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Let me make this clear one more time.  I’m not arguing that thinking about music styles or paying attention to the “feel” of our church or trying to exegete the culture is sinful stuff.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t be asking questions related to cultural engagement.  What I’m saying is that being experts in the culture matters nothing, and worse than nothing, if we are not first of all experts in love, truth, and holiness.

Look at what God says in 2 Peter 1:5-8:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Did you pick up on the promise in the last verse?  If we are growing in faith, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, we will not be ineffective ministers for Christ.  If ever there was a secret to effective ministry, these verses give it to us.  Grow in God and you’ll make a difference in people’s lives.  If nothing of spiritual significance is happening in your church, your Bible study, your small group, or your family it may be because nothing spiritually significant is happening in your life.

I love the line from Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “What your people need from you most is your own personal holiness.”  I’ve given that advice to others dozens of times, and I’ve repeated it to myself a hundred times.  Almost my whole philosophy of ministry is summed up in M’Cheyne’s words.  My congregation needs me to be humble before they need me to be smart.  They need me to be honest more than they need me to be a dynamic leader.  They need me to be teachable more than they need me teach at conferences.  If your walk matches your talk, if your faith costs you something, if being a Christian is more than a cultural garb, they will listen to you.

Paul told young Timothy to keep a close watch on his life and his doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16).  “Persist in this,” he said, “for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”  Far too much ministry today is undertaken without any concern for holiness.  We’ve found that changing the way we do church is easier than changing the way we are.  We’ve found that we are not sufficiently unlike anyone else to garner notice, so we’ve attempted to become just like everyone else instead.  Today’s young people do not want a cultural Christianity that fits in like a Baptist church in Texas.  They want a conspicuous Christianity that changes lives and transforms communities.   Maybe we would make more progress in reaching the next generation, if we were making more progress in holiness (1 Tim. 4:15).

Remember, the next generation is not just out there.  They are also in here, sitting in our churches week after week.  We often hear about how dangerous college can be for Christian teens, how many of them check out of church ones they reach the university.  But studies have shown that most of the students who check out, do so in high school, not in college.  It’s not liberal professors that are driving our kids away.  It’s their hard hearts and our stale, compromised witness that opens the door for them to leave.

One of our problems is that we have no done a good job of modeling Christian faith in the home and connecting our youth with other mature Christian adults in the church.  One youth leader has commented that how often our young people “attended youth events (including Sunday school and discipleship groups) was not a good predictor of which teens would and which would not grow toward Christian adulthood.”  Instead, “almost without exception, those young people who are growing in their faith as adults were teenagers who fit into one of two categories: either (1) they came from families where Christian growth was modeled in at least one of their parents, or (2) they had developed such significant connections with adults within the church that it had become an extended family for them.”  Likewise, sociologist Christian Smith argues that though most teenagers and parents don’t realize it, “a lot of research in the sociology of religion suggests that the most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents.”

The take home from all this is pretty straight forward.  The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.  Granted, good parents still have wayward children and faithful mentors don’t always get through to their pupils.  But in the church as a whole, the promise of 2 Peter 1 is as true as ever.  If we are holy, we will be fruitful.  Personal connections with growing Christians is what the next generation needs more than ever.


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13 thoughts on “Reaching the Next Generation: Hold Them With Holiness”

  1. ValleyGirl says:

    I am loving this series! Such great insights!! I believe I came across your blog through the Desiring God blog, but before that, I read “Why We’re Not Emergent” a while back. Great book.

    I appreciate so much that your desire to remain as objective about the movement as possible was obvious. I respect an author so much more when there’s no church-bashing or name-calling. I think you did a great job of telling it like it is; it opened my eyes to some very questionable stuff going on in my own church conference, gave me the desire to start asking some tough questions, and it made me examine my own relationship with Christ and desire to make “personal holiness” a passion and way of life. Thank you for that.

  2. David Axberg says:

    I am one of three children. One is in an “emergant church”, one has walked away completely and then there is me who absolutly “Loves the Church”. Great book by the way. I have been convicted as one of those who left the institutional church. I am now apart of a great “Family Integrated” Church but often miss much of the Institutional positives. With all that said I believe your points 1 & 2 need to be present in the bring up of the next generation. I am here because of my family heritage and mentors from the church. Thank you Kevin Keep Proclaiming His WORD.

  3. Adam White says:

    Kevin,
    I have been a volunteer high school ministry worker for almost 9 years and cannot tell you how grateful I am for what you are writing about reaching our young people. Nice work. To love them and show them a passion for God and His word is how we have found we impact lives for Christ. Keep writing, it is a great encouragement.
    -Adam

  4. Blaine Moore says:

    Soooo good! “If nothing of spiritual significance is happening in your church, your Bible study, your small group, or your family it may be because nothing spiritually significant is happening in your life. I love the line from Robert Murray M’Cheyne: ‘What your people need from you most is your own personal holiness.’ ”

    Thanks for that encouragement and challenge!

  5. Terry says:

    This is a great series, Kevin. Are you planning on putting out a book with this theme? I would buy it.

  6. Israel says:

    Amen.

    Being holy menas being different, set apart. It doesn’t mean that we’re perfect, but that our lives should be different from the rest of the world, because we are set apart.

    The youth needs to see that. The youth needs to see adults who actually act like they believe that what the bible says is real.

  7. Dan says:

    Thanks for this great series of posts, Kevin. It is a significant promise from 1 Peter 1:5-8 that, as you say, “if we are growing in faith, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, we will not be ineffective ministers for Christ.” I do not think that the secret to this passage is in verse 8, though- I believe that it is found in verse 9: “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” How do we ensure that we are growing in the things laid out in vs. 5-7 and keeping from being ineffective ministers for Christ? By keeping our eyes on the gospel.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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