Reaching Youth Today

Josh McDowell

This is the text of a speech by Josh McDowell on how to minister to contemporary youth. It was delivered at the Assemblies of God 1998 Ministerial Enrichment Conference. Its message of reaching young people in an post-Christian culture conveys many of the ideas from his recent book, Right from Wrong. Although it is addressed specifically to pastors, this presentation is also relevant for youth ministers, teachers, parents and all who are concerned about issues pertaining to young people. Josh McDowell is the director of Josh McDowell Ministry, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

You’re going to have to turn your minds on, for what I’m going to share tonight. I want you to listen carefully to what I say because, it can have a significant impact in your personal life, your marriage, and your ministry. I’ve been asked to speak on how we reach a post-modern generation. I don’t like to call it Generation X, rather, the "post-modern" generation. What is the key to evangelism? What you’re going to hear from me tonight is not what most people expect for me to say. But you’re going to have to listen carefully, or you’ll miss the point of the evening. I want to read from the scriptures, but I don’t want you to open your Bibles. I want you to think it through with me as I read the word of God.

The apostle Paul, writing in I Thessalonians 2:2, made this statement that I think is very applicable for today. He said, "Even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philipi, and as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel in much conflict." "You know that we spoke the gospel to you in much conflict." Oh, brothers and sisters, if you think you’ve faced much conflict in the past, fasten your seat belt. We are just beginning to see conflict. I think that conflict is going to come out of three crises.

The first is the crisis of culture. What I’ve got to do is lay a little foundation here to get to the answer. My dad once said, "A problem well defined is half solved." Remember during the sixties, everyone was running around saying, "Jesus is the answer." Most of the students were saying, "What’s the problem?" So I need to look a little bit at the problem so you have context for the answer. A cultural crisis. We are the first generation in 300 years right now to be going through a distinct cultural change. You say, "Oh Josh, we’ve always had a generation gap." I’m not saying a generation gap. We now have a cultural gap, and that’s never happened in 300 years. We are right in the center of one of the greatest, deepest, and most rapid cultural changes ever in history at this very moment. Francis Shaffer made this statement, "We no longer live in a Judeo-Christian culture" – Judeo meaning Old Testament, Christian meaning New Testament, that our ethics were derived from the Old and New Testament. He said, "We no longer live in a Judeo-Christian culture, but a post Judeo-Christian culture." I believe if Francis Shaffer was standing here right now he would not just echo this, he would be pounding the table saying that if we don’t wake up, we’ll be obsolete in three to five years. We no longer live and minister in a post Judeo-Christian culture. We live in an anti Judeo-Christian culture. If you don’t grasp that, I guarantee you’ll be obsolete within a matter of months. If you can understand this simple illustration you’ll see what I’m talking about. Why is an alleged artistic display, by the Hispanic artist Cerano, of a crucifix degraded in a jar of the artist’s own urine called "The Pissed Christ," declared a work of art, given a $24,000 check from the National Endowment of Art, and was declared a work of tolerance, and is right now being duplicated and sent all over the world; but a rainbow, the gay symbol, degraded in a jar of urine would immediately be declared an abomination? For that, you would not receive one penny from the National Endowment of Art. It would be declared a work of intolerance, and you could not show it in any art show in 85 percent of the cultures in the world. If you can resolve that simple illustration, you know what has already happened. We have gone through a total cultural change. I’m thankful for the Assemblies of God because for years, you have trained missionaries to go to other cultures, to bridge the culture. Pastor, you listen to me. We now must train youth workers to bridge a culture right here in our own country. The culture gap between adults and youth right now is as great as the difference between American culture and any other culture in the world. Yet, so many senior pastors are missing that point. I am so thankful that the Assemblies’ leadership is giving support to Monty and his team. You are one of the few denominations where the leadership of the denomination has such a view of youth ministry. I guarantee that within ten years that will be your salvation. A lot of you might not see that right now, but unless we train people right now to bridge a culture, not a generation, we will be ineffective.

