The Zeal and Potential of Youth

by Alvin Reid

In Matthew 28, Jesus gave us the Great Commission, not the Great Suggestion. We who follow Christ have been commissioned by our King to reach the world.

But how? 
It could be that the key to reaching America and our globe will be accomplished less by a tool and more by a movement. The Millennial generation could potentially hold the key to global evangelism. Why would I make such a claim? It has happened before.

In the 18th century in the American colonies, a dramatic number of conversions came out of the First Great Awakening. Much of the impetus of this revival came through a youth movement, according to leaders like Jonathan Edwards. Edwards referred to the role of the youth as awakening came to his church: “At the latter end of the year 1733, there appeared a very unusual flexibleness, and yielding to advice, in our young people.” Edwards wrote about the movement that saw half the town of Northampton come to salvation:

God made it, I suppose, the greatest occasion of awakening to others, of anything that ever came to pass in the town…news of it seemed to be almost like a flash of lightning, upon the hearts of young people, all over town, and upon many others.

Beyond the impact the awakening had on young people, most of the leaders of the revival were touched by God while young. Edwards himself began his passionate pursuit of God as a child, and his precocious spiritual zeal became obvious in his teen years.
The First Great Awakening would include the work of George Whitefield — in his twenties at the height of his influence — and the Log College of Presbyterian William Tennent. Tennent’s log house, built to provide ministerial training for three of his sons and other young men, developed key leaders of the awakening. The Log College, which ultimately evolved into the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) has been called “the forerunner of modern seminaries.”At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Second Great Awakening spread across the emerging United States. A major precipitating factor in this movement was the outbreak of revival on college campuses. Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia experienced the first in a series of college revivals.

The Yale College revival began under the leadership of president Timothy Dwight, the grandson of Jonathan Edwards. The movement there spread to Dartmouth and Princeton. At Princeton, three-fourths of the students made professions of faith, and one-fourth entered the ministry.The examples are almost endless. It is true that God uses people of all ages and backgrounds to accomplish his work. But in scripture, in history, and today, God has used and will use young people to spread his truth through their zeal, focus, and flexibility. If you want to reach your community and your world, you may want to start with the youth.

Alvin Reid, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Alvin L. Reid (@alvinreid) is professor of evangelism and student ministry and Bailey Smith chair of evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is author of As You Go: Creating a Missional Culture of Gospel-Centered Students. He loves encouraging the younger generation to live for Jesus. Learn more: