I remember it was autumn. In our apartment over the feed store in down town Excelsior, Ginnette and I watched leaves fall like drops of wax into the placid waters of Lake Minnetonka. Into our tiny space crammed about 30 high school students, making this meeting anything but placid. That night with the lights dim, and tears hanging in eyes of frightened students, we would begin to see the first hints of a spiritual movement.
The week before, our school district decided that any student who handed out religious material on campus would be arrested on the spot. This decision came on the heels of Ronald Reagan’s historic signing of the Equal Access Law. At Youth Congress 85’ we had listened to him tell our students they had rights, and to take advantage of them! On the Mall, in Washington D.C., I watched our fledgling group of students seem to come out of their skin in excitement. The president of the United States had just given them permission to witness to Christ! Or had he?
The Equal Access Law required schools to accommodate students who wanted to meet, even for religious purposes. But the law was untested, and a bit unclear as to how far students could go exercising their personal rights of expression. Religious paraphernalia seemed to cross the line, and the district was sticking to its guns. That evening in our apartment, Ginnette and I watched as students wrestled with a decision. Either they would choose to defy the school, and pass out fliers already printed, or obey, and remain under the radar.
We let them voice their opinion, and for some, tears accompanied their words, tumbling out in a mix of emotion. Others, more brazen, voiced the need to stand strong, and test the district. After everyone had the chance to share, we prayed, and for what seemed like a very long time, pleas for wisdom escaped the lips of teens. When it grew silent, one young man stood up. A year before, he had seen his life long dream of playing hockey vanish when he got cut from the team. It would prove a pivotal and defining moment for his life, and the life of an impending spiritual movement. Clearing his throat, he said, “I sense that we should lose this battle, in order to win the war. If we pass out the fliers and the school shuts us down, we lose our chance at any witness. I say let’s forgo now, and wait for a better time to make a bigger impact.” That’s what he said, and I remember thinking to myself, that’s not the decision I would have chosen, but around me, nods of agreement filled the little space.
Across town, another group of students had made their decision, too. They decided the next morning they would test the school, and pass out pamphlets. True to their word, the school district had police ready, and two students were arrested. (Later it would go to trial, but because the students had already graduated, the judge threw out the case. However, he made it clear to the prosecuting attorney he would have ruled in favor of student’s rights. )
What happened to the students who decided to stand down?
In the weeks that followed they continued a call to prayer on Friday nights. They continued to give leadership to a popular weekly meeting. They continued to hold special events on some Friday nights known as Fifth quarters, where up to 700 students would attend and hear the gospel. That year which followed this epic meeting, hundreds of students would be swept into the kingdom through a spiritual movement that Ginnette and I have never since seen duplicated in its scope and depth.
One night, in the midst of what I would later describe as a run-away train, I received a call. It was the same young man who had stood up, and spoken wisdom beyond his years. “We’re having a speaker come to the school next month, it’s already set up.” “What do you mean,” I sputtered? “We called him, and he said yes. So we asked the principal if he could speak to the whole school, and she said yes! We’re planning fund raisers to pay his airfare, and we already have a church lined up for the outreach.” I hung up the phone dumbfounded. Here were a group of students caught up in a spiritual movement, courageous by any definition, and leading it, not waiting for any adult to tell them what they could, or couldn’t do. I’ll never forget the night of the outreach, when 600 students packed a local church sanctuary, and on the back row, looking a bit sheepish were youth leaders, with nothing to do!
Nothing to do! That needs to be the prayer and goal of every adult working with teens. Helicopter youth ministry does not lead to spiritual multiplication. Can we trust students to lead, and then get out of the way? Have we forgotten that unless students own their faith and are pointed to a mission, by statistical analysis, they will leave the church upon graduation? When students take the reins, and are trusted to lead, there’s no telling what God will do as He meets them, and leads them into creative, compassionate and relevant expressions of lifting up Jesus Christ to their unique subculture. Jesus said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.” Let’s empower students to be the best face of Jesus Christ this current generation will ever see—their own.