Striking Back With the Gospel

It’s been 25 years since the Columbine massacre.

It wasn’t the first school shooting in America, but the shocking scope and sheer evil of it made it the measuring stick by which all future shootings would be gauged.

It also radically changed my life. Here’s why:

My Life Before Columbine

As I was growing up, a youth ministry had deeply impacted my life. As a scared, scarred, fatherless kid raised in the inner city, I was terrified of life. Between the violence of my family and the neighborhood we lived in, every day was a struggle.

But then a hillbilly preacher nicknamed (for some unknown reason) “Yankee” shared the gospel with my toughest uncle on a dare. To everyone’s surprise, my uncle Jack came to Christ. Then the dominoes began to fall, and one by one my entire family came to faith in Christ.

Getting involved in Yankee’s youth ministry was a game changer for me. Suddenly I had identity (as a child of God), belonging (with the people of God), and purpose (for the mission of God).

Over the course of my middle school and high school years, I transformed from a nervous Young Sheldon type into a bold evangelist. As a teenager, I went out sharing the Gospel every Friday night, led a bus ministry on Saturday, preached in church from time to time, and led outreach ministries.

And I wasn’t the exceptional kid. I was one of many ordinary teenagers equipped with extraordinary evangelism, theology, and discipleship training.

Yankee took teenagers seriously. He knew they came to Christ quicker and spread the Gospel faster than adults. Perhaps it was why his youth ministry had 800 teenagers, and his church had only 300 or so adults.

This strategic focus on youth stayed with me when my lifelong friend Rick Long and I decided to plant a church on March 12, 1989—a church that focused on reaching young people.

Eighteen months after starting the church, I launched Dare 2 Share—a nonprofit ministry with the goal of equipping teenagers to share the Gospel—with my former theology professor Jonathan Smith. I had an itch that needed more scratching. The church was great, but it wasn’t enough.

Dare 2 Share started with a simple mission statement: To energize teenagers to evangelize their world. And that’s exactly what we did.

We equipped teenagers across the Denver area, the Rocky Mountain region, and eventually the United States to share the gospel.

In that first decade of ministry, we did a lot of training throughout the Denver area. Lane Palmer, a college roommate and good friend, was the youth leader of a church whose high schoolers attended Columbine High School. I’d gotten to know many of these teenagers through Dare 2 Share events and doing retreats and camps for Lane from time to time.

That brings us to April 20, 1999.

How Columbine Rocked My World

When I heard the news, I was in the youth room of a church in my hometown of Arvada, Colorado, promoting an upcoming Dare 2 Share conference on spiritual warfare and evangelism. There were six youth leaders who’d said “yes” to attending our free lunch so I could share with them about the upcoming event.

The theme of the conference was “When all hell breaks loose … strike back.”

As I unpacked the theme of the conference to these youth leaders, the pastor of the church knocked on the door and interrupted the meeting. He said, “Sorry to interrupt, but it looks like all hell has broken loose at Columbine High School. You all may want to stop and pray.”

We did.

But we had no idea until later that afternoon how bad it was.

Two teenagers had walked into Columbine High School at 11:21a.m., armed to the hilt with guns and bombs and the sinister intent to kill hundreds of their fellow students. They’d felt bullied and marginalized and now were taking out their anger on as many people as possible in the form of bullets and shrapnel.

They cold-heartedly slaughtered 12 teenagers and one teacher before turning their guns on themselves in the library.

Many more were injured that day. All the students were traumatized by this horrific event.

It shocked the community. It shocked the nation. It shocked the world.

It shocked me.

For one, I had met a lot of the teenagers at that school. Seeing the news footage of teenagers running out of the school, falling out of windows bloody and injured, and crying into television cameras—these weren’t teenagers in some strange city far away. They were kids in my own backyard, some of whom had been at Dare 2 Share events.

The next few months were a blur.

But God began to do something in my heart. He began to fully break it for the next generation.

I couldn’t get a few things out of my mind.

I couldn’t stop wondering how the power of the Gospel could have changed everything in the lives of the two shooters if they’d been reached.

I couldn’t stop thinking about other middle schools and high schools across the nation that had potential school shooters who needed the Gospel to transform them.

I couldn’t stop wondering what a full-time focus on mobilizing teenagers to be on-campus missionaries could do for the Kingdom of God.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the theme of our upcoming conference tour: “When all hell breaks loose … STRIKE BACK!”

