I’ve talked to a lot of parents in my role as a youth pastor, speaker, and Christian apologist. I’m a parent as well. And even though my kids are now adults, I understand that the biggest challenge we face in raising the next generation of believers may not actually be “atheism.” Instead, the biggest threat to the future of the Church may be “apatheism.”
You’ve probably seen it in the attitudes of the young people you are raising or leading. There are times when our kids are distracted by cultural “voices,” recreational activities, or the stresses of school.
These competing activities and interests can make it difficult to instill passion for God in the lives of the youngest generation, commonly referred to as “Gen Z.”
As a youth pastor and parent, I encountered this challenge. I’d like to offer the following simple passion-building principles that can help set the stage for your interactions:
It’s important to remember that passion is a matter of the heart as much as a matter of the head. It’s an “inside-out” phenomenon, not an “outside-in” manipulation. For that reason, everything must begin with prayer.
We’ve already talked about the role of prayer in connecting with young believers, and it’s equally critical when trying to develop their passion. God cares about young believers, and He’s eager to empower your efforts. Everything starts with prayer.
Every young person is different—in the gifts God has given them and the ways they experience and express passion. This is important to remember when you encounter a young believer who doesn’t seem to be enthusiastic or interested. Some of us are less capable of experiencing passion than others. Just as importantly, some people are simply less expressive even when they are passionate about something.
We typically assign generalities to people when we haven’t taken the time to develop a relationship with them. Before assuming a young person is dispassionate, make sure you know them well enough to recognize how they express passion.
Organizations take on the character of their outspoken leaders. Apple, for example, became one of the most innovative companies in the world, largely because it’s founding CEO, Steve Jobs, was innovative, passionate, and visionary.
In a similar way, churches take on the character of their lead pastors. Classrooms take on the character of their teachers, and families take on the character of their patriarchs and matriarchs.
Our kids know when we’re excited about seeing a movie, attending a sporting event, or going to our favorite restaurant. These opportunities are eagerly anticipated and relatively rare. For many of us, however, our experiences as Christians is little more than regular church attendance. Perhaps that’s why our spiritual lives seem routine and less exciting to our kids.
If we can passionately move toward a Christian life of intellectual, emotional, and experiential abundance, our kids just may adopt our excitement.
It’s often said that apologetics can “clear the intellectual obstacles” that prevent people from hearing the gospel. This was certainly the case for me. Once I learned what Christianity claimed, I needed to know why people thought it was true.
My questions, doubts, and concerns fell away one at a time as I studied the evidence for Christianity. In a similar way, there are often obstacles that stand between us and the passionate Christians we could become.
It’s hard to be passionate about God if you feel like hiding from Him based on the sin in your life. All of us struggle with our sin nature, and young people are no different.
As unconfessed sin increases in our lives, so does apathy: “…because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). When you encounter apathy, consider the possibility that sin may lie at its core. Examine your own life and encourage the young people you lead to examine theirs as well.
As a youth pastor in Southern California, I often felt like I was competing with an ever-growing collection of alternative activities. Many of my students missed opportunities to grow and learn as part of our group because their families prioritized club sports or other activities.
It’s not hard to understand how this might happen, given that many of the alternatives were valuable and worthy in their own right. But if we want to develop a passion for God, we’re going to have to reign in the passions that compete with God. It all comes down to our priorities.
Your calendar reveals more than just your love of God. It also exposes your priorities related to the people in your life—including the young people you’re trying to energize.
Deep relationships require time, and Gen Z students (who are often described as lonelier than preceding generations) are far more likely to embrace our passion if we are willing to devote the time necessary to interact with them in a meaningful way.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” Challenges add value to everything we do. And we get excited about (and prioritize) the things we perceive as valuable.
If you want young people to engage God with passion, don’t be afraid to challenge them. Train them with difficult concepts, thought-provoking ideas, and tough tasks. That means raising the bar and elevating the expectations you have for the young people you lead.
Finally, provide young Christians with an opportunity to put truth into action. Impatient Gen Z believers will only sit still in an academic setting for so long. Honor their restlessness by creating activities and opportunities that bring claims about God and Christianity to life. We’ve seen students become passionate, committed believers after providing them with opportunities to serve others and share truth.
The Apostle Paul knew what he was talking about when he told the believers in Rome to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:10-11). When we serve the Lord (by helping others and sharing the truth), we increase our diligence and fervency.
There’s a lot more we could say about the challenge of inspiring passion in the lives of our students and kids. This brief list was excerpted from our new book, So the Next Generation Will Know. We hope this resource will help you as a parent, youth pastor or Christian educator as you adopt practical, accessible strategies and principles to teach the youngest Christians the truth of Christianity. The book is accompanied by an eight-session So the Next Generation Will Know DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide).