by Becky Hobbs
you read the newspaper or watch a newscast, it is possible, if not probable, to come to the point of despair over the youth culture of the '90s. Drug use, rebellion, and violence among young people can be overwhelming. The National Education Association estimates nearly 100,000 students carry a gun to school. Youth are dissatisfied with themselves and the world. Does the church have something to calm their fears and satisfy their needs?"
So begins RTS student Jon Davis's article, "A Generation for Jesus" on the website of the Central Florida Episcopal Diocese. As Director of Youth Ministries for the Diocese, he answers his own question with a resounding "Yes!" and seeks daily to provide programs and leadership to give young people what they need - a relationship with Christ.
Jon, who facilitates youth work in some eighty-five churches within a two-hour radius of Orlando, sees youth ministry as one of the most critical tasks in the evangelical church. "Studies show that ninety percent of the people who come to Christ do so before age twenty," he reveals. "Some experts say that thirteen is the prime age; by then, all the pieces are there to make a life-long commitment."
But youth work today is tough, mainly because of the age in which kids live. In a society that exalts relative truth and tolerance, believing in the exclusivity of the Gospel is extremely hard for them. To hear that Christ is the only way to the Father grates against all that they learn from the world. Also, a great deal of cynicism exists today about religion; the church is known more by what it is against than by what it is for - reconciliation, mercy, love, and compassion.
However, interestingly enough, Jon says this void of truth provides a tremendous opportunity to offer God's truth to young people. "Kids today don't have any problem believing in the resurrection; they're very much open to the idea that miracles can happen. Their hang-up is the apparent harshness of Christianity. To win them, we must present the truth in creative ways, engaging them as Jesus did with the woman at the well. She was a Samaritan woman (a minority) with a bad reputation. Yet Jesus shared the truth of the Kingdom with her and her life was transformed. That's the Jesus young people can embrace."
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, to a World War II decorated war hero and his Army nurse wife, Jon nearly died when he was only a few hours old. An RH negative baby, he was not expected to live even after a complete transfusion from his sister. Therefore, his parents had him baptized after only two hours on this earth. Yet, Jon lived to grow up in a Christian home, influenced heavily by his kindly father who showed Jon unconditional love and laid the groundwork for his later relationship with Christ.
However, the elder Davis died when Jon was only ten, leaving his family with an aching void that was hard to overcome. But living in the small town of Newnan, Georgia, (his father's hometown) and attending St. Paul's Episcopal Church helped Jon adjust during the next two years. And then at fourteen he was introduced to Christ at a retreat, and the Lord became real to him personally for the first time in his life.
Yet just as he began to grow in his relationship with Christ, his family moved to Atlanta, where his mother could find work as a psychiatric nurse. The move was devastating; from a safe, secure town, he was now tossed into the big city. Struggling inside, he fell in with the wrong crowd, and for about eighteen months vacillated between his faith and his friends.
"I really wanted to live for Christ," says Jon. "I knew dedicating my life to Him meant a complete change. I finally realized that I loved God and Christ more than my friends, and I began to see myself as a Christian. I even began to feel called to the ministry. I was still very much an outcast, a near hippie, but I found refuge in a couple of close high school friends and music. I learned to play the guitar, and music has been a part of my ministry ever since."
Jon entered Berry College in Rome, Georgia, a liberal arts school with a very strong Christian heritage. There he blossomed -- socially, emotionally, and spiritually. The college made such a huge impact on his life that, for twenty years, he has held annual reunions with friends made there. Active in Christian ministry, he led a group called Sixty Minutes and was involved in other discipleship organizations. He also worked in a lay ministry program, traveling the country doing dramas and music in addition to witnessing and leading retreats.
Armed with a B.A. degree in Religion and Philosophy in 1982, he went to work for Ridgeview Psychiatric Hospital in Atlanta and progressed rapidly from nursing staff to staff coordinator in just a year. He was able to share the Gospel with young people and saw some come to Christ. But after two years, Jon became restless; he felt that surely now he was prepared for ministry.
So he resigned from Ridgeview, thinking he had a youth pastor's position, but it fell through. He needed work, so he became a construction gopher for a high school friend -- humbling work, to say the least. After seven months, in which he grew tremendously in the Lord, he was hired at Mt. Paran Church of God as an assistant youth pastor. Two years of work there had a tremendous influence on Jon's life. In addition to youth ministry, he learned how to teach and administrate.
But in 1986 he felt God calling him to do youth work at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Destin, Florida. He even moved there without a job and waited several months until a position opened. Thus began five and a half years of a tremendous youth ministry that averaged 50-100 kids. A strong evangelical parish, St. Andrews was involved in the renewal movement within the Episcopal Church.
"We built the program on two priorities: engaging Scriptural teaching and worship," recalls Jon. "We were known as a worshipping community of young people. We had wonderful leaders; in fact, my future wife was one of them. We taught the Gospel in camps, concerts, and retreats and even recorded a praise album while hosting a national youth ministry in 1991."
In that same year Jon was offered the position of youth officer for the Central Florida Diocese. Even though he really thought youth work was more effective at the parish level, the job intrigued him and seemed to describe his vision. So he moved to Orlando and four months later married his wife Beth.
Full-time youth pastors are a fairly new phenomenon in the Episcopal church, but Jon is working hard to change that quickly. His job is multi-faceted, ranging from many diocesan responsibilities down to relating to the local churches. In addition to overseeing dynamic weekend Diocesan youth events like New Beginnings (junior high), Happenings (senior high), and one-day youth festivals, he spends a great deal of time recruiting and training youth ministers, even in other dioceses. As a member of Episcopal Renewal Ministries, he has led youth retreats both locally and around the country, in addition to leading and facilitating mission work in England and Honduras for the Diocese. There he saw many young people powerfully challenged to live for Christ. Tireless in his zeal, he wants more than anything else for young people to know Christ and to grow in the knowledge of Him.
"We're here to be a resource, to equip and prepare churches to do youth ministry in the best way they can," says Jon. "When young people ask, 'Is this truth relative to me?' we want our church leaders to be able to answer enthusiastically, 'Yes, it certainly is!' and to know why."
This summer Jon taught an elective in youth ministry at RTS entitled "Families in Contemporary Culture: Today and Tomorrow." The course focuses on how to reach young people in a postmodern world.
" I love youth ministry because young people respond so easily to the Gospel, says Jon. "Most are vulnerable, without defenses or preconceptions. You barely scratch them and they bleed all over you. But I don't want just to lead kids to the religious right; I want to connect them with Christ and let Him lead them to absolute truth."
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