We spent the last few days at a conference with the youth from our church. This is the first time I’ve been to a youth camp/conference since I’ve had my own kiddos. I was not a huge fan of leaving my kids overnight when they were younger, so I always stayed home with them. Just about the time my oldest was old enough to handle a few nights away, Anna came home. Wash, rinse, repeat for quite a few years. Plus, Anna is a little more complicated when it comes to being away from us. Even now, there’s a fine line of balance that we have to walk in order to keep her regulated and also continue to develop a solid foundation of attachment. Leaving her usually means we have to work for days and sometimes weeks to regain lost ground. But we were finally getting to a point where she did okay when we left her for more than a few hours, and then, hello, COVID. So we all sat out camps and conferences for a couple summers, but this year it was back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Still, the truth was, I wasn’t super excited to go. Pre-kids, I went to more than a couple youth camps, including one where we unknowingly booked unairconditioned cabins in the middle of the Texas summer. That was a special time where I threw a very, carnal fit about the heat and lack of AC in front of my teenage girls. Good job, Courtney. Way to set the example. But in continuing in this vein of honesty, I always found the camps exhausting and draining to the point where I could not wait to get home. I always felt like it was a constant tug-a-war of trying to get kids to participate and partake in the services and activities all the while, I wasn’t really feeling it myself.
This week was so unbelievably different. Maybe it’s because I’m (much) older . . . although one would think that older = harder (and physically, yeah, I don’t do as well on less than 5 hours of sleep coupled with copious amounts of caffeine). I’m also more mature emotionally and spiritually (at least on most days), and being older offers a perspective that I just didn’t have when I was in my 20s. But it was more than just maturity in my own life and walk with God. It was more than the fact that we took a great group of relatively easy kids . . . I mean they are teenagers, so at least a few shenanigans were a given. It was more than being in an air-conditioned church rather than outside in the 110-degree Texas heat. But praise Jesus for the air conditioning because I am too old for this heat. The fact is, there was a genuineness and sincerity in both the worship and the word that I’m not sure I’ve ever felt or seen before (I’m not throwing shade at any church or camp so no one get offended). I don’t for a moment think it’s because other camps or churches are disingenuous. I think, it’s because we have, standing in front of us, a generation, that is desperate for something real. Real beyond the latest cause or perceived “right” thrown in their faces. A realness that comes only through the redeeming blood of Christ.
There was emotion (I mean teenagers are emotional) in that auditorium this week, but it wasn’t driven by emotion. If anything, it was emphasized over and over again, that this wasn’t about having an emotional experience. It wasn’t about putting on a show or applause or counting salvations to post on social media (which we should always celebrate salvations, do not hear me wrong). No “repeat this prayer after me” moments happened, but I promise you, lives were given to Jesus, hearts were committed and recommitted to Christ. This week was 100% about a personal encounter with a God that transforms, delivers, heals, and sets free. And if you’ve never stood in an auditorium with over 3500 teenagers (yes that’s a LOT of teenage hormones) truly worshipping the Lord, then you’ll have to take my word for it that there is absolutely nothing like it. And I have no doubt that heaven was worshipping right alongside us.
I had this great revelation during this conference . . . I am middle aged (thus the copious amounts of caffeine). I’m telling y’all, it was a shock. I have, approximately as many years ahead of me as behind be, give or take 10ish or so years. I am not the future of our nation or our world . . . at least not to the extent that this generation, Gen Z, is. I am not old yet, but I’m not super young anymore either.
If you all know me, you know I’m a big fan of increasing independence as our teens creep closer to adulthood. I’m a big fan of equipping and enabling them to move into that independence as they grow. I am NOT a big fan of enabling kids, capable of becoming functioning, independent adults, to remain children well into adulthood. Stay with me here . . . I have a point.
On the first night of the conference, just as they were about to open, as I looked out over the crowd of teenagers, I felt like the Lord was telling me (I know I say that a lot, but I do think God can and does speak to our hearts through the Holy Spirit) that this is the generation that will be a catalyst for change. That this generation, more than any other generation since Jesus’s birth, is going to revolutionize the world for Jesus. This is the generation that’s going to rock our world. And on repeat, throughout the conference, what I heard God speaking to me on that first night, before we even knew what was going to be taught and covered (no obvious theme was given), was very clearly confirmed through the messages and the words that were spoken, and ultimately through the actual, living Word of God. But here’s the other side of that, here is what else God laid on my heart. We, as adults, have to let them. We have to let them grow up. We have to let them develop their own relationship with Christ. We have to let them both suffer and sacrifice . . . two things that my generation – those of us that rounded out Gen X and are on the cusp of, but not quite, millenials – and the generations immediately preceding us, do not do well. We like comfort and ease. Suffering and sacrifice? Not so popular in our post WWII world.
There’s a lot of research out there that shows that young adults are leaving the church at pretty alarming rates. It’s been getting progressively worse over the past 70ish years, and there are a number of reasons for it. We can look at the breakdown of the nuclear family, as God intended to be, as one of the leading reasons. We can look at the breakdown of our society, our morals, the value, or lack thereof, placed on life from the moment of conception and beyond, we can look at the lack of church attendance . . . none of it is wrong. But I think something we miss is that we, as parents, are too often trying to have a relationship with Jesus for our kids. We have more “thou shall” and “thou shall nots” than the actual bible. We are trying to force worship and church attendance and ultimately a relationship with Christ even into adulthood because we are still parenting grown adults in our society and in our churches. And guess what y’all? It’s not working.
Hear me on this. We go to church as a family pretty much every Sunday. That’s part of living in this house as a child and growing up in our family. I’m not saying let your 10 year old decide whether or not to go to church. We have rules . . . the good Lord knows we have rules in our home, but as you grow older the rules do change and grow with you. The freedom given grows, and is retained, by showing oneself to be responsible. But at the end of it all, no legalistic amount of rules and regulations are going to do what the Holy Spirit will do. The hard part is that we, the generation of helicopter, control freak parents, have to step back and be willing to let God work. We have to let our kids work out their own salvation because we cannot do it for them. We have to admit that as parents and leaders, we don’t have it all together, and we don’t always get it right. We have to stop spending our lives listing all of the sins of our kids and start looking for what God is doing in them. We have to start living out what we’re preaching. If we’re not walking the walk, in our words, in our actions, in setting a day-to-day example, in our homes, and our cars, when we’re not in church, our kids see that. And believe me it matters.
We have to believe that when we pray God hears. When we seek we will find, and when we ask we will receive. And then we have to spend more time in the word and on our knees than in trying to control everything. Because in the end, if this is the generation that is going to spark a revolution for Jesus, they’re not doing it because of anything we do as human parents. They’re doing it because they have a true and intimate relationship with the creator of the universe. We have to let Him reveal Himself to them. We have to let the revelation of Jesus’s love . . . of the unequivocal sacrifice He made for all of mankind but also for each of us individually . . . be the revelation that sparks a revolution in the world.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.“ Philippians 2:12-14
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9