Many teens in the church today tend to view their faith as “a little Jesus in my pocket,” ready to solve their problems, youth ministry expert Richard Ross said.
In response, Ross has developed a new study Reign: Awakening a Young Generation to King Jesus.
“Church teenagers do believe Jesus exists and that they belong to Him,” Ross, professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in written comments to Baptist Press (BP). “And I would say they love Him in a sentimental sort of way.”
But they do not believe He is crucial to everyday life, Ross said.
Also addressing this problem is a new initiative from Blackaby Ministries International called “The Collision,” which equips young adults to navigate worldview questions by showing them how Jesus is relevant to every aspect of their media-driven lives.
Though teenagers in the church tend to live as if Jesus is mostly out of sight and out of mind, Ross said, there is one notable exception.
“Teenagers do believe Jesus has to show up anytime they have a need or an issue,” Ross said. “They honestly believe Jesus exists for them and that He is supposed to make their lives happier, less stressful and more prosperous.”
Reign, now available on Amazon, is a student ministry curriculum for church Bible classes, discipleship groups, family studies, youth retreats and camps and DiscipleNow Weekends, encompassing four small group Bible studies and four personal devotionals as well as outlines and illustrations for four sermons.
“I believe the most powerful antidote to a ‘me-centered’ faith is a clear understanding of who Jesus really is. That is the focus of the Reign curriculum,” Ross said. “Every lesson and devotional lifts the eyes of believing teenagers to powerful, majestic, preeminent King Jesus, reigning over the universe from the throne of heaven.
“Jesus can’t be in my pocket. He is the King over everything. He cannot be my little mascot. He is the supreme Monarch.”
Before it was published, Ross taught the Reign curriculum at a DiscipleNow weekend in Old Hickory, Tenn., and 18-year-old Lilly Davison was there. Ross “has made a big impact on me and my peers,” she told Baptist Press, “and I am very grateful that he was able to share his wisdom with us and now the world.”
Davison said Reign made her think of Jesus in a different way.
“It was life-changing to not only realize that we completely undervalue Jesus but we also steal away from His glory whenever we picture Him as anything other than the true King that He is,” Davison said.
Whenever people view Jesus any other way than King, she said, “we put ourselves before Him.”
“Picturing Jesus as King stops the pride from trickling in and makes you want to do anything to serve and glorify Him rather than yourself and focusing on your own happiness,” Davison said.
Ross has written nearly 30 books for student pastors, student ministry volunteers and parents of teenagers, but in Reign he has ventured into curriculum to be used directly with teenagers. “Without a doubt, this has been some of the most rewarding writing I have ever done,” he said.
Ross’ 30-year-old son, Clayton, co-wrote the study, ensuring the writing would communicate well with teenagers and with teachers and leaders who are young adults, Ross said.
“I knew he would be a valuable writing partner. We co-wrote one chapter in the 2017 book Youth Ministry That Lasts a Lifetime. Frequently I hear, ‘That chapter alone was worth the price of the book.’”
Believing teenagers are full of “moral therapeutic deism,” Ross told BP, because the American church is afflicted by it.
“A large percentage of adults are in worship on Sunday morning because they have a hunch that being religious will make their lives happier and more prosperous,” Ross said. “Considering all things loss compared to the surpassing greatness of Christ [Philippians 3:8] is simply not on their radar. Consequently, almost every measure of church health and cultural impact is moving in a negative direction.”
Youth leaders must decide whether they will let another generation enter the adult church with a me-centered faith or “saturate teenagers with the scriptures that give them an exalted view of their reigning King,” Ross said.
Blackaby Ministries International, which grew out of the success of Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God study written nearly 30 years ago, also is tackling the weakening faith of many young adults by launching an initiative called “The Collision: Experiencing God in Today’s Culture.”
As much as 65 percent of young adults are walking away from the church or abandoning their faith, Daniel Blackaby said, citing several recent studies.
“As our ministry has traveled across the country, we have put faces to these sobering numbers,” Blackaby, founder and content creator for The Collision, told Baptist Press in written comments. “We have heard countless heartbreaking stories from parents and grandparents whose children and grandchildren grew up in church every Sunday only to walk away and reject their faith.”
At the same time, Blackaby, Henry Blackaby’s grandson, noted the “amazing potential” of young adults to impact the world.
“Equipping young adults is not just an investment in the future. It is an investment in the present,” he said. “We pray that this new initiative will not only bring back some of those who have strayed from the church but will also strengthen and equip those still within the church to thoughtfully engage our increasingly secular culture for Christ.”
The Collision consists of a website, thecollision.org, which is up now, and a YouTube channel and weekly podcast, which are expected to debut in the next few months.
“We should not expect that an hour or two in church each week is enough to counterbalance the 40 to 60 hours per week that young adults spend immersed in media,” Blackaby said, adding that The Collision will leverage the digital mediums that young adults already know.
Through engaging the content, Blackaby hopes young adults will recognize primarily that God is the Lord of all creation.
“He is God on Sunday, but also on Monday through Saturday. He is God during a church worship service but also when we play sports, watch movies or go for a hike. The topics of our content range from science, Marvel and Star Wars films, apologetics, pop culture, the creative arts and beyond,” Blackaby said.
The Collision also is designed to allow young adults to ask hard questions and wrestle with doubts. “God is not intimidated by either,” Blackaby, a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said.
“Today’s young adults are raising important questions about science, sexuality and faith,” he said. “If the church isn’t ready or willing to give thoughtful answers, then the secular world is more than happy to do so. Our ministry does not shy away from these difficult or controversial topics.”