GenSend webinar helps student leaders address tough issues

By Karen L. Willoughby

Waco, Texas—A webinar for leaders of pre-teens, teens and young adults drew its maximum number of 500 registrants to hear a discussion entitled, “Can I Talk About That?”

“Our prayer is that God will use this session to encourage, equip and inspire you to boldly proclaim God’s truth in a way that’s effective in reaching the next generations,” shared Paul Worcester, national collegiate director for the North American Mission Board (NAMB), which hosted the webinar.

“This generation desperately needs courageous leaders to share the truth in love and do it with wisdom and grace,” Worcester added.

Guest Speaker for NAMB’s GenSend leaders’ training was Jonathan “JP” Pokluda, pastor of Harris Creek Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, and author of Welcome to Adulting and recently, Welcoming the Future Church.

Left to right: Jonathan “JP” Pokluda, author and pastor of Harris Creek Baptist Church in McGregor, Texas; Shane Pruitt, national next gen director for the North American Mission Board (NAMB); Paul Worcester, national collegiate director for NAMB. Speakers’ photos

Pokluda emphasized wisdom and grace, and quoted Ephesians 5:15-16 in his opening remarks: Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

In the first century the culture included temple prostitutes and worship of false gods in a materialistic society. In the 21st century, there are multiple signs the days are evil, Pokluda said.

Marriage is devalued; truth is seen as relative; feelings are ultimate; and several more. “This paints a picture,” Pokluda said. “The days are evil.”

Pokluda spoke for 40 minutes and answered questions for another 40, making several points related to ongoing cultural issues.

Confused messaging is being heard in churches. Some say, “We should just be concerned about our own personal holiness and not about the holiness of others.” While striving for personal holiness is laudable, Christians are to be salt and light, according to Matthew 5:13, Pokluda said.

Salt wasn’t used for flavor but as a preservative. “If you do not as a follower of Jesus play your role in the culture around you, life around you—your cities, churches, areas of influence around you—they will rot. They will decay.”

About hot topic issues such as gender, homosexuality, sex in general and more, Pokluda said, “All of these are topics the Scriptures speak to,” so teach the full wisdom of God.

Someone is going to shape what today’s children, youth and young adults think, he pointed out. “You can outsource that, or you can say, ‘Here’s what God says about life, gender, sexuality,’ about all these, what I’m calling, symptoms of the days are evil.”

Pokluda said everyone has someone who is listening to them. The challenge is, what are you going to do with that?

“And you better believe any sphere of influence you have is riddled with opportunities. Any pair of ears that is going to give you their attention, that’s your opportunity. Let your conversations be full of grace, seasoned with salt.”

Pokluda made the point that when discussing today’s tough topics with students, it’s important to point them toward what God says, not just your own opinions.

“Let people argue with Jesus [rather than with you.] If they say, ‘I believe I can be pansexual,’ I say…I do know what I believe and I know what God believes, so if you have an interest in what God believes, then let’s talk about Jesus.’ To nonbelievers, talk about Jesus. To believers, talk about the Scripture.”

Other key points Pokluda made:

  • Stand on truth: “You can never as a follower of Jesus stop standing on truth. The next generation, they’re going to get a truth somewhere. If you’re hesitant or timid, they’re going to see that.”
  • Share the truth in love: “If whomever you’re talking with doesn’t know you love them, you’ve already lost. Go and show this world a radical love, but you have to pair that love with a radical truth and that radical truth is the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
  • Show grace. “Speak the truth in love. Be wise in the ways you act toward outsiders. Respond with grace. Season with salt and preserve the land with the teaching of Jesus Christ.”

Following his prepared remarks, Pokluda took several questions sent in by viewers. One webinar participant asked how to respond when someone asks, “Are you a gay-affirming church?”

Pokluda said more often, he gets the question, “Do you guys welcome everyone?” Pokluda said his response is, “Absolutely!” Then when they ask, “So you’re not going to ask me to change?” he replies, “Oh, that’s a different question. We believe the Spirit of God is changing everyone. We are being conformed to the image of Christ by the Spirit. He’s chipping away the parts that are not like Jesus.”

Pakluda’s final words of advice: “Carefully, cautiously, consistently, let God’s Word speak for itself.”

The “Can I Talk About That?” webinar originally aired live October 18 and can be heard on the Next Gen On Mission podcast or viewed on the GenSend page on YouTube.

Published November 18, 2022

Karen L. Willoughby

Karen L. Willoughby is a veteran Southern Baptist journalist and a freelance writer.