“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. Instead, set an example for the believers through your speech, behavior, love, faith, and by being sexually pure.” –1 Timothy 4:12 (CEB)
This verse has been a driving factor in the movement of young people in the church. Both as a vehicle for young people to the conversation of “I’m the church of today, not just tomorrow,” and for adults to say, “The youth need to come and be a part of the church.” But I’d like to place this conversation into some context, especially in the inspirational and troubling times of Annual Conference.
Paul writes to Timothy. The two of them engage in an inter-generational relationship and serve their shared ministry in different aspects. Paul did not build Timothy a building for him to minister to different people separately. Timothy did not become jilted for being looked down on.
Gil Rendle has highlighted the generational differences in many examples through his teaching this week. He talks about how each generation over corrects the one before it and how an inter-generational church is one in which everyone will not be happy because of generational differences. However, Rendle doesn’t emphasis the inter-generational relationships that are so vital to ministry.
These relationships can be as simple as youth babysitting for families in the church and forming relationships through that, or as organized as developing an inter-generational prayer partners program. The thing is, we will not change the age-difference tension in the church or the assumed lack of young people in the church, by talking about it at conferences. You’re not going to bring young people to Christ by preaching to the ones that are already Annual Conference delegates, except by supporting their ministry to eachother and others.
Don’t add a guitarist to your worship set, set up a twitter for your church, or paint one of your rooms bright green thinking it will make young people join your church. The best way to gain young members and make young disciples is to reconcile these generational differences through intentional relationship building and by sacrificing the personal costs that are obligatory to make a movement.
One of my friends has been attending her church since she was in the 7th grade. Now a graduating senior, she finds that many of the members of the church didn’t know where she came from when she was baptized a few months ago. We have to sacrifice our time, our structure and our preferences when it comes to ministry so that we can better reach not only young people, but those who are unchurched of every age. And, yes, the structural and preferencial sacrifices are important, but make not nearly the impact as the first–our time.
It is a commonly floating statistic that 98% of college freshmen will go to school and deny their faith, not coming back to it until they have children, if at all. Although I don’t know where this comes from, and consequently couldn’t tell you details on it, I have heard it cycling through circles of youth workers and it is terrifying.
But what if young people were missed when they left? Just like any one else, young people want a place to belong. They’re worth the time to build those relationships.
Conversely, what if young people made similar concessions on their cultural and social perferences and habits to get along better with older members of the church. The generation gap is like any other thing separating people. One side trying to bridge the gap is not going to do it. Both ends of the age spectrum, no matter how big the difference between two people, have to be willing to reach out there arms and grow intentional reltaionships at a personal cost. That is how we’ll change the world.