Engaging Younger Generations in Church : Efrem Smith

Engaging Younger Generations in Church - Efrem Smith - 100 - FrontStage BackStage with Jason Daye

How can our local churches engage or reengage younger generations, not with gimmicks, compromising the truth, or selling out, but by embracing the very heart of Christ’s gospel? In this week’s conversation on FrontStage BackStage, host Jason Daye is joined by Efrem Smith. Efrem is the Co-lead pastor of Midtown Church in Sacramento, California. Efrem has been an encouragement to so many pastors and ministry leaders. He’s written a number of books, including his latest, which is entitled Church for Everyone. Together, Efrem and Jason explore the kingdom opportunities arising among young people, even in the midst of declining church engagement. Efrem shares from his personal ministry experiences how to connect with emerging generations at the heart level and invite them to immerse themselves in a cause that truly matters.

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Additional Resource Links

www.midtownchurch.org – Check out the website to learn more about Efrem and his ministry. You’ll find plenty of resources there to help you along your spiritual growth.

Church for Everyone: Building a Multi-Inclusive Community for Emerging Generations – Emerging generations in the West are more diverse than ever―ethnically, socioeconomically, educationally, and politically. And as church attendance among younger generations declines rapidly, research shows that one of their primary sticking points is the lack of diversity in most churches. In their book, pastors Dan Kreiss and Efrem Smith address this phenomenon head-on. In this research-based, theologically informed, and practical book, they explore the younger generations’ expectations and disappointments with church and hold out a vision for true diversity taken from the pages of Scripture. As experienced church leaders themselves, Kreiss and Smith share a wealth of practical experience and stories from the trenches of multiethnic ministry.

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Key Insights and Concepts

  • The narrative of church decline in the United States, although concerning, has sparked pivotal moments of hope, notably through the rise of church planting initiatives in the late 1990s and early 2000s, emphasizing fruitful, faithful, and multi-ethnic congregations.
  • The call for church planting and racial reconciliation reflects a shifting focus within the church toward creating diverse, Christ-centered communities that mirror New Testament ideals.
  • Emerging generations are navigating an increasingly diverse and technologically advanced world, seeking churches that reflect this diversity and leverage modern tools for communication and outreach.
  • Churches that prioritize social impact and justice align more closely with the cause-oriented mindset of emerging generations, offering a holistic expression of the gospel’s transformative power.
  • Jesus’ ministry exemplified both proclamation and demonstration of the gospel, emphasizing the importance of embodying the love, grace, and justice of God in our interactions with others.
  • Justice work, while not salvific in itself, is deeply intertwined with the mission of God, as evidenced by the biblical mandate to care for the marginalized and oppressed.
  • Churches must engage with the specific issues of injustice present in their local context, adopting a proactive and strategic approach to address disparities and serve the most vulnerable.
  • Transformative social justice movements throughout history have been driven by the active involvement of young people, highlighting the need for churches to authentically engage with both the spiritual and social concerns of emerging generations.
  • Debates over justice within the church should be characterized by humility, love, and a commitment to biblical principles rather than divisive ideological lines or fear-driven rhetoric.
  • Churches that authentically embody the gospel’s message of love, mercy, and justice will naturally attract and empower young people, providing a sense of belonging, purpose, and identity in Christ.
  • Despite narratives of generational disengagement from the church, there remains a significant opportunity to reach and disciple young people who are seeking authentic community and spiritual growth.

