Over two decades ago I had no idea that signing up for an ELN program would be the one of the biggest life changes experiences I would ever have. The exposure, learning and relationships that stemmed from that experience continue to form and nourish my thinking and ministry today. There is a generation of men and women about to graduate from high school that are longing for an adventure that is meaningful, authentic AND that will help them understand how their faith can intersect with the world in front of them. Immersion discipleship programs, rooted in the local church, are one of the best answers the church can offer as an answer to the question this generation is asking.
The statistics are in and more and more than ever before young adults are reassessing what it means to be “religious”. Historic loyalties to denominations and churches are all but completely passé and there is more access to alternative voices than ever before. The pornography epidemic is running rampant and college campuses are all too often sexual gymnasiums where young people “hook up” as casually as kindergarteners play on the playground at recess. Too few churches or youth ministries have an answer to these challenges and pastors are rightfully concerned about what these realities mean as this generation steps into leadership roles in the church and the marketplace.
Yet in the midst of the challenge the words of Jesus still echo, “"Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” (John 4:35). The challenges are real but the opportunities are immense for those leaders willing and ready to recognize that there is a generation right in front of them longing for something that is immersive, experiential, powerful and rooted in relationship. There is no better place than the local church for men and women to have that experience.
The beauty of immersion discipleship is that it does far more that teach to the “head”. , Immersion discipleship takes a person beyond the classroom and involves the head, heart and hands in the process of becoming the free and powerful person that God has made them to be. Considering the desire for experience to be central to spiritual formation this is both attractive and effective. When students are able to learn in an environment that takes the “whole person” into account, the results are far more transformational that classroom learning alone. The additional benefit within the local church is the impact of having a group of passionate, growing and motivated group of students on the community around them.
I encourage every leader of a local church to invest in an ELN program. Someone once asked when the best time to plant a tree is...the answer? “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is today.” When is the best time to launch an ELN program? Now that I can look back 20 years at my graduation day and see how God used that experience to equip me for the ministry in front of me, my answer is simple. If you haven’t already done it, start the journey today.