Discipleship

The Church is Full of Orphans

by John Wohlgemuth

Lead Teaching Pastor, Henderson Hills Baptist Church (Edmond, OK)

I remember the wide range of emotions that accompanied becoming a father for the first time. The overwhelming joy of seeing my son face-to-face. The awe for my wife who endured twenty hours of active labor. The fear in facing the reality of taking our son home (“You trust us enough to send us home?! You mean you’re not coming with us?!”). I knew, though, that because we loved our son, we would do everything in our power to help him grow up into the man God has called him to be—through all of the highs and lows in the process.

A similar process shows up spiritually (apart from the Father’s fear, of course). The New Testament gives us an understanding of the “life cycle” of a Christian—from birth through maturity. First Peter 2:2 calls us “newborn infants” longing for “the pure spiritual milk” that helps us “grow up into salvation.” Of course, that imagery applies to us as individuals. Growth is to occur where a believer should not act the same years after their new birth. But also think about that picture of spiritual growth in the context of the church. If new believers are similar to babies, we then must begin to think about the healthiest way for them to grow up and to be nurtured.

Our world is full of physical orphans (one estimate puts the number at 153 million, or roughly half the population of the United States). Thankfully, many Christians and others have organized funding and support for orphanages and other support ministries around the world. But everyone understands that an orphanage is not the best nurturing environment for a baby. If no other option exists then care and nourishment in a group home is better than nothing (that’s why James commands true Christians to care for vulnerable orphans in 1:27), but a nuclear family is the God-ordained best means for a child to mature, to be provided for, to be instructed, and to be loved. If that child is parentless, the best scenario remains for non-biological parents to adopt that child into their loving family.

This reality is no different in the church. For comparison’s sake (and don’t push this too far), we could compare the large church gathering on Sunday to an orphanage. Here’s how this idea has shown up in the past and even still today: a person trusts Jesus as his or her Savior and Lord, and what do we often do with them? We invite them to “attend church” (meaning, the Sunday large-group gathering). We hope that they will receive the spiritual nourishment, direction, and love that they need, but that abundant provision often does not occur. That person receives enough to stay alive, probably, but gets lost in the crowd and never really flourishes in what they were created for. They feel more like a number than a family member, even though they may have an important task to accomplish to maintain the organization.

Now compare that scenario to a different (seemingly more biblical) approach. Say that same person comes to trust in Jesus. Instead of inviting them to an event, we invite them into our lives. We invite them into our “family,” so to speak, where there are just a few of us in intimate relationship sharing life together. What I mean by this is a group of a few people not only meeting to study the Bible and to pray and to hold each other accountable, but people who go on errands together, eat meals together, serve the community together, etc. As these elements of life are shared, then questions are asked, theology is clarified, and obedience to Christ in every area of life is modeled. There is no doubt that the new believer will receive the spiritual nourishment, direction, and love they need. Not only do they get enough to stay alive, they flourish and mature as a member of a family. And they grow up into maturity more readily.

Does it not make more sense to raise up a “child” in this “family” way rather than in an “orphanage”? My challenge to us, church, is to take all of these orphans (physical orphans too!) into our lives and make them a part of a forever family, where they will receive all that they need to live the abundant life that Jesus has promised His children (John 10:10).

Though you may not believe that you can really make a difference, you can. All the Lord is looking for is a willing vessel. Although you may not be the next Billy Graham yourself, you might be the one with the opportunity to disciple him, to “parent” him spiritually. And all it takes is one who God can use to change the world; so, who is your one?

John Wohlgemuth has served as the Lead Teaching Pastor at Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond, OK since 2018. Born in Enid, OK and raised in Fairview, OK, he is married to Emily and they have three sons, ages 11, 8, and 6. They met at Oklahoma State University in the engineering classroom and while participating in OSU’s athletic department.

Discipleship

6 Common Traits of Gen Z: In Their Own…

by Shane Pruitt

Next Gen Evangelism Director, North American Mission Board (NAMB)

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at Baptist Press.

Often when you hear an “expert” speak or write about reaching a particular generation, it will inevitably be someone from an older generation. For example, you’ll have a baby boomer or Generation X-er talking about how to connect with millennials or Gen Z.

In no way am I saying this is an ineffective approach. In fact, there is a plethora of resources out there done in this particular way that are extremely helpful. However I wanted to take a different approach.

Over the last year, while speaking at student camps, DiscipleNow weekends, conferences and young adult worship services among other events, I took the opportunity to sit down and ask these young people some probing questions. One of the things I love the most about young people is if you want to know what they’re thinking, all you have to do is ask them.

Sometimes, you don’t even have to ask! Instead of adults telling other adults how to reach students, I decided to ask students, “What do adults need to know about your generation, known as Gen Z?” It was an incredible journey. I became a student so that I could hear ideas from this generation about reaching their generation.