Questions for Reflection

  • Why might younger generations be skeptical of the Church and its values?
  • How do I assess our local church’s effectiveness in reaching and engaging younger generations? Are we reaching young adults, as well as children and teenagers?
  • How can our church create an environment where young people feel a sense of belonging, love, and an opportunity to develop their purpose and calling?
  • In what ways do I prioritize diversity and multi-ethnicity within my church community, reflecting the ideals of the New Testament? How can our church better embrace diversity and inclusion to better engage with younger generations? What specific actions can we take as a church community to be more inclusive and representative of the diversity in our community?
  • How do I leverage modern tools for communication and outreach within my church, considering the evolving needs of emerging generations? What are some ways our church can update the way we share our message or use technology to better engage young people in our community?
  • What steps can I take to ensure that my church is actively engaged in social impact and justice, aligning with the causes that most impact our local community?
  • How can I emulate Jesus’ ministry by both proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel’s message of love, grace, and justice in my interactions with others?
  • What does justice mean to me in the context of my faith? How do I integrate it into my understanding of God’s mission in the world?
  • How can I proactively engage with the specific issues of injustice present in my local context, seeking to serve and advocate for the most vulnerable?
  • How can our church actively engage with systemic issues of injustice?
  • How do I view the role of young people in driving transformative social justice movements? How can my church authentically engage with their concerns and aspirations?
  • What principles guide my approach to debates over justice within the church? How do I currently navigate these discussions? Are my conversations expressing humility and love? What changes do I need to make in this area?
  • Do young people see our church authentically embodying the gospel’s message of love, mercy, and justice? In what ways are we cultivating a church community that reflects these gospel values? How can we better embrace love, mercy, and justice, inviting and empowering young people in the process?
  • How do personal testimonies of finding purpose and belonging within the church resonate with my own experiences? How can I share these stories to inspire others?
  • Despite narratives of generational disengagement from the church, what opportunities do I see to reach and disciple young people who are seeking authentic community and spiritual growth? What specific steps can we take as a church to ensure that we are providing a nurturing space for young people to grow in their faith and sense of purpose?

Full-Text Transcript

How can our local churches engage or reengage younger generations, not with gimmicks, compromising the truth, or selling out, but by embracing the very heart of Christ’s gospel?

Jason Daye
In this episode, I’m joined by Efrem Smith, Efrem is the Co-lead pastor of Midtown Church in Sacramento, California. Efrem has been an encouragement to so many pastors and ministry leaders. He’s written a number of books, including his latest, which is entitled Church for Everyone. Together, Efrem and I explore the kingdom opportunities arising among young people, even in the midst of declining church engagement. Efrem shares from his personal ministry experiences how to connect with emerging generations at the heart level and invite them to immerse themselves in a cause that truly matters. Are you ready? Let’s go.

Jason Daye 
Hello, friends, and welcome to another exciting episode of FrontStage BackStage. It’s not just any other episode. This is a milestone episode for us. It is episode 100. So first, thank you for joining us. Thank you for coming along on this journey. We really hope and pray that you’ve been receiving some great encouragement and some incredible insights for your life and for your ministry. We are proud to be a part of the Pastor Serve Network. And every single week, I have the privilege of sitting down and speaking with a trusted ministry leader. And we do this all so that you and pastors and ministry leaders just like you can embrace a healthy rhythm for life and ministry. And so here at the Pastor Serve Network, not only do we do an episode every single week, but our team creates an entire toolkit so that you and your team at your local church can really dig more deeply into the conversation that we have. And you can find that at PastorServe.org/network. So please be sure to check that out. And there you’ll find tons of resources, including our Ministry Leaders Growth Guide, which has helpful questions to help you, once again, dig into this topic and really make it your own and see how it impacts your local church and the ministry in your community. So be sure to check that out. At Pastor Serve, we love walking alongside pastors and ministry leaders. It’s something that we enjoy doing. We’d love to support you and encourage you. And if you’re interested in finding out what a coaching conversation might be like, we encourage you to take advantage of a complimentary coaching session with one of our trusted coaches. And you can find more information on that at PastorServe.org/freesession. Now, if you’re joining us on YouTube, please give us a thumbs up and drop your name and the name of your church in the comments below. We love getting to know our audience better and our team will be praying for you and for your ministry. Whether you’re joining us on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform, please be sure to subscribe and follow. You do not want to miss out on any of these great conversations. Like I said, I’m super excited for our guest today and the conversation that we’re diving into. At this time, I would like to welcome Efrem Smith to the show. Efrem, brother, welcome.

