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Reaching a Postmodern Generation

By Josh McDowell

This article is condensed from a message Josh McDowell preached at the 1998 Ministerial Enrichment Conference at Central Assembly of God, Springfield, Missouri.

How do we reach a post-modern generation? The apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:2 made a statement that is appropriate for today: "But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict" (NKJV). 

If you think you've faced conflict in the past, fasten your seat belts. Conflict is going to come out of three crises.

We have a generation who has lost its ability to discern right from wrong because it has lost the truth about the person, character, and nature of God.


We are the first generation in 300 years to go through a distinct cultural change. Francis Sheaffer once stated: "We no longer live in a Judeo-Christian culture; we live in post-Judeo-Christian culture." But we no longer live in a post-Judeo-Christian culture; we live in an anti-Judeo-Christian culture. 

I am thankful for the Assemblies of God. For years you have trained missionaries to go to other cultures and to bridge that culture. But unless we train people to bridge this new culture, we will be ineffective.


Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." But the young people in your congregation do not understand truth the way you do. 

In our post-modern culture, there has been a total change in the concept of truth. We were trained to discover truth. But in post-modernism there is no objective truth. And truth is not to be discovered; truth is to be created. Whatever you think is true, is true. It doesn't matter what an author wrote in a book. Whatever it says to you is just as true as what the author wrote. 

When people say, "Perception is everything," what they mean is this: Whatever you perceived to happen is just as true as what actually happened. That is why people can rewrite history. 

Young people also exclaim, "Don't impose your values on me; let me determine what is right and wrong for me." Furthermore, the number one reason today why people think Christianity is false is because it claims to be true and it declares that all other religions are false. 

Many pastors don't preach doctrine because they claim it's divisive. You talk about truth, and it is divisive. Instead pastors say, "We have a lot of praise and worship." 

But I respond, "If you don't talk about doctrine, how do you know who you are worshiping?" You don't. We need to teach truth, or we will be worshiping the figment of our imagination. 

Ten years ago someone would tell me, "I just can't believe in Jesus Christ." 

So I would share the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I would shoot down every argument this person had. Two hours later, I would ask, "Would you like to trust Christ as Savior?" 

He would respond, "Yes." 

Today I sit down with young people and present the evidence, showing that Christ is God. 

I ask, "Do you want to accept Christ?" 


Why? Truth is not the issue any more. 

I often ask young people, "Do you believe lying is wrong?" 

"Yes," they reply. 

"Why?" I ask. 

"I don't know," they answer. 

I have called 209 Christian young people to the front of their churches. I ask, "If there is a situation where if you lied, you would avoid the consequences, would you lie?" 

Of these 209 young people, 204 immediately said, "Yes." Of the other 5, one young lady said she would pray about it. A young man said, "That's a tough one, but I don't think I would." 

Out of 209, only 3 said, "No." 

Then I took those 209 plus another 104 a step further. I asked, "Do you believe lying is wrong?" Three hundred and ten immediately said, "Yes."

Xers (Busters)
1. Me generation We generation
2. Live to work Work to live
3. Enlightenment worldview Post-modern worldview
4. Institutions Relationships
5. Propositional truth Relational truth
6. Excellence Authenticity
7. Growth Community
8. Lonely Alone
9. Success Wholeness
10. Aggressive Passive
11. Hopeful Cynical
12. Judeo—Christian background Moral, philosophical, relativism
13. Good jobs McJobs
14. Easy rider Information super highway
15. Question authority Ignore authority
16. Possessions are valuable Integrity is valuable

—Adapted from articles by Kevin Ford,
"My Generation,"
Winter 94-95, 3-7; and by Dieter Zander,
"The Gospel for Generation X,"
Leadership, Spring 1995, 37-42.

You see, in this new culture, there is almost zero correlation in young people between belief and behavior. Ninety-eight and one-half percent said they would lie; ninety-eight and one-half percent said lying is wrong. This is one of the biggest heartaches of youth ministers, even in their most spiritual kids. Young people will hear a talk on sex, and they come to the altar where they repent and weep. And 30 minutes later one of these young people is in bed with his girlfriend and doesn't even tie his behavior to his belief. 

I then asked these 313 kids, "Why is lying wrong?" 

Most replied, "Because my parents taught me it was wrong." 

Think about it. If you say something is wrong because your parents taught it is wrong, you just justifed every evil atrocity in history. You justify the holocaust and killing of 6 million Jewish people because your Nazi parents taught it was right. 

Then I ask, "How did your parents teach you?" Almost 50 percent of these Christian kids couldn't go beyond that. Fifty-five percent said, "Because the Bible says lying is wrong." 

I further asked, "Why does the Bible say lying is wrong?" Only three could answer. 

