Baby Busters: A Lost Generation Finds Its Place in God’s Plan

By Larry Pierce

They are the generation with the bad reputation. Dismissed as aimless, poorly educated MTV-addicts, America’s so-called Baby Busters, born since 1964, were not expected to amount to much.

“But God had compassion on this generation,” youth leader Dann Spader told NIRR. Not only is God picking up the pieces of their young, broken lives, but many believe He has chosen these supposed passive youth as leaders for a coming revival.

Baby Busters are an unlikely group to be called to spiritual leadership. In their book 13th Gen, Neil Howe and Bill Strauss tell a statistical horror story of what happens to these youth every day:

* More than 2,500 children witness the divorce or separation of their

* About 90 are taken from their parents’ custody and committed to
foster homes.

* Some 1,000 unwed teen-age girls become mothers.

* Of 15- to 24-year-olds, 13 commit suicide, and 16 are murdered.

* Some 500 adolescents begin using illegal drugs, and 1,000 begin
drinking alcohol.

* At least 3,610 teen-agers are assaulted, 630 are robbed, and 80 are

* More than 100,000 high school students bring guns to school.

* At least 2,200 teens drop out of high school.

* The typical 14-year-old watches three hours of TV, but does only one
hour of homework.

Baby Busters, a name derived from their coddled predecessors, the post-World-War-II Baby Boomers, never experienced the slow, simple childhood in a protective family and community that other generations enjoyed. Busters’ lives always have been “fast, complex, entertaining — but weak on the fundamentals,” the authors say. Divorced or under-involved parents left the Busters to learn about life from television sitcoms,
rock music, and movies. They were given “answers to questions they never asked” about sex and complex societal issues, Neil Postman writes in The Disappearance of Childhood.

Consequently, the generation came of age with a bad attitude. In the 1980s, Busters’ moms and dads watched as their emotionally and spiritually wounded children tuned in to drugs and tuned out school.
Meanwhile, parents of the Busters, many of them hippies-turned-yuppies, touted their supposed superiority over “the pile of demographic junk they see in their rear-view mirrors,” Howe and Strauss note.

Serving Two Masters

Nor have Christian Baby Busters been immune from the cultural decay around them. The gap between value systems of believing and non-believing young people has narrowed dramatically, says researcher James Davidson Hunter. His survey of college students from Wheaton, Gordon, Westmont, Bethel, Houghton, Seattle-Pacific, George Fox, Taylor, and Messiah compared evangelical students of every generation since the 1950s. After studying these students’ attitudes toward social dancing, attending R-rated movies, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, casual and heavy petting, and having premarital sexual intercourse, Hunter concluded, “Far from being untouched by the cultural trends of the post-WWII decades, the coming generation of evangelicals, in their own distinct way, have come to participate fully in them.”

How did it happen? Christian parents, who should have been explaining that light and darkness don’t mix, instead were passing the spiritual buck. “Christian parents are not sacrificing for their kids,” James
Strole, a Straight-talking youth pastor in Delray Beach, Fla., told NIRR. “They are assuming that the Christian church or school is doing the job.”

Christian youth have grown comfortable with living in two worlds. They are “so compartmentalized that they can have strong Christian convictions in one area of their lives and shabby living standards in
another,” says Dean Borgman of the Center for Youth Studies in South Hamilton, Mass.

Yet God still can wage spiritual warfare with a wounded army, many say. They believe He is using a weak generation to confound the strong in order to display His redemptive power. God is gathering a faithful
remnant from among the more than 20 million broken Baby Busters across the country: a few million young men and women who love the Lord passionately and are zealous to do His will, they say.

Hard times have toughened the Busters. Howe and Strauss claim these “street-smart survivalists, clued into the game of life the way it really gets played,” will be risk-takers who break the status quo. “Many Christians have gone spiritually mushy,” but those raised in the tougher parts of towns, or whose lives have had more turmoil are much more willing to come to the Lord, says Strole. “And when they do, they mean it.”