Efrem Smith 
Thanks, man. I’m so excited to be a part of such an important episode. So honored.

Jason Daye 
Awesome. Well, we’re excited. We wanted to work it out so that you would be on this particular episode and really diving into the conversation that we’re going to dive into because I think this is one that, as you know, brother, for pastors and ministry leaders, this is a huge conversation that they’re having that’s around the emerging generations, younger generations. And you and your colleague wrote an incredible book, Church for Everyone. And it really dives into opportunities that we have to really connect and engage with younger emerging generations. And so that’s been a challenge. So we’re going to deliver a lot of hope today. So, those of you who are watching and listening, Efrem’s got a lot to share here, and we’re going to get to that. So those of you, pastors and ministry leaders, who have a desire to make an impact for Christ, but maybe you’ve been feeling challenged, maybe a little uncertain, maybe a little discouraged even, as you look at what the church is going through here in the US over the last few decades. We understand that. So we’re gonna get to the hope, and we’re gonna get to the kingdom opportunities. But first, Efrem, I think it’s always good to have a bit of a reality check. So, if you could just share a bit about the state of the church in America today and what we’ve kind of been experiencing over the last few decades.

Efrem Smith 
Sure. Well, I mean, one, David T. Olson wrote a book years ago called The American Church in Crisis. And it was one of a number of books that, since the late 1990s going into the early 2000s, talked about the decline of the church in The United States of America. But even that news became a pivotal moment of hope for the church because the late 1990s and the early 2000s became a tremendous time of church planting in the United States of America. And all of a sudden you heard about organizations like Stadia, City to City, The Orchard Group, Ark, or Exponential. All of a sudden, there was this focus on this urgent need to plant churches that would be fruitful and reproducible in various contexts. Also, from the late 1990s into the 2000s, there was a strong focus on racial reconciliation and a focus on the intentionality around planting multiethnic churches. And so on one hand, should we pay attention to the decline that the church is facing in the United States? Yes. Should we be concerned about the ways in which the church is mirroring the polarization and the deep division socially in our nation? Yes. But we should also be hopeful through church planting, through a focus on biblical justice and racial reconciliation, with the focus on planting churches that are intentionally multi-ethnic and Christ-centered. And what Dan Kreiss and I are hoping with this book, Church for Everyone, is that we don’t have this just total “sky is falling” approach to the emerging generations because some of the data leads us to believe that emerging generations are just leaving the church altogether. But what if there’s some additional data that shows us that in some cases, emerging generations might be leaving a church, a type of church, but they’re not leaving the church altogether? They’re actually looking for another type of church that actually mirrors the kinds of churches that Paul wrote to in the New Testament.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, I love that, Efrem. And I love that you have such a hopeful spirit about this, which I think we need. I mean, Jesus is alive. Amazing things are going on around the world and even here in the US. But I think what you touched on there, Efrem, is that it might be a matter of perspective because, as you said, a lot of the data shows that younger generations, emerging generations, are not spending time in church. They’re not engaged in church to a degree, and really, a lot of studies show that to a high percentage, they’re starting to shift away from what we would consider typical church engagement, right? And yet, as you’ve noted, and we see this, I see this in my own kids who are in their 20s. They have a very strong heart to make a difference in the world. They really want to reflect the values and teachings of Jesus. But at the same time, as you kind of alluded to, maybe what they’re seeing in the church of today, the typical churches that we see, they’re struggling with, how does that really reflect Jesus, right? And so as we look at that, what are the younger generations, Efrem, as you guys have looked and studied throughout this, what the younger generations finding that is missing maybe in the typical church that we see in America? Like in the parent’s church or the grandparent’s church, what’s missing there?

