Making Resilient Disciples Amid Cultural Shifts

Article December 15, 2021

In order to make resilient disciples amid cultural shifts, “every church culture needs more than people who can analyze the times,” said Awana CEO Valerie Bell. “They need people who know what to do [with the information].” Referencing the tribe of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12, Valerie’s comment was part of a talk she gave on cultural shifts and the importance of preparing the younger generation to be resilient in their faith so they can lead the Church in the year 2050. This session was just one of nearly 20 that took place before an audience of 4,000 people – in person and online – at the Child Discipleship Forum, earlier this year.

Several cultural shifts are taking place.

There is a generational shift taking place with baby boomers leaving church leadership roles and Generation Xers and millennials taking their places. These leaders are facing “some very heavy cultural lifting,” she said. It’s imperative, she continued, that leaders pass on whatever contacts and knowledge they have and to be “cheerleaders” to the younger generation to help them grow to be the strong leaders of the future.

Then, there is a shift in the way we receive information and entertain ourselves, with everyone sitting in the same room but interacting with their own electronic devices. This has resulted in what’s being called “alone together,” said Valerie, which is “a new kind of loneliness we didn’t have before.”

There is also a shift away from Christianity and a Christian view of sexuality to a mindset that our sexual identity represents our “authentic self.” This is evidenced by the phrases “you be you,” “just do you,” “you are enough” and others. Calling these phrases a “lie, masquerading around as mercy, understanding, kindness and support,” they perpetuate a “self-centeredness … rarely good for either an individual or a whole culture. … And Jesus is exactly where those who have built their own lives don’t want to go.”

So what can the Church do?

Valerie admitted that when she and others at Awana first started looking at the shifts, the mission to raise disciples who could stand resilient in the face of a changing culture looked overwhelming. “But as we began to discipline ourselves to be more futuristic in our thinking … we began to see there was something to be excited about. There was something God was going to do.”

The answer, they found, is to raise kids to be resilient disciples and to make that forefront in our minds. “That becomes our greatest passion. We do our programming at church around how to do we disciple kids, not just how do we entertain them or build up our ranks again.” An additional way is to provide opportunities for the 3B’s of discipleship – Belong, Believe and Become – to be prevalent. “If these three elements are present when children come to church, the likelihood of them becoming resilient disciples is very strong.”

According to Valerie and the studies she cited, in order for a child to be resilient, it’s important for them to have a loving, caring adult to walk beside them, guide them and teach them that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. UN and Awana-Barna studies add that children who have a loving, caring adult in their lives other than a parent fare better in life. “They can mitigate almost anything that can happen to them,” she said.

What does it look like to be a loving, caring adult in the Church?

Share from your own experience. “Tell kids your God story of how you came to faith. Tell them them what you think of God and how you processed losing someone you loved during COVID. Explain what your faith feels like, what it smells like, what it’s been like for you. Be a person so filled with faith that these children will run to [be with] you. Give kids a front-row seat to what faith looks like. Is your faith strong or has it become secularized?”

Be Like Hayden. “We want our kids to be like Hayden,” Valerie explained. Hayden is a teenage boy who found himself alone at the flag during the Meet You at the Flag prayer event. Instead of shying away, he stood alone, proud and knowing that people would wonder what he was doing. Maybe they’d ask and he could tell them about Jesus.

“It was a defining moment,” said Valerie, “because at that place he decided where his loyalty was, where his identity was; it was in Christ.” Hayden was a resilient disciple, a Christ-follower with a spiritual elasticity to bend and flex but not break under the weight of culture.

Pay attention to the language the younger generations use. Begin to understand their slang and the way the younger generations communicate and learn. Then serve them in the ways that will reach them best.

The key: recognize cultural shifts and know how to respond.

Said Valerie in closing, “God has entrusted us with the greatest challenge of our lifetime. And we could either give up or dream big, go big. Think about raising up the greatest generation of disciples. Plan to raise the greatest generation of disciples. Put your heart into raising up the greatest generation of disciples – a generation of disciples like the world has never seen before. A generation of disciples that will love Jesus for the rest of their lives. No matter what.”

Listen to Valerie’s talk in its entirety, as well as other Child Discipleship Forum sessions, and learn more about the 3B’s by reading Resilient: Child Discipleship and the Fearless Future of the Church, available in both English and Spanish.

Are you raising resilient disciples in your church? What cultural shifts have you noticed? Tell us about that in the comments.