With that in mind, here are six things we need to know about Gen Z in their own words:

— They want more out of church than potluck dinners. This generation wants to be a part of “doing” something. They’ll want more out of their church than sitting in a pew, listening to sermons and going to potluck dinners while waiting on the “Rapture Bus” to swoop down to pick them all up. They are not scared to die young; they are terrified, however, to die at a ripe old age while not having done anything significant with their lives in their own eyes. They are not typically impressed by a church’s size or budget. They’re interested both in being noticed relationally and in what the church is doing outside the walls of the building. Let’s mobilize a generation. They will make mistakes, but so do we. That’s why grace is so amazing.

— They are not ageist. People tend to think that students don’t want to have anything to do with the older generation. Gen Z is in desperate need for older generations to invest in them. This is largely a fatherless generation. They often seek out or are more open to discipleship or mentorship than we tend to think. But they won’t know how to ask for it. They may ask you to “hangout” by using some other word that sounds like gibberish to you. Nevertheless, if this generation wants to spend time with you, then they are giving you the most valuable thing they have to offer and that you have to give — time.

— They largely value the “why” over the “what.” Students are not typically open to doing something just because it’s the way it’s always been done or because it’s what their family has always known. They are not driven by heritage. For example, students are not going to be Southern Baptist just because their parents were. If we can’t answer their “why” questions or we get defensive over their questions, we’ll lose them. Be ready to answer their honest questions with love, patience and kindness. Their experience with something or someone will often dictate their views more than history will.

— They don’t want to be seen as the future of the church. Remember, the younger generation is not the future of the church; if they’ve been redeemed with the blood of Jesus, then they’re the church of right now. Let them have some ownership of the ministry, and be patient with them when they mess up … possibly a lot. A great way to keep students engaged in the ministry is by constantly communicating, illustrating and empowering participation in the vision and mission of the church. Sometimes, we’ll schedule an event to reach Gen Z using all older generations to plan it, then plead with students to bring their friends. Then we get upset, when they don’t show up. Want them to show up? Want them to invite their friends? Then let them have a voice in planning it.

— They want authenticity and transparency. Nearly all students grow weary of gimmicks and “sleek presentations” very quickly. The more transparent and vulnerable a communicator is the more students connect. There was a time when speakers/teachers were told not to use themselves in personal illustrations. This generation, on the other hand, wants to hear those personal stories. As adults, if we act as those who have it all figured out and are not in desperate daily need of God’s grace, we’ll lose students’ attention. They won’t believe that we’re “being real” and they’ll think our faith is unattainable for them.

— They know brokenness at an earlier age. They are exposed to more violence, graphic images and evil at an earlier age. Exposure to these things on the internet, in media coverage and through broken homes is unfortunately the norm for far too many. They don’t know a world without the fear of mass shootings and terrorism. This is also a pornography-saturated generation where the average age of first exposure is 11. The fastest growing demographic for internet pornography consumption is females age 15–30; 70 percent of guys admit to interaction with internet pornography, and 50 percent of girls. This generation is looking for solutions at a much earlier time in their lives. They know they’re broken. Thank God for the Gospel because it is mighty to save Gen Z. Share it with them. They’re starving for it, whether or not they know it.

I’m personally encouraged by this generation of students. Even as an adult, I resonate deeply with their views. According to a recent Wall Street Journal survey, 30 percent of Gen Z says, “religion is very important to them,” the lowest in U.S. history. But 78 percent say, “living a self-fulfilled life is very important to them.” This should be extremely eye-opening to us. That’s the threshold to cross in communicating to Gen Z. Help them see that a “fulfilled life” only comes from Someone outside of “self.”

Be sure to check out Shane’s new book
9 Common Lies Christians Believe<https://www.amazon.com/Common-Lies-Christians-Believe-Infinitely/dp/0735291578/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2M8OI57VSZM7P&keywords=9+common+lies+christians+believe&qid=1555301555&s=gateway&sprefix=9+common%2Caps%2C166&sr=8-1>

Shane Pruitt is the National Next Gen Evangelism Director for the NorthAmerican Mission Board (NAMB), and is also the author of the book – 9Common Lies Christians Believe. He and his wife, Kasi, have five childrenand reside outside of Dallas, TX.

Biblical Narrative

Storied Discipleship

by Chesed Dent

Director of Global Studies Internships, Liberty University

Just a couple of weeks ago Christians around the world celebrated Christmas. There is a wonder to this time of year, a whisper and shout of “Jesus came!” The shadowed outline of the nativity takes center stage on holiday greeting cards and the students on our campus are decked in their holiday sweaters singing Christmas carols on the quad. And in the midst of the normal Christmas culture of celebration, a student walked into my office last month and said, “I’m so excited about Christmas. I think it’s the first year I finally understand why Jesus came. And I’m telling everybody about it.”