Efrem Smith 
Well, I think one, in many cases, they don’t see the diversity within those churches that they see in the broader world that they navigate. So they’re navigating a world that is an ever-increasing multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic world. In spite of some of the polarization, divisions, or brokenness, they’re still navigating a very multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial landscape. They also are experiencing just such rapid change and advancement when it comes to technology when it comes to not just what happens in a, for lack of a better term, personal physical space, but also what occurs in virtual spaces. And so when they come into many churches that exist today, they don’t see that diversity. They also don’t see the utilizing of some of the latest tools to communicate, to reach, to educate, to inform. And then the other thing that I would say is, they live in a very cause-orientated society. And so regardless of how we might see or not see issues of justice, they live in a very justice-oriented, cause-oriented, social impact-oriented world. So if they’re a part of a church that doesn’t have some kind of social impact or civic engagement in its surrounding community, that’s a missing piece as well. So churches that, as best they’re able to, missionally, pursue looking like heaven, looking like that picture of Revelation 7:9 of the multitude that no one can count of every nation, tribe, and tongue. Churches that are able to see the good news of Jesus Christ as both spiritual to salvation and social in terms of caring for the most vulnerable among us, and churches that utilize other tools besides the physical gathering in a sanctuary, reach, connect, and to inform. I think when churches, as best they can, with the resources they have, pursue those things, they will find themselves still a very attractive, Christ-centered, empowering community for emerging generations.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, that’s excellent, Efrem. And it’s probably not lost on any of us that emerging generations tend to be skeptical. They live in a world that has almost forced them to be skeptical, honestly, because they have seen a lot of brokenness. And because of 24/7 news cycles and because of social media, they see broken systems happening rapidly, right? So they’ve grown up in a world where they’re surrounded by seeing things fall apart around them very, very quickly, and therefore they’re skeptical. And so it should be no surprise that they’re not skeptical of the church itself, that espouses to be the bride of Christ, when they sit back and go, Well, what I know of Jesus doesn’t seem to show up necessarily, in this particular local church. Right? So a lot of that is the kind of internal conversation that emerging generations are having. The question I have for you, Efrem, is that there are a couple of different postures that we can take. We can we can get defensive, right? And say, No, we do love Jesus, we do love Jesus, right? And say, hey, they just need to not think that the church has to conform to their standards, right? Because I’ve heard these conversations where it’s like, what are we going to do? Are we going to create a church just for young people? And it’s kind of a negative view. But the other posture is a very hopeful view, and says, Well, it’s important for us to be self-reflective as Christ’s bride, as the church, right? To look and see how are we really embracing the way of Jesus and the way that we engage not only people inside our walls but engage, as you’ve said, with society around us, with our own communities. So, Efrem, talk to us a little bit about kind of the incarnational value that you guys write a lot about. The incarnational value of what does it mean for the church to show up in the neighborhood?

Efrem Smith 
Yes. You know, Jesus both declared and demonstrated the good news, he both proclaimed and practiced it. So Jesus teaches the Sermon on the Mount. But then we also see the demonstration through his interactions with the tax collector, the blind, the paralyzed, and the woman at the well. And I think John 4 and the woman at the well is such a great picture of what our posture should look like in culture and society. Jesus meets the unnamed Samaritan woman and when she arrives at the well, he’s sitting at the well which means you see this picture of Jesus looking up at her, and he starts a conversation with her, he asks her for a drink. And so how can the church take that posture, that humility of Jesus as he interacts? It seems to me when you read the New Testament, and specifically the Gospels, Jesus is very tough on people like you and I, Jason. He’s very tough on pastors and ministry leaders, right? They’re already righteous and holy, and then he is so kind and compassionate. Still very truthful, but so loving, like with tax collectors and sinners He’s like, Let’s have lunch. He doesn’t have a lot of coffee and lunches with the Pharisees. So what would it look like for us to take that posture and that position? You know, I was born in 1969. So I grew up in a time of proving apologetics. Declaring in books, declaring in sermons, and declaring in classrooms that Jesus really existed, that God is real, and that the Bible is authoritative and central. And that’s important. But I think today, we need more of an embodied apologetics where people see us demonstrate the love, the grace, the holiness, the righteousness, the intimacy of God in Christ Jesus. And because, as you said, there are so many declarations made in the world of a millennial today, declarations on Instagram, on Facebook, on CNN, on Fox, or on MSNBC. I mean, there are declarations all around them in the classroom, at work, and on billboards, that sounded old school, billboards. And so, to just go to church to have more declarations thrown at you is not enough to capture the emerging generations, they have to witness what we practice. So our engagement with the lost, with the broken, and with the vulnerable. Our engagement with those who don’t know Christ, our humility, yet our passion and our commitment to truth has to be seen, and experienced, and there needs to be an invitation into these practices and into these experiences to really reach the emerging generations.