Then we have a crisis of truth. You’re going to have to listen carefully here, or you’ll miss it. When Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life," that is understood in a totally different way now. Pastor, almost every time you stand up to preach and you mention the word "truth," the way you mean it is not understood by the young people in your congregation for this reason. In this cultural change, known as modernism to post modernism, there is a total change in the concept of truth. When you and I were growing up pastor, we were trained to discover truth. You would go to a book, start reading it and ask yourself, "What is the truth the author’s getting at? What is he saying here? What is the evidence given to support that?" Why? Truth was there to be discovered. Under modernism, there is truth out there. There is objective, noble truth in the world. Through man’s reasoning he or she can discover that truth. That goes against Christianity. That’s one reason I’ve been criticized the past fifteen years even by Christians. I said, "By your mind you cannot discover God." But modernism said that you can. It said, "Any truth out there, you discover through your mind. Truth is there to be discovered." Post modernism now says that there is no objective truth. Now, here’s the key to understanding much of what you hear from the younger generation. Truth is not there to be discovered; truth is there to be created. That’s key. This is why when you read a book, you’re not trained to discover truth. Whatever you think is true is just as true as whatever the author was writing. So now you’re there to create truth. It doesn’t matter what the author was writing. Whatever it says to you is just as true as whatever the author was writing. This is why phrases are coming out like, "The author must die so the reader can live" or "The reader becomes the author." Doesn’t that sound screwy? To you and me it does; to the average person in the younger generation it makes all the sense in the world. See, there’s been no generation of pastors in the history of America that’s faced a crisis like this. Never. A cultural change. You create truth. Truth is called a construct of your culture. That’s why all truth is personal. It’s perspective. Remember when President Clinton said, "Perception is everything." What he meant by that is it doesn’t matter what happened. Whatever you perceived has happened is just as true as whatever happened. And that’s what it means now. Perception is everything. That’s why you can rewrite the historical story about Columbus, and it doesn’t matter what really happened. Whatever you think happened is just as true as whatever happened. Perception is everything or in other words, all truth is translation. You translate it to yourself and it’s just as true as what anyone else says. Choice is the issue. A lot of you have probably seen the beautifully done life promotions by The DeMoss Foundation, "Life what a beautiful choice". The National Abortion Rights Action League in New York did a massive campaign at the same time and they switched it around. This depicted post modernism. "Choice, what a beautiful life". Wow. Because it doesn’t matter what you choose. The key is your choice. Whatever you choose is just as true as whatever anybody else chooses. Come on, you’ve heard the phrase. Listen to all these young people. Listen to their friends, "Look, you need to determine what is right for you and wrong for you, but don’t impose your values upon me. You need to give me the freedom to determine what is right for me and wrong for me and live it out unhindered." Why? You create truth. And it is so hard for us in the older generation to comprehend that. Do you know what is the number one accusation of why Christianity is false right now? The number one accusation of why Christianity is false is that it claims to be true. Right now the number one reason why Christianity is false in the eyes of the world is that it claims to be the truth and it says all others are false. And that’s false in the new generation. This is why we have a challenge that no other generation has faced. I’m on staff of Campus Crusade for Christ and a lot of our staff members talk of meeting felt needs, felt needs, felt needs. We’ve got to meet felt needs. We do, but oh, pastor, here is the greater challenge that we have. We do need to meet felt needs, but the greater challenge now is to make true needs felt. Do you see what I’m saying there? The greatest challenge today is not to meet felt needs, but to make true needs felt. The need for forgiveness, repentance, and salvation. That is the greatest challenge today. The whole thing today is to get away from doctrine. I hear so many pastors say, "You know, I don’t really preach about doctrine. It’s divisive." It is! You talk about truth today, and it is divisive. So then they say they’ve gone to a lot of praise and worship. Now, I like praise and worship but when I hear a pastor say something like that I say, "Look, if you don’t talk about doctrine, how do you know who you’re praising and worshipping?" You don’t. We’ve got to teach truth or we’ll be praising and worshipping the figment of our imagination. Let me show you how this affects evangelism. Ten years ago I’d sit down with someone, a young person like this or someone else, and like the fellow over here might say, "I just can’t believe in Jesus Christ. I just can’t believe it." So, I’d start sharing the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He’d come up with an argument and I’d shoot it down, come up with another one and I’d shoot it down. An hour and a half later I’d say, "Would you like to trust Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?" "Yes!" You hardly ever hear that anymore. If you sit down with a young person and start going over with them the evidence that shows who Christ is, they’ll go, "Hmm…" "Do you want to accept Christ?" "No." Why? Truth is not the issue anymore. Truth is not the issue. When I get to the solution, you’ll see how that can become the issue. Let me show you what’s happened. Let’s take this young man here.