Mark Senter, a Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor and author of The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministries, agrees. “The more powerful religious movements have drawn their broadest base of
followers from the lower classes of society.” Conversely, a comfortable lifestyle tends to lessen evangelistic zeal and put a damper on spiritual fervor, he writes.

Spiritual Starvation

Baby Busters are starving for spirituality after decades of secular humanism. Behind their sometimes slick or occasionally calloused facades, many young people of the ’90s are open to spiritual matters. More than 85% of American adolescents profess a belief in God, according to recent polls. These youth sometimes search for the unconditional love they have rarely experienced. Many are tired of too many choices and want absolute standards.

That makes them ripe for evangelism, and in fact 85% of believers accept Christ before age 18. But only 15%-20% of American teen-agers are very involved in church activities, and that makes the majority of
teens prey for alternatives to Christianity, including New Age mysticism, the occult, hard rock music, sex, alcohol, drugs, or involvement in gangs.

Most Baby Busters wouldn’t be caught dead in church — and some say that’s to their credit. They reject “the bland, middle-of-the-road Christianity you could get by with” in the past, says Leith Anderson, a Minnesota pastor and author. Neither will they put up with hypocritical religion. “Baby Busters can smell dysfunctional systems,” he told NIRR. “They are looking for healthy church organizations and healthy families — because they are so hurt and so burned by dysfunctional families and superficiality.” “Playing church” turns off young people.

The paradigm for Christian youth in the ’90s is a radical and sometimes aggressive witness in five areas:

1. Moral Purity: “It’s awesome to be a virgin,” said David Medford, 17, who has just taken a pledge to abstain from sex until marriage. “I want to give that as a gift to my wife. I want it to be special, not just something I do to fit in,” he recently told the New York Times. David and thousands of other teen-agers around the country are signing purity pledges as part of the new abstinence program “True Love Waits.”

Developed by the Southern Baptist Convention, TLW has caught on quickly with 14 large denominations and major parachurch organizations around the country. Organizer Richard Ross is getting 30 calls a day from churches interested in starting programs for their teen-agers, he told NIRR. Teens first make the promise to God, then sign a 3″-by-5″ covenant card. It reads, “Believing that true love waits, I make a
commitment to God, myself, my family, those I date, my future mate, and my future children to be sexually pure until the day I enter a covenant marriage relationship.” Virginity is not a prerequisite; rather, teen-
agers commit themselves to purity from the time of the pledge, what some call “secondary virginity.”

“Teen-agers pay a terrible price for sexual mistakes,” Ross said. He told NIRR he hopes to see 500,000 signed abstinence pledges covering the Mall in Washington, D,C., from the Capitol to the Washington
Monument, on July 29, 1994. “We feel its going to make a real impact on the moral conscience of the nation.”

Personal commitments to chastity are being reinforced by group consensus. At Daytona Beach during spring break this year, thousands of kids jammed with an incredibly loud band. As the music subsided,
Christian rocker-evangelist Carman stepped up to the microphone. “How many of you are committed to Jesus Christ as Lord? How many of you are committed to staying virgins?” he asked. The crowd let out a deafening roar.

2. “A Raging Movement of Prayer”: A 15-year-old girl prays at 7 a.m. at her school’s flagpole. Her pastor sits in a car across the street, hoping his presence will encourage her. As cars drive by, their occupants heckle her. She finishes her prayer and walks across the street crying. “I stood alone on my campus today, but I knew I wasn’t really alone because thousands of others were standing with me across the country,” she says.

She is right. That day, Sept. 16, 1992, more than a million students met at their schools’ flagpoles in the United States and a dozen foreign nations to pray for revival in a movement called See You at the Pole
(NIRR 9/6).

What began in Texas in 1989 with one small group of boys praying around their flagpole now has support from more than 50 denominations and numerous major parachurch organizations. See You at the Pole has
spawned concerts of prayer, discipleship training, local fellowships, school assemblies, and evangelistic crusades coordinated with the San Diego-based National Network of Youth Ministries.

Spiritual awakenings are a sovereign act of God, but always grow from sustained, united prayer. Many say today’s youth prayer is the most encouraging sign yet of a coming spiritual awakening.

