apologetics. Some of our apologetic is—we don’t have to convince people that making choices that go against God’s Word have consequences that are not advantageous. You know, we would talk about sexual immorality or premarital sex and things like that, but sociologists, and unbelieving sociologists, would tell you, “you’re more likely to end up in poverty if you have a child before you’re married.” We talk about things in the Ten Commandments like “Don’t steal. Don’t kill.” But a sociologist would tell you, “You’re more likely to be in poverty if you encounter the criminal justice as a child, or period.” All those types of things, and so I think it’s real interesting that distinction you make, Brother Seth, between older generations and this current generation. And I do sense that there’s not this happy-go-lucky, sing-a-happy-song with the present generation. They understand the realities of some things—unfortunately some things too soon. You know, when I pastored in Louisville, our VBS was very outreach-oriented so it wasn’t mainly our church kids, and it’s stunning when you’re dealing with early teenagers—13, 14, 15—the things they’ve seen regarding relationships and divorce and violence and domestic things and just the variety of things that they’ve seen in their early teenage years. I can remember, as a child in the 70’s, not being exposed to most of those things til, like, college or early twenties. And so the reality and the weight of sin—I think this generation can see some things, and I thank the Lord, because my late pastor at the Main Street Baptist Church in Lexington, KY, used to say, “before someone can rejoice about the good news, they’ve got to know the bad news.” And the bad news about the consequences of sin and the righteous standard of God, and however we package it on the outside, we all come short of God’s glory. So very interesting to think through those things. I want to ask you another thing about Gen Z, in your observations, what is the role and the image of Christians in society. I’m kind of curious because, even though I’m a ways away from Gen Z, I get discouraged sometimes when I look at Christians in society, when I look at Christians on social media, when I see some of the political idolatries and over-zealousness we can have, whether it’s regarding the donkey or the elephant, when I look at social media and I see the way sometimes Christians can get at each other, and as an adult I’m like “oh my gosh, I don’t want to be around you folk” so what do students see when they look at Christians in society and the role of Christians in society?
Seth York: Yeah, I mean, coming back to that they are very much driven by college. Now some of that is dangerous because they can overemphasize some evil that’s out there that they would want to work on to manipulate the evil that lies within. But that doesn’t mean that we should neglect either. When they are motivated for these things and they look at our churches and see that we are silent on these matters I think it is very off-putting, and I think even the ones that would be in the Bible belt here, I think they’re inclined, they hear something at their school, they hear some problem, that they turn to their church and are saying, “help me to think rightly about this,” and we can’t talk about it in a helpful, biblically-based manner, it’s filled with so much rhetoric and divisiveness, and people aren’t pointing to what Scripture said, and it’s confirmation bias is such a problem that’s crept into everybody’s life. We’re silent on all these matters, and they’ll find somebody who is passionate about what they’re passionate about and they’ll connect to them. And we tell people here, some of our youth pastors, “By the time they’re asking you a question, they’ve already Googled it.” You know, they develop some sort of answer to this thing. So when they see these big life questions and how we function in life and society, and we’re silent on a matter, they’re forced to turn everywhere else for answers, and Scripture speaks to all of it—authoritatively, completely, helpfully, practically! You know, we’ve got to know what Scripture says, and always be pointing people, not to a video, or a blog, or a book even, but to God’s Word as it speaks on these things, and then help them see how a lot of us don’t have an answer for this stuff because we haven’t wrestled with it, you know you just kind of eat what’s being fed to us so often, and so much has been fed to us that we haven’t sat down to consider these things so it can be confusing. So we need to have a robust theology and ethic of our own to communicate to them. I think when they have a question that you can answer well, thoughtfully—that resonates. That’s huge. Because I think they are hungry for purpose, for help, in these areas.
Dr. Smith: Yeah, I’ve often encouraged pastors for years now, more than decades, I’ve always encountered teenagers and young adults who have felt like their local congregation is not a place where they can ask questions, and I’ve always encouraged youth ministers and pastors—that is not the environment you want to create.
Seth York: Yeah, there’s a lot of groups here that—if you don’t feel comfortable with question-and-answer time, that’s fine, but they have a box in the back of their student ministry and they say “you can put anything in here and we’ll answer it. We’re gonna talk about it. You got questions, let’s get them answered.” You need to make those safe spaces where they can talk about this stuff. Because the reality is they’re more comfortable talking about this stuff than we would be—I mean, you can be in a room with hundreds of students, and you’ll have one who would stand up and ask a question that would turn a room full of Gen Xer’s and Boomers, oh man, they would just go white as a ghost, but it doesn’t bother them at all to talk about this, cause in their world, you know, of course, social media is this thing we’re alluding to, where they talk about it, all this is common place, it’s all out there, it’s getting talked about nonstop. Then they go to their local congregations and it’s like, oh no, we don’t talk about that here, and that’s a problem.