Jason Daye 
Yeah, I love that. I love that language of invitation because it is that idea of welcoming them into experiencing something that’s bigger than themselves. And they’re longing for that, right? They’re longing for that. We see that in all the other causes they attach themselves to. That’s key. It’s important. So justice is a big issue. Obviously, that’s a big issue with emerging generations without a doubt, we’ve seen this again and again and again and again. Injustice is a big issue to God, right? We see it throughout Scripture. So it seems like, Efrem, call me crazy, but it seems like those things should be able to easily come together in the life of the church, living out the gospel of Jesus, and connecting with the hearts of emerging generations. And yet, in recent years, we have here in America, speaking of our churches, we’ve struggled to some degree, in some ways with this idea of justice. So much so that whenever you might be preaching or teaching around justice issues, you can sometimes be labeled as woke theology. This is a term that’s now being battered about within the church. Efrem, talk to us a little bit about this reality for pastors and ministry leaders who want to embrace this idea of justice. And yet we find ourselves within even our own tribe of Christianity, that there’s a little bit of a war over this idea of justice. And this kind of woke theology stuff is tossed about. Help us process a little bit through that, Efrem, because I think this is key when it comes to really engaging emerging generations, this justice piece, right?

Efrem Smith 
Yeah. Well, so one is, the late Dr. Tim Keller, I heard him once say that justice doesn’t save. Justice work or justice practices are not salvific. Jesus saves. But how can you truly be saved and not do justice, not love mercy, and not walk humbly? What does Jesus really mean in Matthew 25 as it comes to a conclusion and he talks about this great king that calls all the nations together and separates them like a shepherd separates sheep and goats and says to those on his right, Come into the kingdom of God, I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, naked and you clothed me, sick and you tended to me, in prison and you came to visit me? And they said, when did we do that? So King they are really saying, God, when did we do that to you? You’re God, you’re the creator of the universe. He’s like as you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me. You cannot truly, deeply navigate scripture, and not see justice and righteousness as intertwined as the mission of God. Now, we might have debates over what does God’s justice look like? What does biblical justice look like? I’m fortunate that I am both a product of the African American church and evangelicalism. So I’m duly ordained in the National Baptist Convention USA, one of the historic African American denominations that rose out of slavery into its existence. I come from a church tradition in the black church that did not separate the spiritual and social implications of the gospel. Enslaved Africans believed that the same Jesus that saved them from sin, saved them from the shackles of slavery. And that is the testimony of George Lyle, Locke Carrie, Dorinda Lee, Richard Allen, and Denmark Vesey, those who rose from the shackles of slavery to the liberating and empowering call to be missionaries, evangelists, preachers, and church planters. I also am connected by being ordained in the evangelical covenant denomination, a traditional pietism, of holiness and sanctification, righteousness and intimate relationship with God being important. I’m a friend of all that fear thee. I believe in the centrality of Scripture. And I believe that the black church and its roots and at its best, has believed in the authority and centrality of Scripture as well. So I consider myself a liberation pietist. I believe deeply in sanctification and intimacy with God, in growing and maturing in my faith, the necessity of new birth. But I also believe that the church is called to justice, and is called to address the least of these. The orphan, the stranger, the foreigner, the widow, the poor, the needy, the broken, and what Howard Thurman would call the disinherited. What Dr. Don Davis from World Impact would call the people at the bottom of the social shoot. So how do we get alignment on this? Let me not take too long on this particular point. I think we have to revisit, biblically, the dimensions of sin, and this will inform how we see justice and righteousness. So in the Bible, as best I can tell, sin is presented in three dimensions, there’s sin in the soul. And most pure, historic-leaning evangelicals will not disagree with that. That sin is in the heart of man. We are born objects of God’s wrath if you ask the Calvinist. We are sinful by nature and we need a savior. We can’t cure ourselves of this sin nature within our souls. Sin is in the soul. But we also see, biblically, that sin is in society. When you take individuals that have sinned in the soul and they start building things together, you get systemic sin. The Tower of Babel, or at least the attempt at the Tower of