By Tony Lynn
FENTON, Mich. (BP) — It was the early 1970s at a park on the north side of Flint, Mich., when a guy with long hair and tattered jeans approached me and asked in a simple, straightforward tone, “Do you know Jesus, man?”
At the age of 11, I looked back at the man through his rose-colored lenses and replied, “Yes sir. I know Jesus.” He smiled and said, “Cool man,” then he walked further into the park talking to others as he had with me.
That is my earliest recollection of a stranger mentioning Christ to me. Three years after that day in the park, in a Southern Baptist congregation of 50, my life was changed from knowing about Christ to knowing Him as my personal Savior.
That stranger, I realize now, came out of the “Jesus Movement,” an evangelical phenomenon during the late 1960s and early ’70s throughout North America, Europe and Central America. Tens of thousands were baptized during spontaneous celebrations. Spiritual discussions took place in houses and in parks. Witnessing was done on the streets by word of mouth.
However, that unusual movement may not have reached its full potential due to the fears of those within the established churches and Christian institutions. As I look back over my last 40 years, I recall those from the Jesus Movement who overcame widespread resistance. What stands out to me as I recall each person’s story from the ’60s and ’70s was the suspicion they once felt. Yet these heroes of the faith still have that forward perspective and desire to advance God’s Kingdom.
Michigan Baptists’ executive director-treasurer Tim Patterson can testify that his salvation came out of the Jesus Movement during the ’70s in Texas. He went from being a local bad boy to an evangelist. Because local churches refused to make room for the young people coming to Christ, Patterson’s congregation met in a park and numbered 300 people.
Policemen who at first monitored the crowd with distrust became Christians through his preaching and evangelism. The public school board allowed Patterson, his Christian band and his teenage leaders liberties to share the Gospel among their classmates because they saw authentic transformations in the lives of young people, whereas local congregations and pastors often were doubtful and refused to welcome a new generation of believers.
A new generation
Today, the results of the Jesus Movement may be difficult to identify but the God-inspired movement I see happening among this new adult generation born during the years 1981-2001 is easy to recognize. God is up to something with Millennials, also known as Generation Y or Echo Boomers.
I see determined young adults pursuing greater callings in life. Adults in new church plants put their careers on hold while serving tireless hours as volunteers. Some are leveraging their professional training to benefit a local new church. University graduates are dedicating two to three years as servant-leaders in a university church plant before starting their secular careers full-throttle. This new adult generation does not separate life into secular and sacred categories. They believe being authentic requires people to be the same at work, at home and at church, 24/7. Young adults are more serious about a meaningful purpose than most give them credit for.
As I compare the barriers set before those who came out of the Jesus Movement and the obstacles in front of today’s believing Millennials, I see a reluctance of many to involve young adults in ministry. If we want to see a movement of God unleashed on our world, there are several things we must do to empower Millennials in our churches and Christian institutions:
- Anticipate that God will release His Holy Spirit upon a particular generation to do amazing things when He desires, and let’s pray we see it in this decade.
- Place more confidence in the solid evidence that believing Millennials are driven to do something meaningful even though they are young, so that godly devotion is not hindered by age.
- Stop assigning mundane, simple, assisting roles to young adults and instead authorize them to be creative leaders who initiate fresh approaches to ministry.
- Release our white-knuckle hold on the traditions in our churches, institutions, and calendars and instead hold these young adults up in prayer as we empower them to speak up, serve, and steer us into the future.
- Fall in love with what the future brings under God’s sovereignty, rather than allow the fear of the unfamiliar or the loss of control to cause us to take back into our hands what God is entrusting to this new adult generation.
Every day of my life, I see a new believing generation who are setting “an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, CSB). I say let’s participate in what God is doing so that we do not hinder His movement.
Tony Lynn is state director of missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. This column first appeared in the convention’s Baptist Beacon newsjournal.