There is “a raging movement of prayer among youth,” according to the National Network’s Paul Fleischmann. In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed school-sponsored prayer on public school campuses. But 30 years later, some 9,000 student-led groups meet on campuses across America. Many have started since 1990, when the Supreme Court ruled in Mergens vs. Westside Board of Education that Christian student groups have equal-access rights to public school facilities, say Christian legal watchdog groups such as the Rutherford Institute and the American Center for Law and Justice.

“Young people are getting involved in radical ways,” Doug Clark of National Network of Youth Ministries told NIRR. He said he senses that students are increasingly willing to withstand ridicule and proclaim
their faith on U.S. and international campuses.

Teens are not alone in their interest in intercession. In Florida, Esther Ilnisky coordinates the children’s prayer track of the AD 2000 and Beyond movement, which hopes to raise up a million children age 8-
12 to intercede in prayer for the children of the world. Her Esther Network advises churches and individuals around the world how to pray to alleviate AIDS, abuse, and violence among children worldwide.

Children can be mighty warriors of intercession, Ilnisky said. “When children pray, it is incredible how the anointing comes on congregations,” she told NIRR. She said some churches were “totally stunned.” In one service, children wept as they prayed for nations of the 10/40 Window (NIRR 10/4). “Then the leaders knelt before the children and asked their forgiveness for not allowing them to come forward sooner,” Ilnisky told NIRR. “The children then laid hands on the adults and prayed for them.”

3. A Fresh Boldness: “It’s time for Christian kids to come out of the closet,” Colorado Springs evangelist Blaine Bartel told NIRR. Teen-agers are realizing “they don’t have to walk down the hall with their
heads down because they’re still virgins,” he said. Bartel, who has nearly completed his year-long, 100-city Young Revival Techno-Tour, said the church must compete with the impact of the “sight and sound”
media, especially MTV, on teens. Churches need to expect more of their teen-agers, too, he said. “We can’t have a survival mentality. We’ve got to be more aggressive with the kids, and expect them to do things
for the Lord.”

As the young form relationships locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally, they lay the groundwork for revival. And many of the movements, such as See You at The Pole, start with friendships that begin at school. Although adults cannot do ministry on high school campuses, students may. “We can equip them, but those who we do not equip are being equipped by God Himself,” one leader said.

For example, in March, a million Christian kids invited half a million unsaved friends home for Operation Powerlink, a huge evangelistic pizza party (NIRR 3/8). Even though adults helped plan the event months in advance, just days before Powerlink took place, 700,000 young people in simultaneous concerts of prayer asked God to help them reach their unbelieving friends for Christ. During the Powerlink event,
participants watched a program of Christian music, testimony and interactive discussion hosted by youth evangelist Josh McDowell and aired via Trinity Broadcasting Network. Organizers say 88,000 young
people came to Christ that night.

“It opens a new door for evangelism,” said youth leader Spader. His Wheaton, Ill.-based SonLife Ministries was a Powerlink organizer, along with Josh McDowell Ministries in Dallas. “When you can combine national evangelism with a local scope and a small-group focus, you’ve got dynamo. It’s like being able to take Billy Graham into 47,000 places at one time and yet keep it personal,” he told NIRR.

Christian teens also are becoming short-termers on the mission fields of the world. Some travel overseas with groups such as Teen Mania, a youth missions organization that attracts mostly evangelical and
charismatic teens. Although they hold tent meetings and some underground services, most Teen Maniacs, as they are called, perform Allegiance, a mime drama tailored to the culture, set to music, and narrated in the local language. The play allegorizes the gospel with sword fights between Jesus and Satan. After the show, translators help teens witness to those who respond to the gospel, and converts’ follow-up cards are passed on to a local church.

