I’m not someone who loves just thinking about things. I’m an action guy. I like “doing stuff” and that has been true for me all my life.
Sometimes, my prayers don’t even feel like enough – I just want to help. I want to help the world, I want to help my community, I want to help build the Kingdom of God.
As you can imagine, when tragedy strikes (at home or abroad), it instantly moves me to a place of wanting to respond. I want to do something helpful. I want to be a change agent. I want to be a worker for those who are hurting, and yet, in many circumstances there are no viable options for me to do something meaningful on the scene of the event.
This was the case not too long ago after the shooting that took place in Texas. I saw the pain, I saw the loss of life, and again, it seemed like there were no “actionable items.” Engaging in political discussion is important, but it’s not the work I am called to do. I need a task.
As I sat with my grief and my burdened heart the Lord began to nudge me to look at the bigger picture. I read the names and ages of the victims. I examined the demographics of the shooter, and a striking resemblance to other mass shootings, including the one that happened in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, emerged.
According to research from CampusSafetyMagazine.com and statista.com, the majority of shooters were 17 year old white males, who grew up in suburban and rural communities.
Said another way: These are all young men who could live in my neighborhood. Who could be on my football team, or in my youth group. My own sons will one day fit that demographic. They don’t live somewhere else, they live in our communities, and they are here now.
I believe in the local church, and in the power of the Christian faith community. We have an exciting opportunity before us. We have the opportunity to decrease future pain, to save lives and souls.
We can do it by living out the Great Commission:
"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age'" (Matthew 28: 18-20).
I’ve realized there is something I can do and it can have a massive impact on the violence in this world. I can find young men and disciple them. I can be in relationship with them. I can surround them with the love and hope that comes from Christ and hopefully stop hate from festering in their hearts.
I’ve been doing the work of making disciples for almost a decade, and it never ceases to amaze me — the transformation that takes place. When someone goes from knowing about Jesus, to following Jesus, they become formed in the image of Christ. Our young men need this.
In a recent conversation I had with researcher Dr. George Barna on my podcast, he suggested that the majority of a person’s worldview is formed by the time they are 13 years old. Meaning, some of the most important developmental ages for young men are between years 10 and 15. We have to reach the next generation before the hopelessness that breeds hate takes root.
If I think about my own life that makes perfect sense. As a 10-15 year old, I remember feeling angry all the time. I saw the brokenness in my parents’ relationship, and I didn’t know where I fit in our family unit. I was borderline depressed, and as I learned more about the world, things made less and less sense. From my viewpoint, there was a lot of chaos in my world.
So, what’s the difference between me and a mass-shooter?
I would suggest it was the adults in my life who were willing to pour into me. They loved me, and cared for me, even when I didn’t want it.
As we begin to pray and imagine what a world could look like without violent mass-shootings one of the things that the Church has to decide is: Are we willing to give up our own agendas so we can create space to pour into tween boys?
Am I willing to make disciples of the next generation for the transformation of their hearts?
Kara Powell, a researcher from the Fuller Youth Institute has said repeatedly that for every one student there needs to be five adults in their life who care about them. 1 to 5.
Jesus’ ratio was 1 to 12, and even then He intentionally poured into the 3. Jesus-style disciple making is intentional and relational. It is slow, consistent, and life on life.
As a person who wants to do more, these feel like clear marching orders. I have to be one of the five. I have to make disciples of the next generation; and my prayer is that you will too.
Tony Miltenberger is the Director of Leadership and Discipleship for an equipping ministry known asSpirit & Truth. He regularly creates content, and you can find his podcast at www.spiritandtruth.life .@twmilt on Twitter and Instagram