What’s your name? Bruce

How old are you Bruce? I’m fifteen.

You’re fifteen? Do you know Jesus Christ personally? Yes.

Bruce, do you believe that lying is wrong? Yes.

Why? Because. I don’t know.

Thanks Bruce.

I could ask that question to almost any person up there and the answer would be, "I don’t know." I have called 209 young people up in front of the church. And I often say to the pastor, "Who are your sharpest kids? Who are the most spiritual kids who raise their hands in worship and praise?" I’ll call them up right in front of their church, and in front of their pastor, youth pastor and parents I’ll say, "If there’s a situation, in which, if you lied and you’d get out from underneath the negative circumstances of that situation, would you lie?" Out of 209 Christian young people, 204 immediately said, "Yes." Most of them said, "Of course." Of the other five one young lady from an Evangelical Free Church in Wheaton, Illinois said she’d have to pray about it. Another young man from a Baptist church in St. Louis said, "Boy, that’s a tough one, but I don’t think I would." Out of 209, only three came out and said no. Then I took those 209, plus another 104, and took it a step further. I said, "Do you believe lying is wrong?" 310 out of the 313 immediately said yes. You say, now wait a minute. That doesn’t coincide with what you just said. Oh yes it does. Pastor, listen. Ninety-eight percent would say they’d lie, and 98.5 percent would say it’s wrong. They don’t tie the two together. This is part of this whole new culture. Now I’m going to make a statement that scares me. One of the symptoms of the new culture is that there’s almost zero correlation between belief and behavior. One of the heartaches of youth ministers that I’ve met all over the country, and in most countries of the world is this thing right here. In even the most spiritual kids, they see very little correlation between belief and behavior. They hear a talk on sex, and the most spiritual kids in the church will come to the alter and repent and cry and weep, and everyone will say God is at work. Then this is the biggest heartbreak I know of youth pastors today. That same kid will get up, walk out the door and thirty minutes later be in bed with his girlfriend. Some of the most spiritual kids in the church don’t even tie belief and behavior together. There is zero correlation between belief and behavior.

Then with these 314 kids, I said, "Why is lying wrong?" Almost all of them straight across said, "Because my parents taught me it was wrong." Now, that’s about the stupidest, most idiotic reason you could offer. Because, if you say something is wrong because my parents taught me it was wrong, then you have just justified every evil atrocity in history. You just justified the holocaust and killing of six million Jewish people because my Nazi parents taught me it was right. You just justified racism, white supremacy, and substance abuse, if you try to tell me that right and wrong is what my parents taught me about right and wrong. You will justify every evil atrocity in history. Then I said, "How did your parents teach you?" This is the scary thing. Almost 50 percent of those kids couldn’t go beyond that. That makes you want to wear a bullet proof vest. Fifty-five percent of the 313 said, "Because the Bible says thou shall not lie." You say, "That’s good." No it’s not. I took them one step further and asked them why the Bible says, "Thou shall not lie." Out of 313 kids, only three could answer it. Don’t tell me it’d be any different in your church. 310 could not answer it. We’ve raised an entire generation of kids living pure legalism. You say, "How can you say that?" Very simply. No commandment or precept, even the ten commandments contains any moral authority to establish why something is right or wrong. It merely states that something is right or wrong. That’s legalism. I have three daughters and a son, Kelly, Sean, Katie, and Heather, and I want my kids to know right from wrong. But a step further is that they need to know why it is right and wrong. Why is lying wrong? Why does the Bible say, "Thou shall not lie?" Because the very person and nature of God is truth; it is not because of my parents, my pastor my president or anyone else. It is because the very person, character and nature of God is truth. Killing is wrong because God is life. Hatred is wrong because God is love. Injustice is wrong because God is just. We have an entire generation that has lost the ability to determine right from wrong because they’ve lost the truth of the very person and nature of God.