Babel, Babylon, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Assyrian Empire in the Old Testament, divided Israel, and the Roman Empire, are all examples of systemic sin. And what do we see in the Old Testament and in the New Testament of God’s people responding to systemic sin? Nonviolent resistance. So there is a Political Theology in the Bible. When Daniel was thrown in the lion’s den, what got him thrown there? Public policy. That’s what got him thrown in the lion’s den. What got Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego thrown into the fiery furnace? Public policy from King Nebuchadnezzar. And so what did they do? They resisted when the law was passed, saying you couldn’t pray to Jehovah, to Yahweh, to YeHoVaH, the true Lord God. They did the same thing that the civil rights leaders did in the 1950s and 60s. They were the precursors to that nonviolent resistance to public policy that caused me to compromise my intimacy with God, the practice of my faith and righteousness. And so, Esther, the Book of Esther, these are all ways to see Jesus. Paul was thrown in prison. These are ways to say there’s systemic sin. And God calls the church to resist systemic sin and to practice embodied justice in the midst of systemic sin. And then the other dimension is sin is in Satan. The full embodiment of sin, wickedness, evil, and the horror of living in an upside-down world. And eventually, Jesus will return and address all those dimensions of sin. We will experience the fullness of what it means to be saved into eternity. We will see a new heaven and a new earth, and a new society. What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as beloved community, And then Satan will be defeated, the beast, the dragon, and Leviathan. So I heard an old preacher once say, when Jesus returns, this is ultimate justice. But until then, it’s just us.

Jason Daye 
That’s good. That’s good, Efrem, I like that. So as we’re looking at the local church, what are some of the challenges in regard to multi-inclusivity and justice and really embodying this in local contexts?

Efrem Smith 
Yeah, well, I think one, churches exist in so many different mission fields. You can be a church in an upper-class third-ring suburban community and the issues of the most vulnerable among us might not be proximate to you. And so you may have stereotypical views about how to engage the poor. It seems like it’s easy to get churches in upper-class communities to have empathy and compassion and see the needs in a third-world country that’s experiencing extreme poverty. But it’s harder for them to see and address the poverty in rural areas in Mississippi and Alabama, or inner cities, the challenges and issues in a Sacramento, or an LA, or Chicago. For me, where I pastor in Midtown, Sacramento, California, all I have to do is just walk out the doors of my church and I see homelessness, I see mental health issues, and I see educational disparities. And so our church doesn’t desire to ignore those things. So I think the church has to find itself proximate to the closest issues of disparities to it and find ways to prayerfully and strategically address it. So let me just give a couple of examples. So this was true when I was pastoring in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It’s true now that I’m pastoring here in Sacramento. So I found out through the Children’s Defense Fund and some other data that children in under-resourced urban public schools who are below grade level in math and reading between the third and fifth grade are more likely to be incarcerated. But children in under-resourced public schools that are at grade level in math and reading between the third and the fifth grade are most likely to go to college. So we are adopting under-resourced schools and what we’re doing is we’re providing tutoring, school supplies, and summer program initiatives because we believe that part of justice work of the church is actually getting kids to grade level in math and reading between the third and fifth grade. They’re more likely to go to college, but they’ll also know it was the Church of Jesus Christ that walked with them in this endeavor. Now, if somebody says, Oh, that’s just woke ministry. That’s just critical race theory. That’s just the social gospel. Well, I would encourage them to research the great pietist, the German pietist, Francke, who, in his day, Francke, he just wanted as many families to come to Bible study and learn the word of God and know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior as possible. But what happened is he realized a number of those families could not read. So he wanted them to come to Bible study, but they weren’t going to be able to do much with the word because of their lack of education. So Francke began to become an activist for public education reform. So he was a pastor. He cared deeply about people understanding the authority and centrality of Scripture. And he became one of civic engagement around public education. Sounds like good ministry to me. Try to follow people out of evangelicalism and the African American church that had both an evangelism, discipleship, and justice ecclesiology.

