Get On the Hype Train:
This past week was an important one in the sphere of Hmong Christianity within American evangelicalism. The Hmong District (HD) of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) hosted their biannual youth conference called HLUB where over 2,500 attendees and chaperons gathered on the campus of Indiana State University (near my hometown) to train, equip, and evangelize the next generation of Hmong believers. In addition, this same week found the Hmong Baptist National Association (HBNA) whose affiliation runs through the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) organizing their annual Hmong Baptist Christian conference under the heading Standing Stones. Their numbers ranged from nearly 500 students and chaperons whose aim, according to its website, is to be “a ‘memorial’ to remind the youth and young adults of their commitment to Jesus from having experienced God [firsthand].” All this to say, there were countless pastors, leaders, and volunteers who poured out their time and energy in making these opportunities available for young people to dedicate a specific time in seeking after the will of God through preaching/teaching, fellowship, and gathered worship. These moments are life-changing and transformative. They can be monumental experiences within the trajectory of a young believer’s life propelling them toward faithfulness and abandonment for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To this, we cheer; to this, we tip our hats to God’s sovereign work in and through the supplemental means of youth conferences!
And yet, it must be emphasized that the conferences are just that, supplemental. Now the real work begins. Now the real journey of the Christian faith will be tested and, thus, proven genuine and true; if it is truly genuine and true. However, is the journey for Jesus People (HD of the C&MA) meant to be navigated thru in isolation? What is the significance of We the Church (HBNA)? What are the ensuing markers for students as they strive to live faithfully for the Lord Jesus Christ? How are they to be difference-makers in a world that is striving to disciple them toward secularism and godlessness? What tools or means of grace are given to believers in order to accomplish their task as Great Commission people? It is the local church! To make it explicit, young people must understand and believe that they have not only been saved into Christ, but they have also been saved into a local church. Again, the journey has not ended, it has only begun!
This is where the church must step in and be the church. She must sift through all the emotionalism that youth conferences tend to provide like a sugar-high frenzy (which can be a necessary cheat-day meal to reorient the body and mind) and, thus, provide a steady diet of nutrients that will nourish the flame of faith (2 Tim. 1:6). However, what does this steady diet look like? What are the implications to the Christian life now that students are returning home? Three implications in being Jesus People that must be taken seriously if our youth conference experience is to be genuine and true, if our encounter with Jesus is truly an encounter with Him at all: (1) meaningful church membership, (2) discipleship, and (3) pressing the Gospel forward.
Jesus People and the Local Church. One of the many benefits of youth conferences is its ability to take students away from their everyday routine and focus their attention upon the things of God. Through the constant preaching/teaching and fellowship, they have an opportunity to fixate upon the work and Person of Christ. This, through the power of the Holy Spirit, brings illumination in regeneration (cf. Jn. 3:1-21). Additionally, many students are able to experience water baptism which is a covenantal sign and seal of their union with Christ (though this author does not agree with having baptism at the conference level). These are genuine authentic markers of Jesus People! However, what further implications are tied to the term “Jesus People”? What does regeneration and water baptism signify? Answer: it assumes covenantal inclusion into the community of saints; meaning, it presumes faithful local church commitment. Or said differently, local church membership is the outward expression of one’s inclusion into the universal church through Christ Jesus. One cannot be Jesus People and neglect the gathering of the saints (Heb. 10:25). Or rather, it would be wholly inconsistent to be a follower of Jesus and fail to commit oneself to a local gathering of believers which marks out His bride in a fallen world. Therefore, though the Christian faith is extremely personal and intimate in its esteem, it is not private. It is a public proclamation that is demonstrated amid a public confirmation—water baptism into membership of a local church.
This means, then, that at the most fundamental level, the local congregation must do its due diligence in affirming these students’ Gospel confession and bring them, then, into the fold of God. Membership is not merely a club card grandfathered in through familial, tribal connection (click here, here, and here). Rather, membership into the body of Christ is based upon affirmation through the keys of the kingdom in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-27; cf. Matt. 16:13-20; 18:15-20). Or as the Apostle Paul states, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far of have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). To be brought near by the blood of Christ and yet neglect its outward expression as the community of saints is to distort one’s own Gospel proclamation and, in turn, the church’s witness in being a covenant community. To this end, the implication of loving Jesus and, thus, becoming Jesus People is to demonstrate its genuineness through covenant commitment to a local church.
