Preaching NOW for Instant Gratification Generation

“I want what I want, and I want it NOW!” could be the mantra of the instant-gratification generation that student ministers serve in the postmodern era. And, you know what, it’s not just that they want it now, in many ways, it’s that they get it now.

Desires and things that our generation had to wait on, kids can have exactly as they want it, when they want it. Want to hear a song? No waiting on mom to take you to the Camelot Music store. Download it right now. Want to see your friends? No waiting until school tomorrow. Video I-Chat means you can see one another here and now. Want to see your favorite team play? No waiting until CBS picks up your favorite team. Cable packages and ESPN360 let you watch any game at anytime.

Teenagers have deep needs and desires like we all do: they’re just conditioned to believe that they can have it immediately, whereas previous generations were accustomed to waiting. Given the nature of the instant-gratification generation, students ministers need to preach to the immediacy of student’s need for the here and now.

With respect to teaching, though, the message that Jesus saves you from hell and ensures you eternal salvation when you die, has little sticking power with students. As a teenager in the 1990’s, this was the message I received. Jesus secures your soul for heaven. Now go try hard and be good. That message actually stuck with me, as I thought hell for eternity would not be so cool.

While the message of eternal salvation is essential and true, justification when you die will not resonate with kids with such an acute level of demandingness and expectation. Being rescued from eternal judgment needs to be preached, but students need to hear how the Gospel effects them right this second. They need to hear how it affects their life on this earth, because death is 10,000 years away.

The good, and often forgotten, news is that the Gospel promises freedom and life for this lifetime. Jesus says in John 5: 24, “Whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” Jesus speaks in the present tense when saying a believer “has” eternal life. He is not speaking about the eternal life in heaven; he’s talking about eternal life right now. Beyond that, in Greek, verbs are either continuous or completed. Continuous verbs describe an action or state that goes on continuously for perpetuity. When Jesus speaks of eternal life, he consistently speaks in the present tense, demonstrating that He was offering life to his audience in their present state and in their life on this earth.

The caveat in this line of speaking is not to cultivate false expectations that Christ offers circumstantial happiness and pleasantness in this life. But the Gospel does offer freedom for believers here and now. The Gospel offers increasing (not absolute) freedom from fear, performance, and pressure. It offers the perfect love that man was made for and never finds outside of Jesus.

While the offer of eternal salvation has value, week in and week out, the proclamation of the freedom and love of the Gospel for this life, this week, this day, this minute needs to have urgent priority in our ministries to postmodern students.

Cameron Cole has been the Director of Youth Ministries for eighteen years, and in January of 2016 his duties expanded to include Children, Youth, and Families. He is the founding chairman of Rooted Ministry, an organization that promotes gospel-centered youth ministry. He is the co-editor of “Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practice Guide” (Crossway, 2016). Cameron is the author of Therefore, I Have Hope: 12 Truths that Comfort, Sustain, and Redeem in Tragedy (Crossway, 2018), which won World Magazine’s 2018 Book of the Year (Accessible Theology) and was runner up for The Gospel Coalition’s Book of the Year (First-Time Author). He is also the co-editor of The Jesus I Wish I Knew in High School (New Growth Press) and the author of Heavenward: How Eternity Can Change Your Life on Earth (Crossway, 2024). Cameron is a cum laude graduate of Wake Forest University undergrad, and summa cum laude graduate from Wake Forest with an M.A. in Education. He holds a Masters in Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary.

More From This Author