Generation Z has been called to live and lead in unprecedented times. The dark clouds of surrounding storms have informed their entire earthly journey. Rarely in history has any one generation endured so many history-making, tumultuous events in so few years as today’s teenagers and youth have experienced.
Physical, sociological, emotional, and spiritual storms have been a way of life for them. Those born between 1995 and 2012 have lived in a world filled with disarray and consistent prophetic energy. Many of today’s young people have already experienced more personal and corporate disorder than my generation, the “baby boomer” generation, have experienced throughout our entire lifetime. And Gen Z is just getting started.
For one, they have endured the ongoing storm of terrorism and shootings in America. The events of September 11, 2001, ushered in a new age of violence and radicalism throughout the world, evidenced by the collapse of the Twin Towers of the World Center in New York City. Generation Z was marked by this event.
I can relate to this some; I still remember where I was standing as a five-year-old on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember watching the black-and-white television in horror as the news anchor described the president being shot and fatally wounded while riding in a Lincoln convertible in a 10-mile motorcade through the streets of downtown Dallas. Thirty minutes later, the 35th president of the United States was pronounced dead at only 46 years of age. My entire generation was marked by the violence and upheaval of that day.
I also remember where I was on 9/11, and I recall the sense of terror unleashed across America, but Gen Z’s childhood was shaped by this event and by events of the years that followed. Children watched as terrorism not only permeated the world but also struck fear into their communities, schools, and families. Between 2007 and 2017, an average of 21,000 deaths per year were due to terrorism. In 2014, global deaths as a result of terrorism hit an all-time high of 44,490, constituting roughly .05 percent of all deaths around the world.1 Terrorism has not only been a global phenomenon; it has also become a local reality on an entirely new scale with the rise of mass shootings and random violence.
A 2018 American Psychological Association study called Stress in America states that 75 percent of Gen Zers reported mass shootings as a significant source of stress for them.2 It is no wonder since on average, at least four people have been killed in a mass shooting every 47 days since June 17, 2015.3 According to The Washington Post, there have been school shootings in 43 of the 50 states, occurring at a rate of about one per month, since the year 2000.4
Another storm Gen Zers have endlessly endured is the storm of natural disasters, which seem to have escalated in frequency and impact throughout their lifetime. Hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires and droughts have all been part of this generation’s life experience.
Smartphones and social media have brought these natural storms close, allowing us to receive eyewitness reports on the destruction and tragedy. Between 2000 and 2012, global natural disasters caused $1.7 trillion in damage and affected 2.9 billion people.5 The year 2017 was the U.S.’s costliest on record, with 16 different disasters resulting in at least $1 billion in damage each. Overall, the U.S. lost $300 billion from natural disasters in that one year alone.6
There has also been a persistent storm of health crises in the world throughout Gen Z’s lifetime.
Unlike any other health crisis in modern history, the COVID-19 contagion swept the world in record time with horrific results. Nations shut down their economies and borders as people sheltered in place. Generation Z students were sent home from school to learn at a distance. Public events were canceled, churches dismissed their services, and the travel industry screeched to a halt. Fear swept the globe as the cruel coronavirus wreaked havoc worldwide.
Still, the aforementioned storms are just the tip of the iceberg. Many other whirlwinds of uncertainty have spun around today’s youth during the last two decades, including economic downturns and recessions, racial division and riots, domestic and sexual abuse, identity confusion, and a plethora of other adversarial winds. When we reflect on what has happened in our world during the first two decades of the twenty-first century, we understand more clearly the unrelenting pressure Gen Z finds itself under. It is little wonder that mental crises are at an all-time high. The more we read these statistics, research history, and study Scripture, the clearer it becomes that our culture is on a collision course—not with a meteor, but with a Master! We are in the days that Jesus foretold would precede His second coming.
God is not surprised by the chaos of our time, so we should not be either. Jesus prophesied, “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11). He further predicted, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26).
The gospel writer Matthew records Christ’s description of how nations will engage in war with each other, natural disasters will plague the earth, and Christians will be intensely persecuted. He foretells that “… this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:7-13).
These passages make this truth clear: We are in the final days. Or as we could call it—the final storm. Though we do not know how long this tempest will persist, I do believe that God has called Gen Z to fulfill their destiny in these tumultuous times. This new generation was born for this day. Gen Z will not only survive the storms but will thrive in the midst of them. In fact, the storms will help shape them into leaders during these greatest days in the history of the world.
TIME TO SOAR
Birds move through the air in various ways. Some fly by flapping—like hummingbirds, whose incessant energy keeps them suspended. Others fly by gliding—like songbirds leaving a limb to land near food and moving from one place to another without flapping their wings. Gliding allows a bird to ride the wind, but it always leads downward, just like an airplane glider, which rides the wind’s currents but ultimately lands on the ground.
Eagles are different, though. They belong to a select group of birds that have the capacity to soar. While gliding always leads downward, even if slowly or intermittently, soaring allows a bird to climb upward without ever flapping its wings. Eagles rely on thermal updrafts to carry them to amazing heights. Even and especially around storms, where updrafts are pronounced, an eagle can use the thermal currents of the storm to rise higher—if he is willing to face into the wind.
I believe this generation will do exactly that. They will face the turmoil of the storm with confidence, using the updrafts of its turbulence to rise higher and go farther than ever before. They will not run away from the pressure. They will not quit; they will soar! Isaiah declared, “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31).
One person who used the stormy winds surrounding him in his generation to soar high as a leader was Winston Churchill. Churchill had a storied political career before World War II, but it was during this “storm of a century” that he emerged as a global leader and one of the great heroic figures of the last 100 years. Churchill led the United Kingdom in the midst of horrific chaos throughout World War II. During this era, Hitler was running free across Europe and attacking Britain incessantly. Other Axis powers were threatening Britain’s allies and interests all around the world. The Japanese had captured Singapore in 1942, two years before D-Day. During this difficult time, Churchill uttered these famous words: “The whole future of mankind may depend upon our conduct. So far, we have not failed. We shall not fail now. Let us move forward steadfastly together into the storm and through the storm.”9
Churchill discerned the storm of his day. It was severe, yet he believed that the United Kingdom and its allies could navigate through it. The turbulent winds of his time pushed Churchill higher as a leader and provided a context that would reveal his leadership prowess. The powerful thermals and dynamics of the World War II storm elevated Churchill immensely. I believe the same will happen with this new generation as they face the storms that surround them.
As with Churchill, a new wave of leaders will emerge in stormy times like these. They will be leaders who are ready to embrace the challenges pervading their age. These Gen Z leaders will not run from the trials of their generation but will courageously face them, understanding that it is their destiny to lead through the storm. They will use the tempestuous winds they encounter to soar high.
These types of leaders are found throughout history and Scripture. They are described in Proverbs 28:2 in this way: “When the country is in chaos, everybody has a plan to fix it—But it takes a leader of real understanding to straighten things out” (TMB). I believe Gen Z is filled with leaders like this—leaders who are born for the storm.
This article was extracted from Issue 7 (Fall 2021) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.
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