In some ways, discipling Gen Z (those born anywhere from 1999-2015) is no different from any other generation preceding it. Point them to Jesus with your Bible-saturated words, actions and life! Don’t complicate it!
But at the same time, this generation is unlike any before it. They are a unique people, with unique glories…and unique garbage. It’s true of every generation. So, while the principles of discipleship remain unwavering, the application of those principles is ever-changing.
Below are 11 ways you can totally botch discipling earth’s newest generation:
1) Shy away from conversations about sexuality
Culture is speaking to Gen Z – and it’s a mixture of truth and lie. We, too, must speak to them, with far more reasonable arguments than culture. Which requires research of hot topics today, such as sexuality, transgenderism, and gender fluidity. If you don’t feel qualified to take on these topics, then good. You’re being honest. But it’s time to get equipped. Pick up a book like This Is Our Time” by Trevin Wax, or God and the Transgender Debateby Andrew Walker, or Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry. If you’re looking for a quick-fix or “discipleship hack” then, well, sorry!
Further, we must make the effort to have open, honest, welcoming, insightful conversations with our teens. They need to feel safe to express doubts and ask questions. Doubts don’t kill faith. Silence does.
2) Remind them that listening to other people is a waste of time
Smart phones are rigged up these days to tell teens one thing: you are the center of the universe. Phone developers make it so that they feel in control. The world’s knowledge is at their fingertips! Endless customization makes them unique. Social media and RSS feeds are modified so that the only updates teens get are from sources they already agree with. It’s true of Netflix, too (learn how to navigate Netflix here). Which means their opinions aren’t being challenged, they’re being confirmed. This is destroying their (and our) ability to respectfully dialogue with people holding an opposing view.
I love what David Kinnaman says:
“Protecting people from ideas they’d rather not hear is not only laughable but also ultimately harmful to society. Religious liberty and freedom of speech are rights that can only be put to the test at the distressing intersection of differing ideas.”
3) Teach them that their self worth comes from social media
Social media forces Gen Z to constantly appear successful, happy, and positive – even when RL (real life) is spiraling. It’s constant performance. And competition. It’s like a twisted, social game that nobody likes to play – but in order to be relevant you kinda have to.
The fundamental root of this is identity. When teens see their physical selves as God’s masterpieces (Eph. 2:10), they begin to view themselves as God views them. They soon believe the beautiful gospel that says, “God can’t love you anymore than He does right now…and you can’t do anything to change it!” This, then, empowers them to shrug off what others think. It frees them to be honest about life, which includes the happy and the sad, the exciting and the ordinary.
4) Reinforce unhealthy relationships with their phone
Phones are so normal to us that I think we forget just how powerful they are. This sort of power requires responsible handling. And kids don’t learn that by osmosis. They need to be taught it. We need to lean in and have conversations with: phone addiction, porn, sexting, cyberbullying, and a hundred other things. Simply put, we need to open up that conversation. And keep it open.
5) Support the fact they prioritize financial independence over spiritual maturity
The majority of churchgoing teens are more interested in educational achievement and financial independence than spiritual maturity (from a Barna study). Gen Z alone doesn’t shoulder this blame. They learn their priorities largely from their parents and key leaders in their life. They need to hear the Bible taught to them and see it lived out. Holiness at work is a beautiful, compelling, life-giving virtue of every mature Christian. Teenagers should be seeing this in their Christian leaders. As important as education and finances are, what’s worth more for the kingdom? The New Testament writers are clear that making pursuit of wealth one’s primary life goal is spiritual suicide.
6) Don’t answer their “big” questions
The five most important questions to teens right now that every Christian leader should be answering for them are: Who am I? – How does the media influence me? – What is my identity? – Where did I come from? – How should I view others?
If we aren’t answering these, we’re missing their heart!
7) Settle for their church attendance, not church engagement
Just like attending a Dallas Cowboy game doesn’t make you a true Cowboy, attending church doesn’t make you a true Christian. Teens attending church is a great thing. But is it enough to stay Christian? No. Often, they’re attending church because they’re either forced to or it’s just what they’ve always done, so why not?
In a post-Christian world, where the persecution is ever-increasing, their faith must become their own or it will wither and die. Leaders, this means urging your teen to engage is paramount. Get them to youth group; get them serving; get them in small groups; get them on mission trips. The more they engage, the more real Christianity becomes; and the more real Christianity becomes, the deeper their faith grows. When the winds of the world begin to howl, their roots become deep and strong, and capable of resisting.
8) Give them slack for not caring about their faith
Again, humans learn most through imitation. Teens pretty meh about their faith probably learned that from their parents. As a student pastor, the #1 frustration I experience on a weekly basis is parents not prioritizing their spiritual growth. Soccer camp (for a student who will clearly never make the Olympic Team – go ahead and call me a prophet!) takes precedence over a mission trip. Argh!
The bigger question is this: is Christianity evident in every aspect of home life? Does Gen Z hear and see the gospel in their household? Is it real or inauthentic? Teens can smell the difference. Never forget just how influential you are as a Christian leader. They are watching. They are imitating.
9) Forget to show them the purpose of Christianity
Purpose is integral for every human. If you have no reason to get out of bed…why get out of bed? This is truer for young male Gen Z’ers than ever before. Many of them feel aimless, lacking in life and vigor in their faith.
They need logical, factual evidence for why they believe what they believe. And they need the big picture of Jesus’ Kingdom advancing into the world, one soul at a time. Let’s make apologetics a priority. Let’s engage them in tough conversations. Let’s allow them to struggle…but to struggle forward.
10) Neglect the necessity of grace in their walk with Christ
Sin is real. We feel it. And it doesn’t feel good. The natural reaction when we sin, therefore, is to run from God. But is this what Jesus wants for us? When we sin are we supposed to run away from God in fear or towards Him in repentance? The latter. If Gen Z’ers believe that God likes us less or more depending on what we’ve done, then they don’t understand the gospel of grace.
This is why the gospel matters: Galatians 2:16 says, “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” Essentially, our “performance” matters zero if we have faith in Jesus. It’s his performance that matters. It’s his performance that God grades us on if we’re in Christ. We will repent ‘til the day we die. But in Christ, all of it is forgiven–and God’s smile is always on us. It is this grace that most effectively spurs us into living a godly life.
11) Never emphasize doctrine – just talk about feelings
Because the idea of an absolute truth, or an objective morality, is questioned or mocked in contemporary culture, it’s possible your Gen Z disciples struggle with doctrine. But Christianity with doctrine, without belief, without dogma…is no Christianity at all. We must teach them the Bible, the attributes of God, the aspects of redemption, the call of every Christian. It’s our duty (and joy!) to equip the next generation with who God is and what He’s done.
This is a blossoming generation in need of intentional discipleship. They need to be shown how Jesus applies to their world. Yes, you will make mistakes along the way. But hopefully this article helped steer you away from a few of them.
Copyright © 2019 by <Justin Talbert> @ <getgroundedministries.com>. Used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Lifeword.org