FENTON, MI – Distrust of the Jesus Movement
It was early 70-something . . .
On the north side of Flint, Michigan, a guy with long hair, tattered jeans, dirty bare-feet, and long hair approached me and asked in a simple, straightforward tone, “Do you know Jesus, man?” I did not scream the phrase, “Stranger-Danger,” which is so readily taught to children, today. Instead, at the age of nine I looked back at the man through his rose-colored lenses and replied, “Yes sir. I know Jesus.” He smiled and said, “Cool man. Cool man,” then walked further into park talking to others as he had done with me.
That is my earliest recollection of a stranger mentioning Christ to me. Five years later after that day in the park, in a Southern Baptist congregation of fifty people, my admission turned from knowing about Christ to knowing Christ as my personal savior.
Remembering that stranger, I realize now that he must have come out of the “Jesus Movement.” The movement was an evangelical Christian phenomenon that primarily took place during the late 1960s and early 1970s throughout North America, Europe, and Central America. During giant celebrations, hundreds were baptized in the ocean. Scripture-reading and spiritual discussions took place in houses and in third places. The Christian experience became more organic and natural. Witnessing was done on the streets by word of mouth and through newspaper distributions. Friends led friends to Christ. However, those who protected traditions and institutions responded to those within the Jesus Movement with distrust. It was an unusual and unique movement during the modern era that did not see its full potential due to the fears of those in control of the established churches and institutions of that era.
Today, as I look back over my 40 years of ministry I can recall the active, dedicated Christians whose lives were transformed during the Jesus Movement. Today, they are faithful servants of Christ in America, Europe, and other areas of the world. They still have that forward perspective and desire to advance God’s Kingdom. What stood out to me as I listened to each person’s personal story from the 60s and 70s was the suspicion they felt from those in established churches and institutions.
Our state executive director-treasurer, Pastor Tim Patterson will testify that his salvation came out of the Jesus Movement, in Texas, during the 70s. During that period, Patterson went from being a local bad boy to a gospel evangelist. Because local churches refused to make room for the young people coming to Christ, Patterson’s congregation met in the local park and numbered 300 people in attendance. Policemen who, at first, monitored the crowd with suspicion became Christians as Patterson invited the crowd to follow Christ. He became a spiritual leader in his community and high school soon after his salvation experience. The local public-school board allowed Patterson, his Christian band, and his teenage leaders liberties to share the gospel among their classmates because they saw authentic transformations in the lives of the young people whereas local congregations and pastors were doubtful.
More recently a man in Europe explained his experiences with French churches during the 70s, “Tony, they were happy to see us enter the sanctuary and sit in the pews, but they had no place for us to serve in the church.” Another man shared, “I felt like I had to prove myself to them over and over again. It was exhausting. That is why my friends and I started our own church.” One woman recalled how she and her husband wanted to be part of something meaningful as they were called out of the Jesus Movement to become missionaries. She said, “Everyone in the church was more interested in protecting what they had rather than change the world. They did not believe God had called us to missions, so we had to do things ourselves.”
Stop Doubting Millennials
Today, the year is 2018. The current effects of the Jesus Movement may be difficult to identify in today’s world but the God-inspired movement I see happening among Millennials is easy to recognize. Evidence is all around us. God is up to something with this young adult generation, in the nation, around the world, and in Michigan. Some call them Millennials. Others call them Generation Y or Echo Boomers. Regardless of name they were born during the years 1981-2001.
Often, I see determined young adults pursuing greater callings in life. Adults in new church plants put their careers on hold while serving tireless hours as volunteers. Some are leveraging their professional training to benefit their local church. University graduates are dedicating 2-3 years as servant-leaders in university church plants before starting their secular careers full-throttle. This young adult generation does not separate life into secular and sacred categories. They believe sincerity, transparency, and being genuine requires people to be the same at work, at home, and at church, 24/7. Young adults are more serious about a meaningful purpose than most give them credit.
Five Adjustments We Need to Make
As I compare the barriers set before those who came out of the Jesus Movement and today’s believing Millennials, I am concerned about the reluctance of many to involve young adults in their ministries. If we want to see a movement of God unleashed on our nation and our world. I think there are, at least, five things we can do that will empower Millennials in our churches and institutions. Let’s . . .
Anticipate that God will release His Holy Spirit upon a particular generation to do amazing things when He desires and let’s hope we see it in this decade.
Place more confidence in the tangible evidence that believing Millennials are hungry to do something meaningful even though they are young; so, devotion trumps age.
Stop assigning mundane, simple, assisting roles to young adults and instead empower them to be creative leaders by initiating fresh approaches to ministry.
Release our white-knuckle hold on the traditions in our churches, institutions, and calendars and instead hold these young adults up in prayer as we empower them to speak-up, serve, and even guide us into the future.
Fall in love with what the future brings, under God’s sovereignty, rather than allow the fear of the unfamiliar or the loss of control to cause us to take back into our hands what God started in this new generation.
Two Texts to Embolden Our Faith
Two biblical texts encourage us to adjust when God is at work making changes.
1 Chronicles 12:32 explains how God used a particular generation during an important moment of transition. It reads, “From the Issacharites, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do: 200 chiefs with all their relatives under their command” (CSB) came wholeheartedly determined to make David king over all Israel.
1 Timothy 4:12 records the moment when Paul said to young Timothy, “Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (CSB). There must have been some doubters in Timothy’s Bible studies. Others might have rolled their eyes when he spoke of the New Covenant and new ways. All Paul said to Timothy was “Don’t let anyone despise your youth.”
I am testifying that I see a new believing generation who are setting “an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” I say let’s risk it all and take part in what God is doing in this new generation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.