Jason Daye 
That’s good. That’s good. I love that. So talk to us a little bit, Efrem, about this idea of how the emphasis on multi-inclusivity, how the emphasis on justice, how living out the teachings and values of Christ, how does that then circle back around to connect with emerging generations? What are we seeing happening there?

Efrem Smith 
Yes, well historically and presently, most transformative social justice movements include young people on the front lines. You could look at the civil rights movement, and say, the civil rights movement in the United States of America would not have been successful without high school students and college students being on the front line with the adults like Ralph Abernathy, Diane Nash, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Martin Luther King, Jr., etc. It was young people who risked their lives to march non-violently with dogs biting at them and fire hoses being sprayed at them. You could look at the fight against apartheid in the 1970s. And it was young people in Soweto. In 2020, when we saw the video of George Floyd crying out for his life, young people hit the streets around the world. Whether you agree with that type of resistance or not, you can’t deny that decade after decade we see young people around the world rise up to address brokenness, injustice, wrong, and what they perceive as wrong. And so if the church doesn’t biblically find its ministry practices around both the social and spiritual implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we will continue to lose young people because we will seem tone-deaf. So there was a segment of the body of Christ that just wanted to talk about how antithetical to Jesus and antithetical to Scripture the Black Lives Matter movement was, and I wondered how many people did they really know that we’re participating in the Black Lives Matter movement and ask them why. Second, there were people that were so quick, again, to use terms to question spiritual character and integrity. I mean, I was one that was attacked in 2020 and 2021 for just saying things like justice. I mean, I was in a room where I was asked not to say biblical justice. A church asked me if I would not say biblical justice, and I was thinking, but it’s justice. It’s preceded by the word biblical. And they said, well, some in our church would see that as a Democrat, liberal, leftist socialist term. Like that’s what we’ve come to? That biblical justice has to be taken off the table in some segments of evangelicalism. If that’s where we are, we truly have become like the Pharisees. We’ve become so righteous in our own minds and hearts, we’ve become such the jury of what we perceive in a limited way of the gospel, that we’ve actually lost the heart of Jesus. And so, again, we can have healthy, loving, prayerful debates over what biblical justice looks like. Because there are forms of justice that don’t align with the Bible, like revenge. Violent retaliation. There are forms of justice in our world that are not biblical, but we shouldn’t throw out justice altogether because of bad expressions of justice. We should help, we should preach, we should demonstrate, and we should invite the emerging generation into what the justice of Jesus looks like. And maybe for your church it’s adopting an under-resourced school and having a tutoring program. At our church, we purchased shower trailers so that we could go around our community to the unhoused. And the unhoused, the homeless, can take private showers with dignity. And we give them hygiene kits, we give them food, we give them clothing, and we do their laundry for them. And we are trying to advocate for affordable housing, which in the state of California is not an easy thing to do. And so stop just arguing and shouting across Democrat-Republican ideological lines and let’s truly walk the road of Jesus and justice, and care deeply, and empower the poor, and give voice to the voiceless, and love the unlovable, and reach the outcast. And so that’s my hope, that’s my prayer. Because when we do that, young people will look for us, we won’t just have to find them. To my surprise, that has been my experience over the years, not just generationally, but cross-racially. I planted a church with a group of folks in Minneapolis in 2003 in a 68 to 70% black community. And in our first year, we were almost 60%, white, and the majority of them coming to our church were between the ages of 19 and 35. I pastor a church today that is 35% white, 30% black, 20% Hispanic, 10%, Asian, and the rest other. And when I look at our congregation, we have a lot of people here between the ages of 18 and 35. Not because we are compromising the Scripture by trying to be socially woke, but because we are Jesus woke. We can’t help but proclaim the gospel, preach the Word of God deeply, get out in our community, love mercy, and do justice.