Then we have a crisis of tolerance. Tolerance right now is the number one virtue in 85 percent of the cultures of the world. The concept of tolerance has gone through a total and complete change in definition. For you and me it meant like Webster defined it – "To bear or put up with someone or something not especially liked." That is no longer true. Ninety percent of the time you hear the word tolerance outside the walls of the church, whether it’s the media or whatever, it’s a total different definition than what most of you are sitting here with. Almost every time you hear the word tolerance now, it means that all values, beliefs, lifestyles and claims to truth are equal. R.M. Haire, the philosopher, put it this way, "Tolerance is… the readiness to accept other’s ideals as if they are your own." Fernando Savatir, the Spanish philosopher, in his new book Nations in the Nations said, "Tolerance, the doctrine, is that all opinions are equal. Each one has its point and there is no intelligent way to distinguish between them." You and I have become the most intolerant people on the face of the earth. Ten years ago, when we said that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, it was endorsed by the number one virtue in culture, justice. Now justice has been totally supplanted by ‘tolerance’ and everything you preach now flies in the face of the number one virtue in culture. Let me show you what I mean. In the last 35 years, I’ve given over 23,000 talks in over 1,000 universities and probably 1,000 -2,000 high schools in 100 some countries in the world. I’m not sure anyone’s attempted that, let alone prayed about it. So I’ve got a little background to make some statements. Up until about seven years ago, I’d make a statement about the deity of Christ, the resurrection, the existence of God, you’d be heckled or challenged. But this is how you were heckled or challenged: "I don’t believe it. Prove it. How can you say a man was raised from the dead? Give me some evidence." Almost every thing I was challenged on was based on the substance of what I was saying. Pastor, I have not been challenged in that way for four to five years. Now I make a statement about the deity of Christ, the resurrection, the reliability of scriptures, and this is how I’m heckled. "What right do you have to say that? You’re intolerant! You’re a bigot! Who do you think you are? What right do you have to judge anyone’s moral life?" A total shift from substance to style. Right now the truth of what you say is not even an issue, but rather, what right do you have to say it? And this has happened almost over night. If you don’t believe me, you ought to ask yourself why more churches don’t do public discipline now. You know why? The very community that ten years ago would have praised you, will crucify you. They’ll call you two things. "You’re a bunch of bigots and who do you think you are that you can judge anyone?"

Up until a few years ago, the number one verse in this Bible quoted by young people, Christian young people, even the media, was John 3:16. Do you know what it is now? Even by Christian young people? "Judge not that you be not judged," is the number one verse now quoted. "Judge not that you be not judged."

What do we do? This is what I’ve been waiting for, to get to the answer. Now the answer is not what I would have thought I’d said five years ago. Because the apostle Paul in the same chapter 2 of I Thessalonians, verse seven and eight made a very profound statement that I think is as applicable now as when he made it. Now we were just talking about "speaking to you with much conflict." And then he says this, "Just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children, so affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you..." – please get this pastor— ‘to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives." Wow! The way they won that generation was that they imparted not only the gospel, but also imparted their own lives. Pastor, in winning this new culture and this new generation, we’re going to need to do the same thing. Not just impart the gospel, but we’ve got to impart our own lives.

