A youth missions leader said that part of the reason the American church has fallen asleep is that it fears suffering.
Tom Lin, director of Urbana Student Missions Conference, spoke at the Verge 2012 Conference in Austin, Texas, on Thursday. He said that the millennial generation of youth is one of the most knowledgeable generations, but also the most fragile – it is afraid of suffering.
The American church "has made leadership a sexy thing, made it cool – we don't teach our youth to engage in suffering," Lin said. But "when we look at Scripture, Jesus asked leaders to die to the things they care most about."
The student missions leader cited the biblical story of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus told him he had to give up everything. Lin said that "it's not easy or sexy to follow Jesus or his call for us to carry our own crosses. There is nothing sexy about the rich young ruler leaving everything and the core of his identity behind."
But what the story shows us is that Jesus is calling the church to engage in suffering. "It's not a coincidence where leaders are suffering the most, are also places where the church is growing the most," Lin pointed out.
Lin also noted that even though in the story Jesus asked the rich young ruler to suffer, what Jesus was really trying to say is the ultimate ending for his followers is good because they will gain eternal life.
"God is faithful when we step away from sexy and step into suffering for the sake of the Gospel," Lin concluded.
Prior to Lin's presentation, Alan Hirsch, author and co-founder of Future Travelers, an effort by megachurch pastors to develop missional movements, spoke about church mission and incarnational leadership.
Hirsch shared that he is obsessed with apostolic movements, or movements that start revivals, and believes that the Church can see those revivals again if it makes some serious changes.
Those changes have to come from within ministry and leadership, he said.
"God has given us all the capacities to be everything He wants us to be. He has designed us for church reforming impact. If we get it right then we can be the same people that have always transformed history," said Hirsch.
But the modern church has fallen asleep to its mission, he said. Citing Ephesians 4, the description of the early church, he pointed out that Jesus designed the church to be something that is well integrated under the authority of Jesus and within their community.
Hirsch believes that the modern church needs to be more like the model in Ephesians saying, "If we are going to be a church that makes a difference in the 21st century, this is what we have to do: Wake up from deep institutional slumbers."
Following Lin and Hirsch, Campus Renewal Ministries President Jeremy Story rounded out the talk on church leadership and missions by saying that the only way any of the changes both Hirsch and Lin talked about could happen is through prayer.
"Prayer is the power to lead incarnationally. It is the primary means by which we connect with God. It is actively seeking after God's presence in our lives," he said.
Story used the example of Jesus always pulling back from crowds and going off alone to pray as evidence that for any earthly ministry to work, workers have to be in contact with God.
He urged crowds to "spend more time praying and fasting for God. Put down the laptop, the book, the Smartphone, and set aside intentional time to pray, and trust God that He will work in the present realm."
The Verge Conference was launched in 2010 by the Verge Network of Christian leaders and, according to its website, is "an advocate and champion for movements of Gospel-centered Missional Communities."