Jason Daye 
I love it, brother. I love it. Man, this has been an excellent conversation, Efrem. I want to give you a chance, as we close down, just speak from your heart some words of encouragement to brothers and sisters who are serving on the frontlines of ministry. What would you share with them?

Efrem Smith 
You know, I know that there’s news out there saying that young people have left the church. You know, the millennials have left the church, to Gen Z-ers aren’t interested in the church, before that the hip-hop generation didn’t care about the church. In my experience, pastors and ministry leaders, there are a lot of young people who are desperately looking for a place to belong, a community where they will be loved, and a place where they can develop their purpose, their mission, their calling. That was my journey. A youth pastor and a senior pastor put their arms around me when I was 12 years old. I have had moments with pastors and churches that put their arms around me when I was 17 and when I was 22. And that’s why I have a great sense of purpose. I represent the hip-hop generation, a lot of people in my generation left the church. But a lot of people in my generation, me included, found their purpose, found their voice, found their identity in Christ in the church, and I believe there is still that hope today. We can reach millennials and they can find their place if we are willing to not compromise the fullness of the gospel and see the good news as both spiritual into eternity and social for our liberation and purpose right now.

Jason Daye 
Man, that’s a great word, brother. Efrem, thank you so much for hanging out with us today on FrontStage BackStage. I want to encourage everyone to check out Church for Everyone. It’s Efrem’s latest book and it goes into great depth a lot of what we’ve talked about today, and we will have links to that and links to other resources in our toolkit for this episode and you can find that PastorServe.org/network. So be sure to check that out. Brother, thank you so much, once again, for making the time. This has been a blessing. I love what you are doing, what your team there in Midtown is doing, and just the inspiration that you’re providing for so many people who are seeking to just honor God in their local churches. So thank you, brother.

Efrem Smith 
God bless you.

Jason Daye 
All right, God bless you.

Jason Daye
Now, before you go, I want to remind you of an incredible free resource that our team puts together every single week to help you and your team dig more deeply and maximize the conversation that we just had. This is the weekly toolkit that we provide. And we understand that it’s one thing to listen or watch an episode, but it’s something entirely different to actually take what you’ve heard, what you’ve watched, what you’ve seen, and apply it to your life and to your ministry. You see, FrontStage BackStage is more than just a podcast or YouTube show about ministry leadership, we are a complete resource to help train you and your entire ministry team as you seek to grow and develop in life in ministry. Every single week, we provide a weekly toolkit which has all types of tools in it to help you do just that. Now you can find this at PastorServe.org/network. That’s PastorServe.org/network. And there you will find all of our shows, all of our episodes and all of our weekly toolkits. Now inside the toolkit are several tools including video links and audio links for you to share with your team. There are resource links to different resources and tools that were mentioned in the conversation, and several other tools, but the greatest thing is the ministry leaders growth guide. Our team pulls key insights and concepts from every conversation with our amazing guests. And then we also create engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process, providing space for you to reflect on how that episode’s topic relates to your unique context, at your local church, in your ministry and in your life. Now you can use these questions in your regular staff meetings to guide your conversation as you invest in the growth of your ministry leaders. You can find the weekly toolkit at PastorServe.org/network We encourage you to check out that free resource. Until next time, I’m Jason Daye encouraging you to love well, live well, and lead well. God bless.

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