If we are going to have a fresh and passionate faith we need to be investing into the next generation what God has invested into us. Recently I was (attempting to) coach a church leadership team that showed no interest in impacting the next generation. I don’t think that I hid my disappointment well because they were saying good-bye to their legacy and vitality!
As kids, we learned that the stagnant lake near our home had murky water and was a breeding ground for ‘blood suckers’ (the rest of the world calls them leeches apparently)! Other lakes in the area that had a steady stream of fresh water moving in and out of them were, by contrast, clear and rich in marine life. We get to decide what type of ‘lake’ we want to be. We choose to be stagnant or life-giving agents that pass on the wealth of what we have received to children, youth and young adults.
Listen to the passion for passing on a vibrant faith to the next generation in Psalm 78:1-7 (NIV):
O my people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter hidden things, things from of old-
what we have heard and known,
what our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD ,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our forefathers
to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
The same passion is echoed again in Psalm 71:14-18 (NIV):
But as for me, I will always have hope;
I will praise you more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteousness,
of your salvation all day long,
though I know not its measure.
I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign LORD ;
I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone.
Since my youth, O God, you have taught me,
and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, O God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
your might to all who are to come.
If you have experienced a genuine faith in Christ, you have been strategically placed where you are in order that you may influence the next generation towards serving Him.
Why is this so important today? The emerging generation is living in an increasingly fractured and confusing world. The next generation needs active role models in their lives who will show (not just tell) them how to honour God with their sexuality, their money, their time, their work and their relationships.
As I have reflected on the amazing people who helped me to be who I am today, I have identified 7 ways you can influence the next generation for God:
1. Be Hospitable- Anyone can do this! I remember my friend Brad’s family taking me along on holidays, feeding me excessive amounts of cookies and in general allowing me to get close enough to see what Christian faith looked like in the details and stresses of life. Hanging around with them made it obvious to me that I should commit my life to Christ.
2. Give Generously- When I was 17 and sensing a call to Bible college, I prayed at the front of our church at the close of a Sunday morning service for funds as I did not have support from my family to do so. After the service a lady named Mary asked me what I’d been praying for, then that night in the church foyer before the evening service she gave me my first $50 towards my studies. I think that was a good investment as I have gone on to preach in 16 nations (so far)!
3. Offer Encouragement- I remember a mentor of mine named Brian saying to me as a young adult, “Your generation is going to do much for God and you’re going to feel like you can’t do it- you’re right”. I learned from him that it was not about my capabilities, it is about God’s power working through me. I learned that it was OK to feel weak, because it was then that God could show himself strong.
4. Support in Prayer- I love the Old Testament story of Joshua in battle in the valley against the Amalekites. By this time Moses is well along in years and he can’t be on the front lines anymore, but he is on the hill controlling the tide of the battle through prayer!
5. Be an Example- In the church I came to Christ in there was an old man that everyone called “Brother Bennett”. He had served God faithfully for over 80 years. The last time I saw him before he died was in a service where he testified to the truth of Psalm 37:25 “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” As a newlywed in ministry I gained new strength to trust God to meet all of our needs.
6. Tell Stories- As we age our impact can carry on through the testimonies we share with the next generation. I remember one elderly lady named Della in our church who was very intentional about this. When I was a teenager she invited me for a ‘date’ at the seniors home after church. The food was not good but the stories were! I loved hearing about the trust she had in God as she and her husband ran their business and the miracles she had seen.
7. Share Mistakes- This is counter intuitive because we have believed that to influence others we must be perfect. The irony is that the emerging generation can’t relate and won’t be influenced by that approach. We need to show them our scars so that they do not make the same mistakes.
I personally want to pass on a rich Christian heritage to my own children, and to the children, youth and young adults that are within the orbit of my influence. I hope that you do too, because every student needs to be surrounded by a constellation of relationships with adults who share a biblical worldview.
The bonus for us is that the more we are investing in the lives of others- the more alive we become!