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« Mandate for Mission | Main | The Particularity of God »

Grown Up Youths

“That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace.”   Psalm 144:12

Boy preachers?  Girl singers?  Teen teachers?  How could the church possibly survive—let alone thrive—with a radical strategy that thrusts young people into the forefront of critical functions that can only be done by seasoned, experienced and trustworthy (read “gray-haired”) men and women of God? God forbid.  What about the sound warnings against exalting novices before the people because they are so susceptible to pride and arrogance?  What about the foolishness and indiscretions of youth? 

 The sobering truth is that the church is among the few organizations that close the door of full participation to younger people.  The army, navy, air force, marines and coast guard understand that their survival depends upon recruiting eighteen to twenty-four year olds into military service.  After one or two years of training, many of these youths are flying multi-million dollar aircraft, operating complex computer systems that govern our nuclear arsenals, and getting clearance to the highest levels of security in our government.  When this nation wages any kind of warfare, the boots on the ground are filled by many who are not out of their teens.  

The premier corporations in America send agents out to the colleges and universities every year to harvest a new crop of bright young men and women.  Their thinking goes beyond mere compensation for attrition through retirees and move-aways.  They understand the dynamics of fresh ideas, creativity and willingness to experiment that are part of the basic nature of young people.  Political parties covet the energy and raw passion that consumes the minds of young people.  That’s why they continually troll through the PolySci schools of the nation, fishing for a new crop of mayors, governors, senators, congressional delegates, and a few electrifying presidential candidates for the future. 

Unfortunately, there is a darker side.  Extremist groups are making full utilization of the internet to draw young people into their sinister webs of hatred and terrorism.  Solon Magazine recently printed this quote, “The movement for ages has been interested in getting brighter people into its ranks… What it’s really looking for is its future leaders, its tacticians and strategists who can create a second revolution—as opposed to those who can just beat up a few people. And this is something the Net may really be helping with.”  Web of Hate, Salon Magazine.  

I entitled a previous article on these pages, “Are We Getting Too Gray?”  It was a play on words because I was actually talking about the blurring of the separation between the church and the world.  Now, however, it is indeed time to talk about age.  It is vital for the twenty-first century church to take inventory of our demographics and address the crisis.  With dwindling numbers of young people entering the ministry, the graying of the church is probably the number one characterization given to it by young people.  It used to be their father and mother’s church.  Now, it is their grandfather and grandmother’s church!  If a generation gap exists between parents and children, how much more pronounced is it when separated by another generation?  If the trend continues, boot hill is in sight. 

We can fix this problem!  To succeed, we must take the church back to the day when youthful preachers were the norm, not the exception.  The ministerial ranks were filled with youths who were in their late teens and early twenties.  Not only that, young ladies as well as young men were accepted as legitimate ministers and were encouraged to pursue the ministry.  In our early years, gender was not an issue, race was not an issue, and nationality was not an issue.  These became issues years ago for reasons that did not serve us well then and do not serve us well now.  The clarion call must go forth:  Young People, join God’s army!  Accept your calling; listen to the voice of God to know where to go and what to say.  Church:  it is time to point the way!  We must believe in our youth, we must allow our youth to shoulder responsibility, and we must give training and mentoring to our youth to prepare them for the primary work of the church. 

But, what does the Bible say?  David is the classic case.  “And Saul said to David, Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.” 1 Samuel 17:33  And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.” 1 Samuel 17:42. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” Lamentations 3:27Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”  1 Timothy 4:12.  These scriptures form a powerful premise for sending young people into ministry.  This is not to say that youth alone is a qualifier for ministry, but neither should it be a disqualifier. 

The church softball team must not be the big reason why we recruit young people; they can do more than just play the guitar or drums in the band; they can do more than help out in the nursery.  It is patently absurd that we should push them to be doctors, lawyers and CEO’s, but consider the ministry beneath them or unacceptable for them.  We betray our own claims about the importance of the church if we do not believe that the ministry is suitable or desirable for our children!  Preaching, praying, leading, ministering, teaching and doing missionary work are all legitimate avenues for their callings and giftings.  Unless they are shown that they can do real, spiritual work for God in the church, they will grow discouraged and seek significance elsewhere.  We must not hold them back because we fear losing them will thin out our ranks at home.  We must send them in order to multiply the numbers of believers in the world! Our missionaries know exactly what this strategy entails.  

Typically, every generation’s assessment of its upcoming replacement is negative.  And yet, the record shows that the new generation always steps up to the challenges and succeeds.  The next generation now coming up in the church is neither better nor worse than any other generation.  If we give them the affirmation they need, if we open the doors of opportunity to them, if we encourage them to “go for it,” then we will create an unstoppable future for them and the church.  

Long ago, a Bible college instructor told my class of ministerial hopefuls to be grateful for any pastor who dared to let us up behind his pulpit and risk turning his people over to us for half an hour.  Now, the proverbial shoe is on the other foot.  It is imperative for us who inch closer and closer to retirement to grab those young people and put them behind our pulpits.  It’s the only way to secure the future of the church. 

Before we know it, it will be their church anyhow. 


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