“And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7, NLT)*
“The day you don’t have a youth department in the denomination is the day the denomination ceases to exist.” This statement was reported to have been said by Dr. Roy S. Nicholson, a powerhouse of a leader in the history of our denomination. He was right then and his words are still true today.
One of the phenomenal distinctives of The Wesleyan Church (TWC) is to believe in the next generation so much to invest in local and denominational youth ministries, youth camps and conventions, along with Wesleyan colleges and universities to assist our youth in considering the call of God on their lives for vocational ministry and for engagement in the local church. Hundreds of thousands of human hours and dollars have been generously poured into the youth of The Wesleyan Church for more than 50 years regarding this vital cause.
We have the privilege of believing in the next generation of those who will follow Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Every generation wonders if the youth of their day will ever figure the Christian walk out in a biblically honoring manner. Older saints question if we all are on the slippery slope of watching Christian living get thrown into the dumpster in our world. I know the generation before mine had the same thoughts regarding my peers and me.
In our current culture of fear along with the world of mouths we find ourselves posting, there are a few things we need to remember and remind the next generation of if the church will ever experience a Christ-honoring, vibrant and transformative future.
The youth of today are no different than any age. They wonder if their lives will ever count for anything significant. They wonder what God is calling them to in the middle of living in a world where they wonder if anything will ever be right again. It is in these inquiries that we must remember that life is a journey. From the cradle to this side of heaven, all should remember that questions, doubts and wonderment are normal.
As Deuteronomy 6 reminds us, we should remember that the journey needs to have repeated references to God, his word, his work and our need for salvation through the repentance of sin, living a holy and obedient life to the commands of God. The youth of today need genuine, authentic examples of Christ in their lives who are consistently living out God’s truths; those who will not disappoint or disillusion them about Christ and his church.
On the journey with our youth and all persons, may our direction, words, thoughts and actions be pleasing to God at all times, in all places.
Young persons need to be blessed and encouraged often. As a parent, I had the privilege of praying over infants who turned into young children, who have now become adults. I still pray over them every day. I send them a text message with scripture and encouragement every single day. I let them know that I love them, no matter what is going on or where I find myself in the world on any given day.
In our world of confusion and disregard, the youngest around us need to know we are praying for them, and we need to encourage them as often as the day is long.
Developing others holistically is the key to sustained faith in Jesus Christ. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, reason and Christian experience lines this out for us. Another way I have personally focused on developing others in local church, denominational and university life is to focus on the head, heart, hands and habits of others. We need to teach our youth the truth of God’s inerrant word, developing their minds. We must pray that our youth will have a genuine, transformational encounter of repentance with the Lord Christ in their hearts. Our students need to be taught how to be servant leaders, using their hands to bring glory to God while giving dignity to all people.
Spiritual disciplines and fruit must be lived out as daily, personal habits in front of our youth if we ever expect them to catch and apply the same habits for their lives.
I accepted God’s call on my life for a lifetime of vocational ministry service to Christ’s kingdom at the age of 12 at an International Wesleyan Youth Convention. For more than two decades, I served on planning committees giving direction to conventions and camps emphasizing the call and equipping for service to God on the lives of young persons around the world. The church today and tomorrow needs us to equip them to love, serve and lead the local church in significant ways. Someone did that for you and me, whether we serve as clergy or lay persons. Now it is our turn.
Often, I am asked why I would ever consider being a university president. Some wonder about the compensation while others wonder if it is because of the perceived prestige. For me, these things have little to do with it all. I serve the Lord and his church in my current station because I believe the youth of our day can change this world. I sincerely believe this. As they get right with Christ and love others with the compassion they demonstrate — and is unmatched by any other generation in my lifetime — I believe they can fix this crazy and godless world we find ourselves living in these days. I really believe this.
If I can have a part in developing the next generation for the glory of Christ and his church, I’m all in. Not only do I believe this but we sincerely need them to be persons who “live as one sent” for Christ and for good.
May we focus on developing our youth in Christ so they can change the world for Christ.
Dr. Jim Dunn is the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
* Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.