We have raised a generation of kids living in legalism. Commandments—even the Ten Commandments—do not contain the moral authority to establish why something is right or wrong. They merely state that something is right or wrong. 

Young people need to understand why things are right and wrong. The Bible states that lying is wrong because the person, character, and nature of God is truth. Killing is wrong because God is life; hatred is wrong because God is love; and injustice is wrong because God is just. We have a generation who has lost its ability to discern right from wrong because it has lost the truth about the person, character, and nature of God.


Tolerance is the number one virtue in 85 percent of the cultures of the world today. But the concept of tolerance has gone through a complete change. For you and me, it means "to bear or to put up with someone or something not especially liked." But today, tolerance means, "All values, beliefs, lifestyles, and claims to truth are equal." Aram Hair, the philosopher, put it this way: "Tolerance is a belief that others' views and opinions are as true as your own." 

Christians have become the most intolerant people on earth because we say Jesus Christ is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Everything you preach flies in the face of the number one virtue in culture. 

Until about 7 years ago, I would make a statement about the deity of Christ, the Resurrection, the existence of God, and I would be heckled or challenged on the substance of what I said. Now when I make a statement about the deity of Christ, the Resurrection, and the reliability of Scripture people respond: "What right do you have to say that? What right do you have to judge anyone's moral life?" Today truth is not even an issue. In fact, the most quoted verse today, even by Christian young people is, "Judge not, that ye be not judged."


What do we do? The apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:7,8 made a profound statement: "But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. Affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives" (NKJV). 

Please get this: "To impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives." They won that generation by not just imparting the gospel, but imparting their own lives. In winning this generation, we need to do the same thing. We need to impart our own lives along with the gospel. 

Post-modernists believe there is no one worldview—such as the Christian worldview—that is true for everyone. Until about 5-8 years ago, the appeal of Christians to young people concerning these worldviews was this: Adopt the Christian worldview because it is true. That won't work anymore because young people believe all truth is equal. 

If you say your worldview is better than another worldview, you are called intolerant and a bigot. But how do we get young people to want the Christian worldview and want to know Jesus Christ personally? 

Eighty percent of young people who become Christians today do not become Christians because Christianity is true. They become Christians because it is the best thing that has come along. If we do not take them into the truth of God's Word, as soon as something they think is better comes along, you won't see them in your youth group.

1. Personal relationships count; institutions don't.
2. Process is more important than the product.
3. Diversity among people is aggressively pursued.
4. Enjoying people and life opportunities is more important than productivity, profitability, or achievement.
5. Change is good.
6. Development of character is more crucial than achievement.
7. You can't always count on your family to be there for you, but it is your best hope for emotional support.
8. Each individual must assume responsibility for his or her own world.
9. Whenever necessary, gain control and use it wisely.
10. Don't waste time searching for absolutes; there are none.
11. One person can make a difference in the world, but not much.
12. Life is hard and then you die; but because its the only life we've got, we may as well endure it, enhance it, and enjoy it as best we can.
13. Spiritual truth may take many forms.
14. Express your rage.
15. Technology is our natural ally.

—George Barna,
Generation Next:
New Rules, New Challenges
(Regal, 1995, 107-116).

How do we become plausible, that we might become credible? By being salt and light and by imparting our lives.
We need to develop community. We are ministering to one of the most hurting generations in history—young people who have experienced fractured homes and relationships. The church that can create the New Testament koinonía found in John 13-17—a love for each other—will be the church that will be packed out. This will be the foundation for evangelism.

We need to have compassion. Compassion is one of the greatest means we have in reaching people for Christ. Christian compassion shows young people that we and the gospel are credible. Any church that is not reaching out to the widows, the fatherless, the homeless, and the poor is out of God's will.

We need to value the environment. In today's generation the environment is one of the most critical factors. One of the best ways to impact young people is to show a concern for God's creation. This will give us credibility to teach them about Jesus Christ.

We need to have strong marriages and families. The number one desire in 15- to 17-year-olds is a happy marriage and a happy home life. Our marriages and families will also give us plausibility. 
Pastor, what is your reputation in your church? Do you love your wife and spend time with your children? If not, you had better evaluate your lifestyle. You can preach all you want; but if young people do not see the truth of Jesus Christ transformed in your marriage, they will not listen to the truth. 
The most powerful platform to influence young people today is as a father. Your relationship with your children is one of the most powerful things you have in reaching this next generation. It will be hard for any pastor who does not spend time with his/her children to be effective in ministry to the upcoming generation.

Pastor, to reach this next generation you need to teach the truth. You need to live the truth. 

But we have to impart our lives through community, through our marriages, through our children, and through compassion to reach this generation.

Josh McDowell is a noted author and youth specialist. He has traveled in Campus Crusade for Christ ministry for more than 30 years addressing young peoples needs and problems.

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