Follow Me as We Do What He Says. Furthermore, to be Jesus People and, thus, proclaim We the Church is to profess one’s allegiance in being a disciple of Christ. This profession, then, presumes a commitment toward discipleship that conforms oneself into the image of the Son through the abiding nature of the Word (Jn. 8:31; 14:17; 15:1-11; cf. 1 Jn. 2:6, 28; 3:24; 2 Jn. 1:9). Meaning, to commit to following Jesus is a devotion to being a learner, lover, linked believer (member), and light of the world (click here). All this, then, presumes that the Word of God is central to the life of the church and, thus, the life of the individual believer. As Jesus contends in His High Priestly Prayer, “Sanctify them (His disciples) in the Truth; Your Word is Truth” (Jn. 17:17).
Therefore, the church must come around these young believers and walk intentionally alongside them through Scriptural meditation and teach them to follow Jesus in joyful obedience (cf. 1 Jn. 5:1-3). She must also partner with families to instill consistent practices in fostering Gospel growth within the divine structure of the family unit. The church cannot ride the fumes of youth conference allure and expect long lasting effective Christ-centered living. Rather, she must fuel the fire of affectious faith by feeding the sheep hearty doses of Word-saturated meals. We must feast upon the meat of Gospel nutrients and leave the elemental milk of infancy (Heb. 5:12). Again, the church must leave its programmatic veneer and roll up her sleeves to walk deeply and intimately with families in discipling the next generation toward joyful obedience to the glory of Christ.
It’s Not About Me. Lastly, to truly be Jesus People is to be on mission with God (Lat. Missio Dei). That is, the church is the primary means by which God presses the Gospel to the ends of the earth (click here). He does not necessarily work through an individual, but rather individuals covenantally united in living out the Gospel together. Or as Mark Dever helpfully proclaims, “Churches fulfill the Great Commission through planting more churches. So the Great Commission involves you the individual Christian. But the Great Commission also involves you through your local church.” Therefore, we are not merely individuals experiencing a unique, euphoric moment with the Creator; that is, the youth conference is not merely a throw away experience. Rather, we are individuals being redeemed into a people for the sake of God's mission.
Therefore, the church and her pastors must not become couched amid their programmatic lure but must take seriously the preparatory nature “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). This means a greater emphasis upon the Word and the apologetic training that is congruent with our current cultural sensibilities. How do we equip students to wrestle with the questions of their time in a way that is faithful to the biblical narrative? How do we shape their worldview? How do we root them to engage in kingdom work that is not merely programmatic—i.e., youth president, treasurer, activities coordinator—but to see all of life for all of Christ? How do we get them prepared for effective Great Commission work? I would encourage more Word not less and, thus, discipleship that is saturated within meaningful church membership.
The Standard of Effectiveness:
The measurement of success with these conferences cannot be mounted upon the sheer existential feel of the moment. The standard that will truly mark its effectiveness is the growth of the local church; that is, is there greater commitment, esteem, and affection for the people of God because they have encountered the Lord and Bridegroom Himself? The central marker of being a follower of Christ, then, is conformity to His image; His image which is best measured through the inscripturated Word of God. Thus, the fruit of the Spirit is not merely the emotive characteristics of love, joy, peace, and patience (as the world defines them). But rather, it is those affectionate attributes as they are defined within the truth and spirit of His never changing Word. Therefore, the effectiveness of conferences will not be truly felt until the church can come alongside her supplemental agents—i.e., HLUB and Standing Stones—and take the God ordained mantle in feeding the flock and shepherding His people.
This, then, means that the church herself must understand and comprehend that she herself is Jesus People. It is not merely a slogan nor a veneer to conjure social media attention with “likes”, “hearts”, and other emojis. Rather, it is a biblical truth that must not remain as merely a talking point, but a convictional driving force that informs and directs her very being in the local setting. These biblical truths must not stay stagnant. They must live as we live through the blood and resurrection of Christ. This, then, will truly show that we are Jesus People; that is, that the local church is the platform by which these students will witness about the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Soli Deo Gloria!
 See https://www.standingstonescamp.org/about-us.
 Mark Dever, Understanding the Great Commission, CB (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2016), 2.
McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, SBTS; ThM, MBTS) is the husband to Debbie and father to McCayden (14), McCoy (13), McColsen (11), and DeYoung (8). He is a Pastor of Preaching/Teaching at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN. Along with his ministerial duties, he is a homeschool dad. In addition, McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.