Strategies for Engaging the Next Generation

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This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ June 2017 newsletter, which you can access here. You can listen to the talk here.

Pete Burak and Debbie Herbeck led a workshop at the Renewal Ministries’ Gathering on a topic that touches the lives of many: Understanding and Mentoring the Next Generation. The two shared seven simple strategies for reaching out to the young adults in our lives:

Invest in Relationships

Get involved in the lives of the young people you care about, said Debbie. Listen to them, make time for them, allow them in your home, have coffee dates with them. Invest in their lives, and never give up

We should strive to be like St. Mother Teresa in our interactions with young people, said Debbie. She explained, “People say when they were with her, they felt like they were the most important person in the world, and that there was no place she’d rather be.”

The Basics

“We need to pray, pray, pray,” said Pete Burak, director of i.d.9:16, Renewal Ministries’ outreach to young adults. “If we’re not asking the Lord to transform our hearts, what are we sharing? Young people have a good faith meter—we can’t give what we don’t have.”

He also recommends specific and intentional intercessory prayer—for example, not just praying for a nephew’s faith, but praying that the Lord will bring a friend with a strong faith into that nephew’s life.

Credible Witness

“Believe and live what you propose,” said Debbie. Like St. Pope John Paul II, don’t ask people to bear any burden you won’t bear.

She added that joy is another essential part of witnessing: “Mother Teresa didn’t let sisters join the order if they didn’t know how to smile.”

However, we are not required to be perfect. Debbie said, “It’s faithfulness, mercy, and the power of God in our lives that young people can related to.”

Ask Questions

Interacting with the younger generation isn’t always easy, said Pete, because “they’re going to say things they don’t fully believe, simply to push our buttons. They will try to prevent the conversation from going further, so they never have to reveal their true wounds or thoughts.”

It is helpful to respond by asking more questions than you’ve ever asked before in your life, he said. Ask them to help you understand their position. Seek to understand them.

This builds relationship, and “even self-centered people get tired of talking about themselves,” he explained. The person will finally ask, “What do you think?” And then, Pete advises asking another question: “Do you really want to know?”

If they say “yes,” then you are free to share, and the person is more likely to listen, because “they know you valued them enough to listen, and they gave you permission,” he said.

“Too often, when speaking about our faith, we feel like, ‘If I don’t say it now, I’m never going to get the chance,” Pete reflected. “We need to trust the Holy Spirit will continue to work to orchestrate these opportunities. It’s a sign of peace, joy, and confidence to hear what the other person is saying and just say, ‘OK, that’s where you are, so that’s where I’ll meet you.’”

High Standards

“We need to hold up a high standard of virtue if we’re truly made for glory,” said Debbie. “If you tell them they can’t, they won’t. St. Pope John Paul II lived that standard of heroic virtue. Our young people were drawn to that, because they are made for it.”

She explained, “Use even their falling as a reason to seek God’s mercy, and to encounter His love again and again.”

Lean In

Pete quoted Pope Francis, who said, “An evangelical community gets into people’s daily lives through words and deeds. It bridges the distance and is willing to abase itself, if necessary, for the good of souls. It is willing to reach out and touch the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

Pete said it can be difficult to develop deep relationships with young people, because we will encounter opposition, wounding, and suffering. We will meet addiction, despair, loneliness, and depression.

He asked, “When you see that, are you willing to reach out and touch it, and run the risk of letting it affect you, for the good of their soul?”

“We need to lean in and not say it’s too painful,” Pete explained. “We need to see their wounds and say, ‘We love you.’”

Places of Encounter

Debbie stressed the importance of helping young people “create or find vibrant places of encounter.”

“They need to grow in relationship with Him and grow as missionary disciples,” she said. “We need to give them opportunities to give themselves away. There’s nothing more freeing than feeling it’s not all about you.”

When reaching out to young people, Debbie encouraged us to never give up.

“It’s never too late,” she said. “You can’t see the seeds being sown, or the battles being waged. We need to pray, and fast, and love these young people in our lives.”