Now let me walk through what I think some of the critical steps are that you and I can take. Let me give you some context for this. Under post modernism they say there is no world view, no one view of the world, unlike the Christian world view that’s true for everyone. This is called a "metanarrative." The new culture says that there is no metanarrative. There’s only "local narrative" – That which is true for a local culture, only. Now this is what we have. We have many competing world views from New Age to everything. Up until about five to eight years ago, the appeal to the Christian of all these world views was to adopt this world view because it’s true. That won’t work anymore because culture says all truth is equal. Most young people growing up hear truth totally different from what you’re preaching to them pastor. In their minds, all truth is equal. All world views are equal. If you dare to say your world view is better than somebody else’s world view, that makes you intolerant and a bigot. Why? You’re saying there’s a greater value, belief, lifestyle or claim to truth than somebody else’s and that makes you intolerant and a bigot. Now my question is this, how do we take all these competing world views for young people, and get them to say, "I want the Christian world view, and I want to know Jesus Christ personally?" How do you attract them?

Now, pastor, I’m going to make a statement here and you probably won’t agree with me, but within two to three years you will. I am convinced that 80 percent of the kids that are becoming Christians today are not becoming Christians because it is true, but because it’s the best thing that has come along. Here’s the fear. If we don’t take them into the truth of the word of God, then I guarantee you, because it’s already happening, as soon as something better comes along, you won’t see them in your youth group. How do we attract all these different world views? That’s the challenge of the next ten to fifteen years How do we attract? In other words, I’ll put it this way, how do we become plausible that we might become credible. This is part of what I call being salt and "lightening," being part of their lives. One, we’ve got to develop community. I really believe pastor, in the next ten to fifteen years, that the key will be the church that is able to create that New Testament koinonia, "Oh how they loved each other." Where the gospel has transformed people into a community of love, we’ll find churches that will be packed out and overflowing – those that create that true New Testament koinonia as in John 13-17. The spiritual health of the church, I believe, is becoming the whole foundation for evangelism. When I get up to speak to young people, like recently when I spoke to 33,000 in one night, I now realize, and this is even true of many of you right here, when I stand up to speak to youth today, it has to be in my mind that 70 percent of them are depressed. When I get up in front of a youth group I have to tell myself 70 percent of them sitting right here in this youth group are hurting. They’re depressed. That wasn’t true fifteen years ago. Pastor, we are ministering to one of the most hurting generations in history. We are reaching out to young people who have had fractured homes, fractured relationships, divorce, everything. I am convinced that most theology today and philosophy is not so much the result of rational thinking based upon the scriptures, but emotional hurt. And the church that creates that New Testament koinonia will be overflowing.

Then, second, compassion. What will make us plausible to win their attention to then show them that we’re credible? That the gospel is credible? It will be Christian compassion. Listen to this, in Psalm 146 it says, "Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them who keeps truth forever. Who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry, the Lord gives freedom to the prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord raises up those who are bowed down. He relieves the fatherless and the widows." Paul wrote in Romans 12:5, "Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep." I believe that in all these world views, the one thing that is going to attract is a project like The Convoy Of Hope. One thing when I read from Genesis to Revelation, any church who is not reaching out to the widows, the fatherless, the homeless, the poor, is out of God’s will. And I’ll tell that to any pastor in any church on the face of the earth. We are out of God’s will. I believe compassion will be one of the greatest things we have going for us when we reach out to people for Christ. I remember when I was in Tommy Barnett’s church. I wish I could get to know Tommy better. We’ve been a number of places together, but we’ve never had more than an hour at a time to talk. But I remember the first time I went to his church in Phoenix. There were all these wheel chairs, homeless, everything, in this big beautiful church. I remember I walked outside and I wept. I thought this is God at work. God has called us to embrace, not to condemn. He has not called us to judge. He has called us to love. America is not a battlefield. It’s a mission field. And the way we reach that mission field is through Christian compassion for the hurting.

Then another, and hang on to this one, is the environment. You see, in the upcoming generation, the environment is one of the most critical factors. A lot of Christians say, "Those people after the environment, why do they care about the forest?" Let me tell you pastor, you’d better be concerned about it. When God said to subdue the earth, He didn’t mean destroy it. He meant for us to protect it and use it the way He gave it to be used; but it has been misused. And in the community, one of the best ways to attract young people like this is to show a concern for God’s creation. I never thought I’d say that ten years ago. It’s one of the things that will give us plausibility that we might be able to teach them with our credibility in Jesus Christ.