Dr. Smith: I’ve done a lot of Christian camps, and I love talking to a group of guys, I love talking to a group of girls, we’re having casual Q-and-A, and I’m most on-edge when it’s a group of guys and girls. (laughter) Cause they have no barrier for, like, mixed-group questions.
Randall Breland: We had an off-season retreat program here called Navigate, and one of our camp pastors, you know him, Kevin Vandewit—
Dr. Smith: Yes.
Randall Breland: Whatever camp he’s preaching, he’ll preach a twenty-minute message and say, “okay, ask Dan anything” and man it was really encouraging to watch him. He didn’t care what they asked and he didn’t blink an eye, and sometimes he’d go, “I’ve never thought about that, but let me get back to you tomorrow” and sometimes he’d say, “well, I think this is helpful” or he’d say, “I’ve thought about that,” but the more he just answered very genuinely and tried to point to the Bible, it seemed like the more this safe space kind of encouraged more and more questions.
Dr. Smith: Yes.
Randall Breland: And I think we need to create more and more of those safe spaces, um, I read this quote in this book on reaching Generation Z, and it’s something that stuck with me, and it’s David Kinnamin, he wrote this book “Faith for Exiles,” and one thing he said in that book is that “doubt is not what kills faith, silence is.” So if they have doubts, if they’re struggling with some aspect of the Christian faith we need not to be afraid of that, but in some sense say, “I’m glad you’re thinking hard about this. Let’s talk about that together, let’s learn together.” But if we’re creating those spaces where we just say, “well we don’t ask those questions.”
Seth York: We’ve got to encourage curiosity, and I think in previous generations we see curiosity as this threat, somehow, when it’s like, the more you dig, the more you will find that there’s a rock down there.
Randall Breland: Mm-hmm.
Seth York: And we’re not afraid of any question that you might want to ask.
Randall Breeland: I think this is why they love social media. Recent Barna data says that over 60% feel encouraged on social media, they feel like they’re participating, they feel like they’re getting answers to life questions on social media. And I’m sitting here reading these stats and going, “this is what the church should be, and this is what we should strive to be.”
Dr. Smith: Amen. I was thinking, you all interact with a lot of churches, you interact with a lot of youth ministers…what kind of counsel might you have, sometimes I talk to pastors and they struggle between, I’ll give you two examples, I pastored a church where our VBS, for examples, was basically our kids and then a few of their friends, then I pastored churches where the VBS was, like, our kids, but then it was largely an outreach VBS. A little while ago I was talking to Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, who both of you might know, and he had this term called “spiritual orphans,” and I’m wondering, how have you seen youth ministers or churches seek to, in a discipleship way and an evangelism way, engage kids that come from Christian homes but also our kids have a lot of friends who are not from Christian homes, and also just with of family breakdown and things in our culture you’re always going to have kids with single-parent homes and also kids in different types of scenarios, and so I guess I’m saying: not only spiritually, but also in a home setting, and whether one is in a spiritual setting or not, our youth groups, our student groups, can be very mixed. How do you observe people seeking to be effective in that environment and how do you all think of those things at Crossings?
Randall Breland: I think it starts with–you just have to understand that this is the society in which we live. Especially their generation. The stats say over 60%, whether they’re believing students or not believing students, they come from a broken home. So for us, the nuclear family is normal, for them the nuclear family is weird and it’s something they long for, that stability, but they may not even realize they long for it. So I think, first of all, we’re talking about safe spaces, what does safe spaces mean? They mean relationships. So we have to be committed to having relationships with these students. One example we’re doing at Kenwood: our college ministry, we often, with the youth ministry, one thing we’re doing, we’re really encouraging all these students to join normal small groups, because we think these small groups in our church can kind of be like the extended families for these kids. So we’re telling college students, find a 15-18 year old, or a 12-14 year old, that you can invite to small group, bring them with you, and we just want you to come and cook and eat meals with us, laugh with us, play games with us, but we’re also going to open the Bible and study it together and we’re gonna pray together, and we’re going to be a family. And I think it’s really powerful we talk about that but then these small groups are to be like families for them. For us, we find there’s a real strength in the diversity of intergenerational relationships.
Dr. Smith: Brother Seth?
