Alumni-led Chapel shows how young faith flowers

GCU alumni perform the worship music at Chapel on Monday.

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Alan Cisneros
GCU News Bureau

Anyone who has little faith in the ability of young people to take over the world someday would have been heartened by what happened in Grand Canyon University Arena on Monday morning.

The weekly Chapel service turned into a testament to twentysomethings, first with nine GCU alumni from the last five years performing the music and then with Nick Ely, Class of 2014, delivering the talk.

Christ Church Central Phoenix Lead Pastor Nick Ely, who graduated from GCU in 2014, delivers the Chapel talk.

“An old-timer by these standards today,” Dr. Tim Griffin, Dean of Students and University Pastor, said in introducing Ely.

The Lead Pastor of Christ Church Central Phoenix further drilled into the message of youthful responsibility with his talk to the students in attendance and GCU alums watching via livestream from around the country in the kickoff event for Homecoming.

Ely talked about the generational conflict that has afflicted mankind for all of time, long before TikTok was a thing. He was a youth pastor for seven years after graduating from GCU and was caught in the middle of what he sees this way:

“The younger generations, they look up at the older generations, and they conclude that they are ignorant and they are out of touch with the way that the world really works. And so they’re kind of like annoyed with them.

“And what happens in reverse is that the older generations look down on the younger generations, and they conclude that they are immature, impulsive and can’t possibly contribute in a positive way to society.

“And let’s be fair: There’s a little bit of truth on both sides.”

But the bull’s-eye tends to fall on the younger generation.

“If you are a young person, and most of you are in the room,” Ely continued, “it will be no news to you that most of the commentary on the potential of your generation is filled with pessimism. …

“They look down on you and they just think, ‘Man, this is the worst generation to come along in, like, a long time.’ They think your soul has been irrevocably sucked into the black hole of TikTok, and you will never come out.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way, he said.

“As someone who has been in your shoes, as someone who sat in Chapel not that long ago at GCU, I am here to tell you this on the authority of God’s word: With all of the reasons that people have to look down on you, if you are a follower of Jesus, it is possible for you to live in a way that will make them look up to you.”

Ely suggested three ways that young people could become shining lights for their elders as well as their peers.

He underscored his point by first reading what he called “every youth pastor’s favorite verse,” 1 Timothy 4:12:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.

But Ely wound his talk around the next four verses of Paul’s letter to his young protégé, Timothy. Ely considers these “bullet points” underappreciated:

 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Ely advised his listeners to complete this sentence – “My life is worth looking up to when I …” – with three habits:

First, build on the book (“… devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching”).

The Bible has become an unpopular message in some segments of modern culture, Ely said. It is considered by many young people antiquated and even bigoted, and they have turned away from God as a result.

He blasted the arrogance of believing that this is the first time people have questioned it.

“God’s Word has stood up to 2,000 years of scrutiny,” he said, “and it has never ceased to be the unique instrument of the Holy Spirit to produce salvation and transformation in the life of His people. …

“God doesn’t care what the culture says about His Word. His Word is true regardless of whether or not anyone believes it or anyone subscribes to it. His Word is truth.”

Ely also had these strong words:

“It is the wise man who builds his house on the rock of the Word of God, and it is the fool who builds his house on the shifting sands and the swimming tides of cultural opinion. And I’m begging you today, if I can speak to you eight years on, as an alumni, do not be a fool.”

Second, Ely said, “My life is worth looking up to when I … use my gift” (verse 14: Do not neglect your gift).

He told the story of his father, an Ironman enthusiast, dropping a heavy piece of machinery on his foot. When he finally got the cast off his injured leg, it was badly atrophied.

“Your body operates on a ‘use it or lose it’ mechanism,” Ely said. “If you lay there and you don’t do anything – you don’t lift anything, you don’t challenge yourself, you don’t move – your body will shrink and atrophy and waste away. And so it is with your soul.”

The answer, in his view, is to get involved in a church. “I think the local church is the hope of the world to get the Gospel to the nations,” he said. And when you use your gifts in that way, God can work through you.

Finally, you can create a life worth looking up to if you … practice to show progress (verse 15: Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress). 

Jay Branson, a 2018 GCU grad, performs with the all-alumni worship group.

But the Bible also says to sacrifice in silence and not try to show off. What is Paul talking about? Here’s how Ely explained the pursuit of faithfulness and obedience to Christ:

"While it should never be showy or ostentatious, while it should never be a parade so other people can see your righteousness and your holiness, you must be conscious of the fact that your faith will be unavoidably visible to the people around you, and it will have an impact on them.”

Ely equated it to the responsibility he feels as a father of two young sons. When his 2-year-old, whom he calls “like a Tasmanian devil on steroids,” recently repeated a phrase that Dad once used, it reminded Ely of how faith can be mimicked by others. It can be their saving grace.

The end of those verses (Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers) also is significant. Ely urged his young listeners to never be satisfied, to never say, “good enough” and to always try to keep growing their faith, not wait until they’re older.

“Why wait?” he said.

It was the ideal message for more than an hour of alumni leadership. First came the alumni performing the music: Josh James (class of 2017), Brooklyn Garcia (2020), Aaron Bolton (2018), Katie Condon (2019), Matthew Shoquist (2017), Ryan Buckland (2015), Stephen Condon (2019), Dylan Elliot (2016) and Jay Branson (2018).

They no doubt were reminiscing as they played. Ely had a similar experience as he talked.

“The time that I spent here was formative for me,” he said. “I built relationships and had opportunities that really changed the course of my life.”

It is a life that is in full bloom as a twentysomething. Keep the faith. They’re out there, and they just need to be led.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


● Chapel replay

● Next Monday’s speaker: Luke Simmons, Redemption Gateway


Related content:

GCU Today: Chapel to feature reunions with speakers from past

GCU Today: Mackey links humility, prayer with story of Uzziah

GCU Today: Griffin centers Chapel talk on shifting margins

GCU Today: Chapel: Don't pass up lessons from life's offenses

GCU Today: Moore sets a high bar for Musical Worship Chapel

GCU Today: Demeter shows Chapel how faith can save you

GCU Today: Brown's return to Chapel is charged with emotion


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