Then, lastly, one of the ways to draw from all these multiple world views that are all said to be equal, that will give us plausibility and then a platform to be heard, is our marriages and our families. I believe in the past ten to fifteen years, the most powerful thing I have going for me is my love for my wife and my family. They did some studies and found out, from 15 to 17 year olds, their number one desire in life was a happy home life. The number one desire. They did another study recently. Seventy-two percent said that their greatest desire in life was to have a happy marriage. They just did a major study of 13 to 19 year olds and they asked what the American dream was to them. Almost 80 percent said a happy home life, not finances, nor meeting my parents equivalent. Pastor, I want to ask you a question. What is your reputation in your church? Is it as a great preacher, a great teacher, great church growth person, tremendous counselor, or is your reputation with your own people and your own staff as a man who loves his wife and spends time with his children? Pastor, if that is not your reputation then you had better reevaluate your lifestyle. I’ll tell you in the next ten to fifteen years you can do all the preaching you want, but if your marriage does not back it up, in this new culture coming along, they won’t listen to the truthfulness of your heart. Years ago I learned something. I learned that my greatest counselor of all is Dottie, my wife of 27 years. Men, listen to your wives. There’s probably no one who loves you more, wants you to win more, prays for you more, and believes in you more than your wife. And if she doesn’t become your greatest counselor, then you are a fool. You say, "I’m supposed to be the head of the house." Look, we’d better get one thing straight, we lead by serving. We lead by serving. I said to my wife, "Honey, I need your help. I’m most blind to my faults. I give you the freedom to confront me if I’m not spending time with you, listening to you and all the boring details, and when you get historical, not hysterical, bringing up the past, honey, I give you freedom to confront me. If I’m not spending time with the children or being the father God called me to be, or if I’m not meeting your needs, then you tell me." I learned one thing, men. If you give some women an inch, they’ll take a mile, but I am a better man because I’ve listened to my wife. God says things to me through Dottie that He doesn’t say through anyone else. And there’s no one else who believes in me as much as my wife does. Men, your relationship with your wife in the next ten to fifteen years will be one of the greatest platforms to reach the post modern generation with the truth. Because if they don’t see the truth of Jesus Christ transformed in your marriage, then why in the world should they believe you in any other area?

Then, as a family. I’m 58 years old, and I know I don’t look it. I’m probably the oldest youth evangelist you’ve ever met. Not youth worker, youth evangelist. If you think back, just about every youth evangelist at about 36 to 38 years old goes into adult ministry. Why? Because that’s where the money is. You cannot survive in youth evangelism. We’ve just been fortunate in twenty-some years to beat the odds. But at 58 years old young people listen to me more and respond more. I wish you could have been there the other night. Thirty-three thousand kids out and you could have heard a pin drop. Why? Pastor, the most powerful platform to reach young kids today is not as a great athlete, as powerful as that is. It’s not as a great actor, as influential as that is. It’s not as a rock star. The most powerful platform to reach young people today is as a father. The most powerful platform to reach the post modern generation is as a father. When it comes to that, you’ve got everything over Michael Jordan, even though he’s a great father. Let me show you what I mean.

