YMI – 2021 & Beyond
THE GREAT COMMISSION:
A YOUTH MOVEMENT?
By YMI President Randy Smith
“If the Great Commission is going to be fulfilled in the 21st
century it must by-in-large become a Youth Movement.”
I made the above statement for the first time at Liberty University School of Religion’s ministry chapel in March of 2013, where I was asked to speak after receiving the Liberty University Center for Youth Ministry “2013 Alumni of the Year” award for work done by Youth Ministry International. I was honored to receive the award, but my prayer was that I would inspire a few ministry students to join the effort to reach and disciple the youth of the world between ages 11-26, some 2.5 billion of them!
The fact is that the quote at the top of the page was inspired by an evangelical leader I met in Bangalore, India in 2012, by the name of Dr. Chris Gnanakan. Dr. Gnanakan was at that time the director of Outreach To Asia Nationals (OTAN), which serves leaders in over ten countries in Asia. The work of OTAN is to assist, equip, and empower pastoral leaders to fulfill the Great Commission.
I remember as I was talking to him about he mission of YMI, he quickly said to me:
“If evangelical Christianity is going to succeed in India it will have to be a youth movement. I’m convinced that young professionals are on the cutting edge of Evangelical Christianity in India, and throughout Asia, and it’s success is largely dependent on equipping, empowering and enabling this youth movement!”
Immediately I thought to myself, YES… and that certainly could be said for the entire world. India has more than 330 million teenagers and is the youngest country demographically in the world.
However, having said this, the enabling of a “Great Commission Youth Movement” is about more than winning youth to Christ and discipling them; it is equally important that such a movement be about motivating, equipping and enlisting youth as actual PARTICIPANT/LEADERS in the movement.
The problem is that much of the evangelical world does not view Christian youth as missional leaders, but simply as participants who need to be ministered TO, not necessarily WITH,… a grave mistake! In my view. The demographic most capable to win youth to Christ is the youth themselves!
From my study of the history of youth ministry, I would argue that the most successful movement of Christian youth in history was the Christian Endeavor Youth Movement that started in 1881 in the U.S. with a few dozen members. By 1906 this ministry, which was designed to engage youth in church work and leadership, had grown to more than 4 million in just 25 years. Even though by 1920 the organization started declining as a movement, CE is still in operation today. Moreover, a new effort of resurgence of the U.S. Christian Endeavor organization is being attempted currently, and we certainly pray for their success.
The truth is, almost all evangelical youth ministry movement organizations are in some stage of decline in the U.S. since their initiation, whether in numbers or in fulfillment of their original spiritual charter. Most of these movements were started between 1900 and 1960. Some would even say that the local church youth pastor-led youth movement that started in the U.S. in the early 1960’s is in decline.
As important and valuable as these past and present youth movements have been, I believe it is time for a new Great Commission Youth Movement!
But what would such a movement look like?
What could be the key to facilitating such a movement?
Will the new movement be led by a parachurch organization or will it be a church youth movement?
Before we address that question let’s look at what makes a successful youth movement.
As strange as it may sound, I believe that the largest and fastest growing known youth movement in the world to date, while also being one of the most evil movements in history is without question, the Hitler Youth movement of the early to mid-1900’s. This official youth organization for Nazi Germany grew under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, from less than 100,000 in 1932 to more than 8 million in 1940. This volunteer movement incorporated youth from 10 to 18 years old, boys and girls alike.
This may not seem significant until one discovers the reason so many German youth joined this sinister movement. Only then does the significance of this movement become clear, but also germane to a potential evangelical youth movement for fulfilling the Great Commission today. The critical factor is that the Hitler Youth was a movement OF and BY youth, not just FOR youth.
Hitler and his young leadership team figured out the key to growing a sweeping youth movement; make them feel needed, important, empowered, and allow them to lead and do great things themselves. For the Hitler youth, the cause was one worth dying for, and indeed they did just that. A 10,000 member brigade of Hitler youth, average age 12-14 defended Berlin at the end of the war where they faced off U.S. and Russian tanks and troops in defense of Hitler’s Nazi regime, and at the end of the battle of Berlin, only 2 out of 10,000 survived.
As odd as it may sound, I believe Hitler discovered the youth ministry principle taught in 1 Timothy 4:12 when the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his young missionary assistant, and said, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.“ (NIV)
Here is what I mean by a Great Commission Youth Movement:
A movement of evangelical youth who are recruited (won to Christ and discipled) and then further equipped, empowered and developed to be leaders in the effort to reach their own world for Christ!
We need to equip and empower the youth of today’s world to become “Leaders of Today,” not merely but leaders of Today! And, YES, I believe the local evangelical church should be and can be the medium through which this movement can begin and succeed. This is certainly my prayer!