Shepherding Generation Z

Alum aims to keep Northwestern students trained on Jesus


Mark DeYounge ’08 is Northwestern’s new director of Christian formation. In addition to leading chapel worship and providing pastoral care to students, he will work alongside campus ministry staff to plan and lead discipleship and mission opportunities that contribute to students’ Christian growth and calling. A business administration major and captain of the Red Raider basketball team while at Northwestern, DeYounge served in parachurch ministry in Colorado Springs and Sioux Falls before becoming director of discipleship at Sioux Center’s First Reformed Church. He earned a graduate certificate in youth and family ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary and is enrolled in Western Seminary’s distance learning Master of Divinity program. He plans to graduate in May 2017 and pursue ordination in the Reformed Church in America. The Classic interviewed DeYounge to learn more about his vision for college students and their faith development.

Classic: In what ways are you a good fit for your new role at Northwestern College?
DeYounge: I have a real passion for the next generation. I love Northwestern’s mission: to equip the next generation to not be disengaged from the world, not reactive, but to be confident—courageous and faithful, as we say—to really trust that Christ in them has the power to transform the world. Christ staked it all on the church, and today’s church isn’t abounding in 20-somethings. I’m excited by that opportunity for growth.

What unique challenges is this next generation facing? And are they different than those faced by previous generations of teens and 20-somethings?
I’m not sure the issues are so unique or different, but the pace at which—and “spaces” in which—today’s youth have to interact with their culture are very different. We’re created with a deep desire to be known and to belong. Social media has changed the landscape for being known and belonging in ways no previous generation has experienced. Today’s young people are more connected than ever—and yet statistics suggest many of them are anxious and feel deep loneliness.

What do Gen Z-ers want from corporate worship—and what do they need?
We’re a consumeristic culture. Not just young people. Most of us are. We show up for worship with the same consumeristic, “market-to-me” expectations we bring to Best Buy or television programming. We want me-centered worship that caters to our individuality and entertainment preferences. But when it comes to worship, the greatest satisfaction comes when it’s not about us. When we lose ourselves in experiencing the height of God’s glory in worship, we experience the height of our design as humans. And we get what we need.

Unlike some Christian colleges, Northwestern continues to require students to attend chapel. What is your view on the value of that requirement?
Worship is one of the necessary rhythms in the Christian life. We’re sent out to live worshipfully in our daily lives; we’re gathered regularly to worship as a community. Sent and gathered, sent and gathered. Chapel is so vital because the community needs to gather. And students may not realize or always appreciate it, but they’re so privileged that the rhythm at Northwestern includes regular chances to gather for worship. They have to show up—which is a big deal, a demonstration of faithfulness—even when they don’t feel like it. Faithfulness includes holding each other accountable to the things we value, and at Northwestern we value worshiping as a community because it’s part of the call of Christ.

At a Christian college like Northwestern, students’ understanding of their academic discipline is challenged in order to lead to growth; likewise, their understanding of the Christian faith might be challenged to provoke growth. How will you guide and counsel students who come to you because they’ve encountered new learning that makes them uncomfortable?
Learning can be messy. It takes some serious courage to integrate faith and learning—to not be afraid in the face of new information or questions you can’t answer yet. As the students’ pastor, I hope my presence and counsel is of great comfort. I think of Peter walking on the water. Nothing Peter had previously been taught or experienced would have led him to believe he could walk on water. But when Jesus invited him to come, Peter stepped out of the boat. Throughout their four years at Northwestern, students will be asked to “step out of the boat” into uncharted waters. When Peter looked away from Jesus, the waves overwhelmed him. He needed to keep his gaze on Jesus. We don’t have to have boxed-up, perfect Christian answers for everything, because the Christian journey isn’t about having water-tight explanations or arguments. God isn’t a problem to solve; he’s a person to fall in love with.

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