As some of you know, I’ve traveled with some powerful music groups; Petra, Newsboys, DC Talk, and Rebecca St. James. Man, they’re loud. The other night we had 318 saved and 500 lost their hearing. But you can relax, we laid hands on them and healed half of them. The other half couldn’t hear us to come forward. As a 58 year old man, when you walk out on stage and there are thousands of screaming teeny-boppers like there were when we were sold out here in Springfield with about 6,000, and Newsboys have been out there for a 45 minute high-powered session, you’d better be good. Second, you’d better have a higher energy than the band. How many of you 58 year old men have that? And third, you’d better be relevant or they’ll start chanting Newsboys! Newsboys! Newsboys! And what do you do? You walk out and chit-chat for about thirty seconds and then you say, "Tonight I’m not going to give a talk. What I want to do is share my heart as a dad." And then I always start to the left and say, "I wish you could be my son, my daughter, I could be your father, I could be your dad, You could be my son, my daughter." Guys will start waving to you. At the break they yell out, "Thanks Dad!" " I love you Dad!" "See you at the break Dad!" Two years ago we finished what they said was the largest most successful youth tour ever of Canada. Twelve cities were packed out. In Toronto we turned away more than we could even get in. We were at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary, Alberta and I saw something I’d never seen in 35 years of ministry. Thirty-eight hundred screaming teeny-boppers were out there and the Newsboys were on a roll. They introduced a 56 year old evangelist and I walked out there, chit-chatted no more than thirty seconds and I said, "Tonight, I’m not going to give a talk. I’m going to share my heart as a dad." And I pointed to the left and just one time I said, "I wish you could be my son." I couldn’t believe what happened. At that split second two to three hundred kids in the balcony and everywhere jumped to their feet and started running forward just screaming and yelling at the top of their voice just like you see at a rock concert. I literally thought the Newsboys had come back out to get their guitars. I turned around and nobody was there. I panicked. I didn’t know what was happening. Just as I turned back, I could hear what they were yelling. "I want to be your daughter!" "I want to be your son!" "Please be my father." Two to three hundred lined up that whole stage. Every single guy was crying. All I said one time was I wish I could be your dad. I walked off the stage in Indianapolis and I had to put up my hands to stop the kids coming forward. I looked down because here, sitting on the ground, was a girl just crying and weeping. I sat down on the ground next to her, put my arm around her and said, "Are you ok?’ She said, "Yes." I said, "Please tell me what’s wrong." Just weeping she said, "I’m sixteen years old and for the first time tonight I felt like there’s been a father who loved me." The most powerful platform to influence kids today is as a dad, a father.

Two of my oldest kids went to Biola University. One graduated a year ago and she’s here with me tonight. I was just out there for a couple ball games a couple weeks ago and I had students come up to me and say, "You know, I’m one of your biggest fans", or something like that and I’d ask, "Why?" "Because I got to know Kelly or I got to know Sean." One of the coaches of one of the other sports came up and said, "You know, in all my years I’ve never met two kids like this. I have a greater faith in God because I knew your son Sean." Another woman came up and said, "You know, I’ve had a lot of Christian leader and pastors’ kids here and boy, most of them have just been problems. I had both Kelly and Sean in my communications classes and I have come to want to be a greater mother because I know those two kids." That, pastor, our relationship with our children, is one of the most powerful and most satisfying things we have in reaching this next generation. Imparting our lives, not just the gospel, but our lives. I really believe that it would be hard for any pastor the next ten to fifteen years who is not known as a man who loves his wife and spends time with his children to be effective in ministry for the upcoming generation.

Let me close with a story. I’ve had the privilege of being married to Dottie for the past 27 years. My wife is one of those people who can only keep things in for so long and then she has to tell me. Men, have you ever heard this, "Honey, we need to talk." You know it’s time to go back to Promise Keepers. I want to give this context. My two oldest children, Kelly is 23 and Sean is 21. This happened twenty years ago. I lived in San Bernadino, California. It was a Thursday afternoon at about 3:30 and I was on a roll writing a chapter of a book to meet a deadline. I was writing like mad and my two year old son, Sean walked into my study off the dining room. He said, "Daddy?" I said,

"‘Son, Daddy’s very busy right now. Let me talk to you at dinner." He said, "Ok"’ and walked out and I went on writing. In about thirty seconds his mother came through that door. I said, "Honey…" She said, "Don’t you honey me." So I thought I’d try a different approach. "Sweetie, I’m very busy right now." My wife walked over, put her hands down on the notes I was writing and she said, "Honey, you’re always busy. You are a five ring circus. You’re always going to have a deadline to meet, a chapter to finish, a book to write, a talk to prepare, a trip somewhere to give it, whatever. You’re always going to be busy. But honey, you won’t always have a two year old son who wants to sit in his daddy’s lap and ask him a question." Then she walked out. She only needed to say it once. Not immediately, but about three minutes later I found myself on the carpet next to the desk. And I made a pledge before God that I try to keep to this day. I said, "God, I never want to let my family come before my ministry. I never ever again will put my family before my ministry." It is one of the greatest errors today when I hear pastors say that their family comes before their ministry. Because God taught me that afternoon on my knees that Kelly, Sean, Katie, Heather, and Dottie do not come before my ministry. They are my first ministry. It totally transformed my outlook. I used to go out on the road and I’d come home tired from ministry night and day; and I’d want everyone to be quiet, sit down and play a game or something. After that I don’t care how tired I am. When I walked through that front door, my first ministry just begins. My family does not come before my ministry. My family is my first ministry.