It was time to strike back against the forces of darkness.

It was time to mobilize an army of Christian teenagers on every campus to reach out with the hope of Jesus to their friends and to students who were broken and bullied.

It was time to energize the Church to mobilize youth to Gospelize their schools.

So, on July 4, 1999, I resigned from the church I’d helped to plant to focus full-time on mobilizing teenagers for the gospel.

Striking Back

By God’s grace, Dare 2 Share has been blessed to train millions of teenagers across the United States and around the world to share the Gospel on their campuses and in their spheres of influence through our free curriculum, training platforms, Gospel-sharing app, and mobilization events.

We won’t stop until every teen, everywhere—all 1 billion of them—hears the Gospel from a friend.

Every summer we “strike back” at a summer event called Lead THE Cause. We gather hundreds of student leaders and youth leaders from across the United States and several key youth leaders from around the world in Denver for next-level prayer, leadership, and evangelism training.

On the first full day of training at Lead THE Cause, I tell the story of the Columbine High School massacre. We show 25-year-old news footage from that day. We show pictures of the victims. No longer is it an old story teens heard about from their parents or online. It becomes real to these students.

Then we get everyone on buses and go down to Columbine High School. We break up into large groups and have four different prayer stations. One group walks around the school, praying for revival at Columbine High School and interceding for their own schools. Another group spends time at Clement Park, praising God for his faithfulness in the midst of the mess. Another group goes into the school and writes a letter of confession to God, admitting how they’ve failed to reach out to the hurting and hopeless on their campuses back home.

Students spend 20 minutes at each station, until each group has experienced three of the four stations individually. Finally, we gather back together to take an eight-minute walk from the school to the Columbine High School memorial.

Before we head out, I stand on a bench with a 6-foot-tall wooden cross. It was one of the “Columbine crosses” that were erected in honor of each victim after the school shooting. The man who built them eventually took them down and delivered one to Dare 2 Share because he’d read in The Denver Post about how the Columbine High School shooting had impacted me so deeply.

I tell the story of the Columbine cross and, how ultimately, it pointed to not just the victims but also to Jesus Christ, who died in our place and for our sins 2,000 years ago. I also challenge them to pick up their cross, die to themselves, and follow Jesus back into their schools when they get back home. I challenge them to fully yield themselves to God and strike back against the forces of darkness at their schools through prayer, love for others, and the ultimate act of love: evangelism.

I then recruit four teenagers to carry the cross and lead the way to the memorial. It’s deeply moving to see almost 500 teenagers and their leaders walk in silence toward this powerful site.

Once there, the four teenagers carrying the cross bring it to the top of the hill that oversees Columbine High School on one side and the Rocky Mountain range on the other. The hundreds of other teenagers file into the Columbine memorial to read the stories of the victims, taken from the journals of these students and interviews from their parents and others.

Once teenagers have wandered the giant circular memorial and read the quotes, many of which are God-centric, they make their way up the walkway to the top of the hill where the Columbine cross has been set. All around the base of the cross are posterboards and Sharpies that teenagers use to write down their commitment to strike back against the forces of darkness at their schools.

By the time we’ve filed back onto the buses, these teenagers have been deeply impacted. And it’s only day one of the event.

Never Forgotten

Why do we do this every year at Columbine High School? The reason is carved in giant letters into the floor of the memorial: “Never Forgotten.”

I don’t ever want to forget the emotions I felt that day 25 years ago.

I don’t want teenagers to forget the impact of that school shooting.

I don’t want the church to forget the importance of mobilizing teenagers to strike back.

All hell has broken loose in our culture. It’s not just the rampant school shootings. It’s sexual and gender confusion. It’s senseless suicides and widespread adolescent depression and anxiety. It’s a growing sense of hopelessness that manifests itself in horrific ways in this generation.

And we must strike back!

We must pray for the next generation like never before.

We must mobilize Christian teenagers to share the Gospel with love, passion, and urgency.

We must stop playing defense and start playing offense, until every teen, everywhere, hears the Gospel from a friend.

May we never forget what happened 25 years ago on April 20, 1999.

May we strike back against the forces of darkness that have broken out against our young people, sharing the Good News that can transfer them to the Kingdom of Light and equipping them to do the same for their peers.

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This article originally appeared on and is reposted here by permission.