If we want to see millions of youth come back to Christ, and millions more accept Him for the first time, we need a strong local, one-on-one outreach, and a strategic, long-term effort to thoughtfully articulate the Gospel in our modern culture.
We need to develop and equip emerging leaders who can engage with distinction in the ideas of our day. We need to be a people who have learned to speak to our world of what a life with Jesus is like, in a way that can attract the lost: a life of hope amidst uncertainty, flourishing amidst brokenness, encouragement amidst need.
“You shall love the Lord your God
with all your…mind.”
— Matthew 22:37
Only 2-5% of tenured professors at Top 40 universities are active Christians:
Unfortunately, the American church has not valued the life of the mind to the same extent as it used to. As a result, our ability to develop and equip future thought leaders in service of the church and society is greatly diminished.
In the 16th century, universities and professors became the most important means to transform the church and society.
Read about German Universities and the Reformation.Read more
Professors Matter: German Universities and the Reformation
The reasons for the Reformation are complex; theology, politics, and culture created a unique moment in history that changed the shape of Christianity. The Holy Roman Empire, dominating central Europe, was a confederation of various political governments, with cities, regions, and states enjoying various degrees of independence. When the Reformation swept through the Empire in the early 16th century, each political power had to choose to which side it would align.
In 2012, a very important research paper by Kim and Pfaff1 looked at 461 major cities in the Holy Roman Empire to determine why they became either Catholic or Protestant. They examined multiple variables, including the presence of the printing press, political alliances, industry, and even geography for each city.
By far the most determinative factor? If a large portion of young people who were religious leaders in that city attended a university that was either strongly Protestant (Wittenberg or Basel) or Catholic (Cologne or Louvain). The preachers and pastors in the city were the ones who spread ideas and educated the general population; they received their formation at the universities.
Factors like the presence of the printing press or princely support were not determinative (as it turns out, printing presses were negatively correlated—the authors suspect that the printers didn’t care who or what they printed, as long as it made money). In fact, if the prince was opposed to the Reformation, but the students went to a Protestant university, the town had a higher chance of becoming Protestant! As Kim and Pfaff put it, the Reformation at one level was a “movement spearheaded by a cohort of former university students who bridged the gap between the lecture hall and city hall.”
From its earliest days, the university was one of the most critical points of influence for future generations.
1 Hyojoung Kim and Steven Pfaff, “Structure and Dynamics of Religious Insurgency: Students and the Spread of the Reformation,” American Sociological Review 77, no. 2 (2012).
In the next 30 years, difficult issues impacting our world will require Christian voices providing thoughtful perspectives on complex and novel topics.
We need to build the bench now.
Although developing and empowering these leaders will take time and resources, we believe this is a long-term investment that must be made if we are to change the current trends of disaffiliation among youth.
Jesus uses the parable of a farmer sowing seed on different types of soil, and the seed that falls on good soil takes root and grows. As a church, we need leaders who can till the soil, engaging the ideas of our day, connecting them to the Gospel message and truth of Christ.
If the church is to flourish over the next 30 years and beyond by engaging the lost and discipling future generations, we must love Christ with our minds with the same fervor as we would with our hearts and souls.
How Can I Help?
Going forward, we believe there are several strategic interventions that we should make to encourage dense networks that could contribute to the church flourishing in the years ahead. For a deeper exploration of ways to take action, download the report.
- Pastors and
- Funders and
Do I know any young people who show interest in pursuing advanced degrees or a calling to the academy? How can I encourage them in that calling?
How can I partner with a university campus ministry in my community and encourage students to love God with their minds?
How can I encourage professors of faith, and engage with faculty that are exploring their faith?
Am I loving God with my mind in my daily life?
Are there any young people in my life whom I can encourage to enter the academy and pursue their calling as a Christian thought leader?
Do I know any professors or university leaders, and how can I show the love of Christ to them?
Am I positioned to proactively invest in leadership development, vision casting, and formation for high-potential Christian undergraduates?
How can I encourage more Christian scholars to enter the academy as a calling equal to ministry or professional vocations, and strengthen collaboration within disciplines?
How can I work towards organizing a regular convening to gather cross-disciplinary groups of Christians who can to develop long-term approaches to emerging societal needs?
Am I able to make a long-horizon philanthropic investment in leadership development?