Seth York: We’ve got the bones there for a lot of this stuff, you think, whether you call it a discipleship group, a C-group, D-group, whatever, it’s like, I think of my own childhood, it was these older people investing in my life and having me into their home and whether it was me or it was my best friend who lived in the projects a few miles from where we were, it was like, man, this was part and parcel for what it was to be involved in the church, was opening the home and let it model this stuff, and whether it is community group or whatever it is, it was like man we’ve got to be getting people into our homes, and we what we talk about a lot was emphasizing this life-on-life discipleship. And you know sometimes it might be around a book together, but that’s just kind of the vehicle that gets people together, cause ultimately what Gen Z and others are going to be looking at is, how are you handling the problems in your home? How are you handling the broken things of this world? It’s the conversations before and after the book topic, or around the dinner table or whatever it is, we have people in our home every week now to watch old reruns of Survivor, but you know it’s like, what they’re doing is seeing us put our kids to bed, seeing us discipline them, they’re seeing us cooking meals, practical life stuff, seeing us go through tragedy together, or life’s successes, change, transitions, all this stuff, and I mean the churches that are doing it really well have people who are fully committed outside of the hours of when the church doors are open, and because this gen Z, coming from such broken scenarios, it’s an anomaly when you have parents who are still together and functioning, you know, so to be able to be in someone’s home and see that, okay, marriage is a good thing. Randall may remember this statistic, but it’s maybe 20-30% even have marriage as a future goal?
Randall Breland: Yeah.
Seth York: Of course marriage isn’t God’s plan for everybody, but it is a great means of growing the church and making the the future worshippers of God, but to get to their homes and say “this is doable, it works for us, it can work for you, and we’re gonna do it with you. You can’t scare us away, and we’re ready for whatever you might throw at us.”
Dr. Smith: Let me ask you a question about the last year, in the midst of a global pandemic I often hear words like, “fear,” “anxiety,” “depression,” and I think in the context of my peers, I think kind of in the context of people I have shepherded, and I’m just wondering in your interactions with students over the last year, I’m just wondering how students have been doing with the adversity of the last year?
Seth York: I think we will underestimate the impact. There was a study that Randall and I both read this morning that came out from the Christian Camping Conferences Association, and I was shocked in this, at how what parents saw as the primary concern for their students, and how they thought their students were navigating it. They all spoke very favorably about how their kids were going through this, which I think speaks to the parent’s optimism, just hoping your kids are going to be okay. I know as a parent I have four kids, and you don’t want to be like, “they’re dying in here, you know” you want to be optimistic about it but I think from them seeing how often we’ve been on our machines, if you will, and talking about how often they’ve been on them, I think that legacy is yet to be written because they didn’t enter into this past year with really good tools on how to be discerning with the usage of the primary things they have been relying on for the past year. And neither have their parents. You know, that’s one of the big, most shocking things, when it comes to Generation Z, one of the things I get the gasp on is, you know, everyone wants to talk about, “this is what’s wrong with Gen Z, and that” and “this is how you know you’re a Gen Z’er,” but I say this is the first generation that was raised by parents who are addicted to their phones, and I think we are yet to see, I think we just need to be ready to help people navigate the habits that they’ve built, either unhealthy or just flat out sinful, we need to be ready to help parents navigate the conversations that are going to come as a result, and to build new habits, and to value the relationships that the Gospel has spread based on it, for centuries now, and students are resilient, so I’m not trying to be doom and gloom about this, but we can’t be reactionary to what might have happened to them while they were experiencing this last year, we need to be ready with some tools, we need to be read up on some of these mental issues. In large part the church has been silent, or at the very least it’s been taboo for some of these concerns, there’s just not a safe place for people to talk about their anxiety and depression and things like that and we need to be ready with some resources, a good place to point them, and Scripture to give them, and tools to give them to help them be discerning users of devices.
Randall Breland: Yeah. I think that technology is huge, you know, I think too, I’ve seen impacts in just college ministry. I know I keep talking about college, but these are the students that I interact with from Gen Z every day, and I was just telling Seth this morning how I have a young man I meet with regularly, and last year his parents paid his way through college and he got to do the student life thing and got straight A’s in his classes, and then his dad got furloughed, and this year his parents said, “you’re going to have to work 30 hours per week to help pay for school.” And he went and got a job and he’s trying to spin all these plates and provide for himself, and he’s just completely overwhelmed by it, as one would expect, and I appreciate he was honest and vulnerable with me to say, “I’m anxious, and I’m just kind of losing my mind a little bit, and I’m thinking of quitting school and just going home.” And, um, I hope this is helpful and I think the churches, sometimes we underestimate the power of doing something simple. I just told him, “let’s open the Bible, and let’s read it together, and let’s hear what God has to say to this situation,” so we just opened Psalm 34, and it has these beautiful imperatives, like “commit your way to the Lord,” “trust in the Lord,” “do good,” and I told him “I can’t tell you how to fix your situation but I can encourage you that, if you trust these imperatives and acknowledge the Lord that He will make straight your paths, and I don’t believe, our generation or their generation, I don’t think we’ve been good at opening the Bible and saying, “how does this speak to me right now?” Cause I think we have to do that with them and help them process everything that’s going on.