Last year, 1,200 Teen Maniacs collected commitment cards from 79,000 nationals who prayed to receive the Lord in 10 different countries, This summer, Teen Mania took 1,800 young people to 14 different
countries, including Albania, Mongolia, Egypt, and Thailand. So far the organization reports 70,000 have come to Christ and requested more information. The drama “may look like a bunch of teen-agers out there
flipping around on the pavement,” but people in the audience weep for joy says Shawn Smith, a Teen Maniac to both Costa Rica and Russia.

Mega-church pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie sees the awakening among youth as a revival of the Jesus Movement of the ’60s. This time, says Laurie, there’s an additional twist: mass evangelism. “I am convinced that mass evangelistic efforts can be more effective today than ever before,” said Laurie, whose Harvest Crusades (NIRR 7/26) have drawn tens of thousands of people. Harvest recently has launched special crusades geared to reach preteens. A product of the Jesus Movement, Laurie pastors the 12,000-member Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., and conducts a Monday night Bible study with 2,500 people that meets at Costa Mesa’s Calvary Chapel, pastored by Jesus Movement elder statesman Chuck Smith.

4. Racial Reconciliation: “Let the walls fall down,” sang 50,000 booming male voices, many of them young, at Promise Keepers ’93 in Boulder, Colo. (NIRR 8/9). Leaders there insisted that revival will not come until Christians deal frankly, face-to-face, with the deep hurts of racism. One strategy in the men’s movement is formation of small, interracial groups to work through the pain, anger and guilt.

Meanwhile, each year about 800 young people from inner-city Boston come together with kids from the suburbs for a full day of workshops, singing, discussion and friendships — all led by youths and for youths. The forum, a part of the Coming Together Youth Leadership Conference, is designed to link all races and backgrounds on issues that teen-agers face every day: violence, gangs, sexual harassment, racism, sex, drugs, dating, self-awareness, and peer pressure. Discussions center on ways that Christian values can apply to dating and sex, or how they can help diffuse difficulties and confrontations teens meet on the street and in their schools. “We are not young people in the ’90s,” said Craig McMullen, a pastor and coordinator of the event. “We get out of the way. We empower them with the tools and skills so when they dream a dream they can do some wonderful things,” he told NIRR.

5. A Cloud of Witnesses: History shows that God often has chosen young people to spark revivals and start missions movements, youth workers say. “After all, a guy with three kids, two cars and a mortgage is not
going to pick up and go,” one Christian leader said. For example:

* America’s Great Awakening was begun by young George Whitfield, called America’s first celebrity. At age 25, Whitfield took America by storm on his preaching tour of 1739-1740.

* College students started America’s foreign missionary movement. In 1806, Samuel Mills and a small group of other Williams College, Mass., students prayed for students to become interested in evangelism. After hiding themselves in a haystack to avoid a summer thunderstorm, the group pledged themselves to go wherever God might lead them. They helped found the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1810.

* In 1886, 100 students signed a pledge committing themselves to evangelize the world after D.L. Moody preached at Mount Hermon, Mass. A small band traveled to campuses everywhere to share the vision. At
year’s end, 2,016 had signed and the Student Volunteer Movement was born with the slogan “The Evangelization Of The World In This Generation.”

* Charles Haddon Spurgeon, history’s most widely read preacher, delivered more than 600 sermons before he was 20. When Spurgeon arrived at the age of 19 at London’s New Park Street Church, the congregation
had 232 members. By the end of his pastorate 38 years later, the number had increased to 5,311, and the church was the largest independent congregation in the world.

Are today’s Busters in the same league with the great saints of the past? “They do `in-your-face’ evangelism,” Leith Anderson said. “They’re like the street evangelists and confronters of the ’40s and
’50s,” he told NIRR.

Youth leader Dann Spader sees “an incredible movement happening among youth today” and believes it parallels a situation in late l9th century in Wales. There, a pastor named Francis Clark rallied 2 million youth to pray for revival, resulting in the first global awakening, which began in 1905 and continued for some 40 years.

Revival is a tinderbox awaiting a spark, Spader says. “I am convinced that somewhere, in some small town, some high school student will be used by God to spark revival,” Spader said. “When it breaks out, it
will spread fast.”

(The above information was published by NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL RELIGION REPORT, 1993)

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