At Operation Mobilisation (OM) the call to live out the love of Jesus personifies our DNA. Our founder George Verwer literally wrote a book on it! The command to love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself is at the centre of Jesus' teaching. It's a love that is seen most clearly at the cross. But the call to live out Jesus' love is not always an easy one. It is costly and increasingly at odds with the culture around us.
According to a recent study, the average millennial will spend 38 hours this year taking selfies. It's an interesting bit of trivia but it also betrays the culture that the younger generations are growing up in – a culture that revolves around 'self'. It is all about 'self-care', 'self-love', your identity and your truth. I'm not saying that these things are bad in and of themselves, but as they have become the prevailing message they are in danger of drowning out Jesus' call to a missional life of radically loving others.
Last year we commissioned some research that revealed that 2.1 billion people around the world had no gospel witness, yet only one per cent of Christians were engaged in global mission. Engaging the next generation in mission is central to changing this statistic. So how can we inspire a younger generation to live a missional lifestyle motivated by the love of Jesus?
In a society that is increasingly hostile to the gospel, it is easy for Christian youth work and CU events to become focused on navigating the challenges of society. We teach young people to survive. We focus on questions like 'how to remain a faithful Christian on social media' or 'how to be content in a world of overwhelming consumerism'. We focus on preparing and protecting young people for life in the world. But this isn't how we thrive as Christians. If we are going to prepare the next generations to look up, step out and live out Jesus' love we don't need a new message - we need a revolutionary return to an old one.
Inspiring younger generations, or indeed anyone, begins by engaging them with the love you have received. It is when we are overwhelmed by the magnitude of God's love, revealed at the cross, that this love begins to flow out of us. It is when Isaiah glimpses the holiness of God in Isaiah 6 that he falls to his knees and cries "Here am I. Send me!"
God's character and love are revealed in "actions and in truth" (1 John 3v18), in His actions and the actions of his people. In my time with OM, I have often been amazed by how it is only when people begin to engage in mission and live out the love they have been shown in Christ that they truly begin to comprehend it. When we first began church planting in Moldova, we started to see young people coming along to our church. They liked the worship in English and were attracted to the message. Some committed to the Lord but for others we didn't actually know where they were in their faith, and for many, neither did they!
During this time, we started going to the neighbouring village on mission and we took them along. Twenty-four of us crammed into a transit van and would travel to the neighbouring village after church on a Sunday to share our faith. It was here, as they shared Christ's love, that the youth were truly challenged on what they believed and what living for Jesus - living out love - meant. We saw their faith and confidence grow, but also their love for Christ and the people they were sharing Him with.
Living out God's love is not confined to a Sunday. God has given us all gifts and skills that can be used in his service, but it can take others to show us our potential. This is often true of younger generations. Josh, who is now part of our team in Ukraine, first visited the country on a short-term trip to pass the time in his university holidays, where he was studying to be an engineer. But God had other ideas. In Ukraine he met Wayne, who had set up a 'Waste to Fuel' plant to provide stable employment for the local people and enable him to share the gospel. Wayne's passion for the project and sharing the love of Jesus were infectious and he showed Josh how his skills as an engineer could be a key part of showing Jesus' love.
In many ways, inspiring the next generation to live out love is very simple. It's about speaking the truth of God's mind-blowing love and inviting young people in your life to walk with you in living it out; to nurture their God-given gifts and show them how they can be used for his glory.
Jesus' love is radical. It takes you out of your comfort zone. It is a love that can be expressed on your doorstep, starting with the people God brings across your path, caring for your neighbours and serving the vulnerable in your community with acts of love and mercy. But it could also call you to the other side of the world. It's a love that is shown when we come with the gifts and skills God has given us and say, "Here am I. Send me!," prepared to go wherever the Lord might lead. If we step out in faith and invite the next generation to do the same, I have no doubt that lives will be transformed and hearts won for Christ.
Matthew Skirton, CEO of OM, is from the UK but has spent more than half of his life serving in Eastern Europe. Together with his wife, Helen, he pioneered OM's work in Moldova in the mid-1990s, handing over field leadership in March 2015. He also served as Regional Leader for OM in Eastern Europe for seven years. Matthew took on the role of UK Chief Executive of OM in 2016 and hopes to inspire Christ-followers to reach out this festive season.