That was almost 20 years ago. My wife can’t leave things alone. She just can’t. That night at dinner Kelly and Sean had left the table and been dismissed. Dottie turned to me and said, "I want to share something with you." Pastor, I urge you to take this counsel that my wife gave to me. She said, "Honey, when you get about 45, you’re going to want to spend time with your children. You’re going to want them to come to you with questions, you’re going to want to go places with them, do things with them. You’re going to want to have them come home. You’d better listen to me. If you spend time with your children now, they’ll spend time with you later. If you show an interest in your children now, they’ll show an interest in you later. If you listen to your children now, they’ll listen to you later. If you hug them now, they’ll hug you later. If you love them now, they’ll love you later." I thank God for a wife that could not remain silent. That was 20 years ago. My son plays point guard at Biola University. It’s so neat, last year, I know you’re dying to hear this, he was first team academic, all-American. I made about 70 percent of his games a year ago. One game I flew in. I call it "fly in, fly out." You all like to come home early to surprise your spouses and kids. Well, I flew in and walked into the arena. It was packed, and the women’s game was going on. When I walked in everyone recognized me and all their heads went ‘whoosh’. My son was kiddy-corner across the court sitting up in the bleachers with the men’s team waiting for the ladies’ game to end. So I walked across the end of the floor. All eyes followed me and I get all the way over to the corner and Sean sees me. He jumps up and runs down the bleachers; boom, boom, boom, boom… And we started walking towards each other and I’m not stretching here, nobody was watching the women’s game. They’d look at me, they’d look at him, they’d look at me, they’d look at him. And we met right smack in front of the scorer’s table and we walked up and we threw our arms around each other and gave each other a big kiss. And those students exploded with applause, and nobody scored except me. They just broke out with applause. Later that night I was at LAX waiting to leave and I tried to analyze that and boy, two things hit me. One, if I hadn’t listened to my wife 20 years ago and met my son at half court when he was two, he wouldn’t have met me at half court when he was 20. But then the thing that really hit me was, why did those kids break out applauding? I really believe for this reason; everyone of those students would like to have met their father at half court. Pastor, to reach this next generation, we need to teach the truth. We need to live the truth. But I really believe we have got to impart our lives through community, through our marriages, through our children and through compassion, to reach this generation.

I want to close this way and I do this because I love kids. Pastor, you and I need help. I’m the first one to admit to that. I need all the help I can get to be the husband that God called me to be and the father to my children. I know it came to a time that I had to make a commitment come hell or high water, my family was first. And I’ll tell you this, pastor, when things are right at home with my wife and my children, the world can throw whatever they want at me and I can handle it. But if I am hurting, especially with my wife, I don’t have the joy of the ministry. I think you’ll hardly ever find a man who will burn out who loves his wife and spends time with his children. I want to give us an invitation as fathers and husbands. We can only start where we are. Tom, I’m going to ask you to come up and pray for us, because I won’t be standing up here. Pastor, tonight, can you step out of your seat? You may have learned some great teaching here this week , but everything you’ve heard here will be for naught unless you become known as a man who loves his wife and spends time with his children. And you older men, we need to be models for the younger men and pastors, I really believe that. I hope you love your wife more from our time together. We need to be a model for younger pastors and they need to see us take that step. I’ll never let my family come before my ministry. I want them to be first in my ministry. And if you’re willing to say that starting tonight I want to be the husband that God has called me to be, listen to my wife, and be a father that spends time with his children, then step out and come right down here.

Copyright 1998, Josh McDowell Ministries

Josh McDowell Ministries