I was taken aback at first. She grew up in the church. She has been a Christian for a long time. She even holds a spiritual leadership role on our campus. So I asked her to explain what she meant. This is what she said: “Well, before now if you had asked me why Jesus came, I would have said that He came to die on a cross to forgive me of my sins. And that’s not wrong. But this is the first year I understand how Him coming is a part of the Story.”

Over the past few years I have become more and more convinced that many of our students come into our program in similar places of understanding. They claim Christ as their Savior and know the answers to the Gospel outlines they have been given, but would have a very difficult time telling the story that led to the birth of Christ. They know the Romans Road or whatever evangelism tool they have learned. Many of them know the focused explanations of specific passages and theological viewpoints. However, when asked how Jesus’ birth is the answer to what happened at the Fall in Genesis 3, their explanations are the rote memorization of the Gospel tools they have been given and discipled under instead of the telling of the Gospel Story written throughout the Grand Narrative of the Bible.

My dad commented a few weeks ago that we are very good, in Western Christian contexts, at digging postholes. “We train pastors and teachers to dig deep in one spot (passage), which is actually very good. However, if we want to build a fence, we not only need fence posts; we also need rails to connect the posts.”[1] Many of our students have been discipled under fence post teaching. They have learned great truth but have not been given the rails that connect the posts. Then they are trained in the many and varied Gospel evangelism tools that were developed to help explain and present the Gospel but were never meant to take the place of the Gospel story.

Faith family, I fear that we are developing a generation of Christ followers that have a fragmented understanding of the Bible and we then train them to share the Gospel in the same way. They know the script of their tools and explanations but not the script of the biblical story. And they are so very hungry for a good story to belong to and tell. Do we not see it in the passion they have when they talk about their favorite books, movies, and fandoms? Are we guilty of not teaching them the better story? Is this why so many of them are leaving it?

Our students don’t only need evangelism and discipleship tools. They don’t only need focused fence posts. They don’t only need explanation and script. They need to know how to integrate all of these crucial elements into the story they come from. Research shows that worldview and identity are tethered to the narrative that a people belong to.[2] In a world where there are so many competing narratives, we must do a better job telling the true narrative of the world.[3] Into this narrative we must help our students place their knowledge and tools. In the God of this narrative they will find identity, meaning, and purpose. And from this narrative they will better speak an invitation to be a part of a story that celebrates the coming of Christ.

The student that came into my office was walking in new knowledge of the biblical metanarrative teaching she has been sitting under recently. This is not the first year she celebrated the coming of Jesus. I am not, in any way, questioning her sincere salvation and love for Christ. But there is a newfound excitement in how she understands and shares about the baby boy born in Bethlehem so long ago. She now understands that the birth of Jesus is part of a progressive story of God making His presence available to His people. She understands that at the Fall, when God was laying out the consequences before Adam, Eve, and the serpent, the promise He made for the offspring of the woman to bruise the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15) was a promise for the birth of this Christmas child. But her understanding does not stop there. She doesn’t jump from Genesis 3 to Matthew 1 in her Christmas narrative. Instead, she can follow the line of God pursuing His people in order to dwell with them through the entire metanarrative. The Christmas story has expanded out in her understanding to include the entire Grand Narrative of the Bible. This is why she said, “I’m so excited about Christmas. I think it’s the first year I finally understand why Jesus came. And I’m telling everybody about it.”


[1] Dr. Don Dent, shared in a phone conversation, October 25, 2019.

[2] Michael Vern Matthews, “Is There a Reader in this Text?: The Place of Metanarrative in the Problem of Meaning” (PhD diss., Trinity Theological Seminary, 2013), 104-105.

[3] Michael W. Goheen, “The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story.” Theology Today 64 (2008): 469.

Chesed Dent has spent almost 20 years in Southeast Asia, both as a third culture kid and as a global worker. After graduating from Southeastern seminary in 2012, she moved to Lynchburg, VA to work at Liberty University. Currently she is serving as the Director Of Global Studies Internships where she trains students for overseas service. Her focused interests of training include: Third Culture Kids, Transition and Culture Shock, Reentry, Spiritual Warfare, Storytelling/Orality, and the Grand Narrative of the Bible. She just completed her second Master’s degree and connected research: “The Grand Narrative Worldview: A Narrative Inquiry into the Impact of Biblical Metanarrative Teaching in Liberty University’s School of Divinity Global Studies Program.” She loves to shop in international markets, sing, ride rollercoasters, go to festivals, watch crime shows, eat French fries, and can regularly be found surrounded by Old Testament commentaries geeking out over the awesomeness of God’s Word.