National prayer effort focuses on youth in ministry

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SIX LAKES, Mich. — Three out of four Christian teens will abandon their faith after high school, a study by the Barna Group, released Sept. 11, 2006 revealed.

In response, Timothy Eldred, executive director of Christian Endeavor International, founded the Pray 21 national prayer movement.

"Youth ministry is broken," Eldred said in a phone interview.

He hopes the movement will result in a "paradigm shift in the church from 'youth ministry' to 'youth in ministry.'"

Eldred introduced the nation to the Pray 21 movement while in Washington, D.C. on the National Day of Prayer, May 3.

Explained as "a nationwide trust-building youth initiative," Pray 21 is being supported by a slew of national leaders and Christian musicians. Those rallying behind Pray 21 in various capacities include Josh McDowell, Tony Campolo, Jim Daly, Dr. Jack Hayford, and Congressman J. Randy Forbes. Musicians from Mercy Me to Tammy Trent, from Phil Wickham to Sonic Flood, have also made statements in support of the movement. 

There are 1,200 different congregations on board in more than 40 countries registered thus far.

"We're praying for no less than 10,000 worldwide but we will take whatever God gives us and call it a success," Eldred said.


Habit forming
Pray 21 begins on Sep. 9 and continues through Sep. 30. The campaign length was chosen based on studies that suggest it takes 21 days to form a habit.

During this time, churches that "accept the mission," encourage adults to come alongside youth in united prayer. Those who sign up with Pray 21 have all the materials needed to run the campaign at their church. Materials available include teaching and promotional videos, posters, sermon outlines, a journal and a leader's guide. A leader's pack costs $39.99, while a participant's pack costs $19.99. 

Supporters from all walks of life seem to have something to say about Pray 21.

In early 2005, a small group of both Democrat and Republican members of the U. S. House of Representatives began meeting in Room 219 of the U.S. Capitol to pray for our nation. These meetings were the springboard for the creation of both the Congressional Prayer Caucus and the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation.

Virginia Congressman Forbes is the chairman and founder of both the caucus and the foundation. As a member of the Honorary Committee for Pray 21, Forbes said he sees the universality of the power of prayer.  

"Youth have the keys to the kingdom (of God), which is prayer," he said. "You don't have to get a degree. You don't have to be a Congressman."

Forbes said he looks to 2 Chronicles 7:14 as an inspiration for the nation.       

The verse states, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

The broader aim of Pray 21 is evident to Dr. Tony Campolo.

 "(Pray 21) is a rather simple thing. It's just praying for this country … and for the moral re-awakening of this nation … I love what (Pray 21) is doing," he said.


Change agents
Eldred said he believes the youth will make a difference.

"An army of young people stepping forward to lead," he said. "That's a recipe I think has the enemy shaking in his boots. Prayer and young people have always brought revival."

Recording artist, author and speaker Tammy Trent said she desires for Pray 21's reach to extend to an entire generation.

Trent said that she hopes this movement will, "spark up a flame for a new generation that is excited to talk with God daily…He longs to be in a relationship with us, to communicate with us, to reveal His purpose in us."

This future purpose is what Monty Hipp said he believes will be revealed during the movement. 

"As we begin to pray together, we want to encourage and challenge (youth) to live boldly and confidently as they look toward the future they have," said Hipp said, chairman of the National Council for Faith-Based Youth. Also president of the C4 Group and member of the Pray 21 Honorary Committee, Hipp was one of the first supporters of Pray 21.


Military youth
When speaking about our nation's youth a huge, and often overlooked, section of youth are the children of our military men and women both on U.S. soil and abroad. 

Marty McCarty, executive director of Military Community Youth Ministries has registered each of the locations ministered to for Pray 21—from the U.S. to Japan, from Korea to Italy, and from England to Germany and Iceland. 

"I think it is fundamental to our faith and there is not a single more important message than to live in prayer on their knees before the Father," McCarty said.

Eldred, senior pastor for New Beginnings Christian Family Fellowship in Six Lakes, Mich, said he often reminds himself that "Jesus showed up on the scene and chose 12 teenagers to build the church…many people don't realize that."

So, following the completion of the Pray 21 campaign on Sept. 30, his church has plans in place to remove their leadership from youth ministry.

"The adult responsibility will be to sit on the sideline and cheer and coach and encourage," Eldred said. "We need to let (youth) have ownership in ministry."              

More than a push to pray with youth, the crux of Pray 21 is that young people would come to believe in themselves and that the church would undergo a major transformation in youth ministry.

"Until we believe enough in our young people to get out of the way and get behind God's call on their life, we'll fail to produce youth in ministry. Until we believe enough in our young people, we will continue to see them leave the church and we will continue to fail at our mission," Eldred said.

For more information, visit Pray21.org.