Dr. Smith: Amen. Yeah, I’ve often encouraged Christians, when you’re doing evangelism, or just engaging people, do more of that with an open Bible. We live in a world of opinions, and thoughts, and “my this, my that”—do much more of that with an open Bible. Wow. I am blessed by the time that you all have shared with us on Peculiar People. I always encourage people that student ministry takes time, and when I say it takes time, for me to do the weddings of young men and young women in their 20’s who I had been their pastor as middle school students and elementary school students, I mean that’s a ten and fifteen year process, and so Gospel fruit and biblical fruit and Christ-honoring fruit, as Jesus said, we sow the seed, and those things take time to come forth and both of you have detailed a journey and a way in which the Lord brought you along on a path of discipleship and so I would encourage our listeners to be very mindful of the seeds you sow, and very patient, and to look for the fruit of the seeds that you sow, but as our two guests have so helpfully reminded us, young people, students, elementary school, middle school, high school, are hungry and are ready to receive and hear good news, and ready to hear Biblical truth, and I pray that they would be those who are on your heart. I do want to encourage you, if you’re listening and you lead a student group and you’re still looking for things for your congregation, your groups, they might be sold out but I will still tell you go Crossings.org is the website for Crossings ministry, and I certainly would tell you that we here at the BCM/D, our Skycroft campsite, I like to call that “Crossings East,” it’s their Extreme East venue (laughter), Western Maryland, in the mountains, and so certainly you can check out Skycroft’s website as well, but Crossings has a beautiful camp, and I guess Central Kentucky, I used to pastor in Louisville, so I would call that Central Kentucky, and I ride my motorcycle out there a lot to Baghdad, I used to love to say “I’m going to Baghdad!” And then Jonathan Creek which is in Western Kentucky, beautiful venues, and so go to Crossings.org is the website to keep up with their activities, an opportunity for ministry if you have a student group there in the Kentucky area, but as I said they use a few other venues, and we have a partnership here in Maryland/Delaware, so if you’re listening here in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia area I would invite you to check those things out as well. Brother Seth and Brother Randall I want to thank y’all so, so much, and both of you, as a parting word, if there is a pastor or a youth minister out there, and they’re trying to figure out, “what’s one thing I need to understand as I really try to understand and figure out why we aren’t being effective with 13-17, or in our community I should say,” what is one thing you might encourage them as a parting word?
Seth York: I think that Gen Z is ready to receive the great purpose and hope of the Gospel and there’s a ton of horsepower behind them and they want to be given with that purpose that they would receive the Gospel, and then teach them, go deep, and let them loose to evangelize their friends. Equip them with the tools they need and send them out there. That’s our greatest hope of reaching Gen Z is through Generation Z, and they are ready and hungry for it.
Dr. Smith: Amen, Amen.
Randall Breland: Seth is great with the turn of phrase, I love it. I would just add: don’t apologize for the church and the Bible. The Bible and the church are God’s means of grace to every generation. And it may seem like they’re uncomfortable and they oppose it; don’t give up on what our Good God has designed for reaching unbelievers and for sanctifying the saints, and that is the Bible, and that is the church, the Living God, the temple of the spirit which is the members of Christ’s body, we could go on and on about all the beautiful descriptors we have of what the church is, and I would just say lean into that and be the church to these students.
Dr. Smith: Amen. And one parting word I would just say, pastor, and those who are in the congregation who are concerned about students, and I would say this as one who pastored a church, and we had a Christian school that was right in our church, we had a school K-12, but please see the nearest public school to where your church is located, middle school, high school, see that. I’m just remembering, Brother Breland, I got to know some guys who were wrestling at Iroquois High School, because your church, maybe with FCA or something, but your church had a ministry to wrestlers one season at Iroquois High School and I got to spend some time with them and got to be in the locker room and got to develop some relationships. So I would encourage you that if you love students and you’re trying to figure out where is that hole is that’s in the middle of your congregation, please see the one or two closest public schools to where your congregation gathers and really lives your life together.
Randall Breland: Amen. And FCA is a great ministry that can provide the bridge into those schools.
Dr. Smith: Amen, well brothers thank you so much, and I certainly can’t get off without asking Brother Seth to give your parents my love and my greeting. You have a wonderful father and you have one of the sweetest mamas in the world, so please give them my best. God bless you and thank you both for your time.
Seth York: Thank you.