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4/23/13 at 12:49 PM 0 Comments

12,000 wanderers: State of the Youth Address

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NFL Player and Young Adults Pastor Eddie Williams speaking to 1400 students at Auburn High School in Washington State

I recently spoke to 1,400 kids at a local Washington state high school about health. As I talked with some of the teens before and after, I began to wonder just how deep their issues go. On the surface, we can look upon them and say ‘their grades are up so they must be doing well’. But if we look deeper into their motives, beliefs and lifestyles we will see otherwise. As a result of these observations our school systems and our culture tend to offer up behavior modification: if one would change their behavior then everything would be okay. Unfortunately, we are seeing record numbers of depression, obesity, and suicide, proving that simply behavior modification doesn’t work. In Kent, Washington, where my home church is located, we have 12,000 high school students within 10 minutes of our church, in addition to 10,000 college students. These young adults wander the earth searching for deeper meaning as they combat the deeper hurt they experience. They sit in classes and hear sociology, psychology and philosophy, which are all ways humans attempt to comprehend earth without the explanation of a creator. What do these young adults need? What battles are they experiencing that are different from the one’s we faced? And more importantly, what key component is missing?

Here is an Op-ed piece I wrote recently regarding this subject:

State of the Youth

As we look upon this upcoming generation, one can always here the words of their parents in their minds: ‘Kids just aren’t the way they used to be.’ Our parents said the very same thing to us that we are saying to this current generation. What is happening to our young people? Our youth now come equipped with white ear buds in, an iPhone in one hand and a tablet in the other. Their parents feel a vast void between their hearts and their child’s heart as this rise of social media has seemingly made them anti-social. What is happening in their head? Why has this chasm formed between generations?

No matter how we want to diagnose this situation, the facts about our youth are there. First off, fewer children are receiving correct parenting now than ever before. Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle has recently cited that we now have more than 40% of our youth born out of wedlock. Many children do not have the benefit of enjoying both a mother and a father figure in their lives. No matter how we slice it or dice it, the comforting love of two parents certainly gives children a better chance to succeed in life. Driscoll has also spoke specifically on the father of families saying that for the first time in history children are more likely to be born without a father, than with one. This just may be an undeclared catastrophe. Our young men are being raised without a role model and a person to shepherd them throughout life. And our young women are suffering without a good example of what to look for in a good husband. Even those who have a father may not have a good one. There are countless examples of fathers who are not meeting the call of leading their families well. As a result, their children wander of into obscurity while they wonder what happened.

Moreover, our youth is depressed. The New York Daily News cites that 1 in 6 high schoolers have thought seriously about ending their lives, and 1 in 12 have actually attempted to commit suicide. This indicates that the outlook on life for teens is growing increasingly bleak. We have seen the actual suicide rate climb to almost 8% among teenagers in recent years, up from 6.3% in 2009, according to the same New York Daily news article. These suicide statistics would indicate that our youth is sadder and more depressed than ever before. Society gives us answers like ‘self-esteem building’. Some say, ‘If our youth could just feel better about themselves then that may solve their issue’. Our culture offers us self-help. Our bookstores are packed with self-improvement and esteem building content, in the hopes that we would finally figure out the answer to all of life’s problems by “living our best life now”. Despite the plethora of self-building resources our youth depression rates climb as we stand idly by.

Additionally, we are truly are in the Technology generation. Our youth of the new “Tech-Gen” will never know a world without constant and habitual technology available at their fingertips. We are seeing the result of this situation live itself out before our eyes. Every teenager has a cell phone, tablet and laptop glued to their hands. Finding a young adult without one of these items is nearly impossible; even walking into our classrooms and restaurants we see them filled with the top of the heads of teenagers, looking down at a small bright screen. These kids trail off into a state of personal disconnection and loneliness in the hopes of becoming ‘social’

In Kent, Washington,the city where i lead a young adults ministry, the reality is the same as it stands in the rest of country. 12,000 high school students occupy this city. The youth here struggle for meaning in their lives as they mindlessly wander the social media wave. What to make of this? It would seem that what this world has to offer them simply is not getting through to them.

Perhaps our culture has gotten it all wrong. We have intentionally shown these kids self-actualization and self-fulfillment. In fact, these techniques are getting even more popular in our day. But what if telling the youth to look to self-help is not the answer? Here are some other interesting statistics about our youth: the Southern Baptist convention has put out the statistic that 88% of our youth will vanish out of churches when they turn 18¬¬. And author Thom Rainer has indicated in his book, Bridger Generation, that it is estimated only 4% of this generation will believe the Bible when they reach adulthood. These statistics are baffling.

You see, are children are in a constant state of uncertainty in this day and age. As a result we have turned them inward to search their inner feelings hoping the answer is inside. The state of today’s youth in Kent only serves as a red flag that looking upward is perhaps the only hope we have left. These kids have been let down by everything of this world.

I believe it’s time we look towards the only true answer. The truth about reality has been made known to us, but we have become futile in our ways and our foolish hearts have become darkened. These kids need light. Light only He can provide. It is time we stop enforcing our strategies and let the Truth have its day.

Unfortunately for our schools, they cannot (nor do they want to) provide our young adults with the missing link in their lives: Jesus Christ. Our educators are running circles around themselves trying to solve the convoluted issues in today’s youth without mentioning the only true solution. The education system is proving that the human attempt to ascertain the world without God is utterly failing. Plain and simple: our young people need Jesus Christ. If we want evangelicalism to continue to thrive in the generations to come we must reach these wanderers.

Eddie Williams is a Christian, a husband and a father, and public speaker, he also leads a ministry as a pastor at his local church. The 5 year NFL veteran speaks weekly at the young adults ministry and has spoken across the U.S. at high schools, colleges, conferences and ministries. Eddie has been a part of numerous programs for youth, including NFL Play60. He has also given back to the community at organizations like the Cleveland Foodbank, Feed My Starving Children, Veterans hospitals and the DECA. Eddie is pursuing his Masters of Divinity at Western Seminary in Portland, OR. For more on Eddie, visit Eddiejwilliams.me

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