As I offer this article, I do so humbly and with great care knowing that my earliest days in ministry are due in large part to the very ministry I take issue with today. As I worked during my years as a youth and children’s minister I became more and more convicted that the way we have done children’s ministry and youth ministry for far too many years has led to the problematic divide between the generations in our churches. The majority of churches in our nation exist in a constant plateau or decline. Taking a look inside those churches I am convinced would reveal a lot of gray hairs and few if any young people. Why is this so? Because the church at large has sent the children and youth out of their meetings with instructions for their leaders to make sure the young people hear a relevant message. Such a practice drives a wedge between the generations as the older generation calcifies worship in their style and the younger generation radicalizes worship to their taste while both ignore the theological issues that can draw them together. As both parties grow farther apart methodologically and theologically the church and family becomes less and less able to reproduce the witness and faithfulness of past generations. In fact they are draw to a crisis point either when the young person graduates out of the youth program into a church he cannot recognize or appreciate or when the older generation dies off without any younger people unto which they can pass the church.
So what can be done to resolve this disparity? I have no original ideas, but I do want to share a biblical principle and several vital implications that illustrate how this principle is the answer to the problem. My conviction is that we must recover discipleship which requires no relevancy or trendiness, just heartfelt compassion for people and a passion for a true and living God. This is the pattern Titus 2:1-8. Titus was to uphold Christian doctrine, encouraging both older men and women to live as men and women of God, at work to train up a younger generation with accurate theology that is sufficient to address how to live every day. Let me demonstrate the point with you by discussing the issue at stake in last week’s poll, “How relevant do we have to be to reach teenagers?” If I were to answer that poll question, my answer would be that we should at the very least care how teenagers dress.
- To dress like a young person today reveals a willingness and desire to be led by the youth culture instead of a willingness to lead youth to be a culture which glorifies Christ. This is not acceptable.
- To know how young people dress allows one to spot gospel issues. Girls who dress to reveal their bodies and guys who dress in today’s video-game driven Peter Pan (we won’t grow up) look, clothe themselves in insecurities and wear their inadequacies. Such issues indicate a person’s problem with security in Christ or adequacy in his work on the Cross. Even so, some who take issue with the way teenagers dress most often do so over the style of the clothes not over the gospel issues that run deeper. This is not acceptable either.
- To care about how teenagers dress places the young person’s relationship with Christ first, pointing out to them that what they do or do not wear witnesses to the kind of relationship they have with the Savior.
To care about young people demands that we not focus on or ignore dress, music, work, recreation, sexuality, depression or substance abuse as the main issues, but direct young people to the gospel issues behind all those practicalities. We show them we care by accepting them as they are, focusing on the gospel first instead of the myriad of ways their life does not match our own. We also show them we care by not banishing them but bonding with them in Christian love. By providing a living example of the Christian theology we believe we point to theology as our central motivator. What implications does this have?
- Christian parents must be more diligent in living life so as to open children’s eyes to a daily dependence on Christ. There is no greater witness to a child than their parents so every Christian parent must be diligent to spend quality time with their children so as to provide them with such a practical and verbal witness.
- Christians in general must be more willing to live life so as to witness to our younger generation that we try to answer the gospel issues of our day with timeless theological truth that comes from God’s Word. Our methods and manner should change as the younger generation brings to the table current gospel issues that must be addressed with gospel truth.
- Churches must seek to end the banishment and segregation of children and youth from the normal life of the church. Though age graded instructional times have their place, the church must seek to have as many people as possible from older generations to lead these times so that they become a time for discipleship instead of a time for dissension and division.
- Worship styles and music styles should be selected because of the theological truth inherent in them so as to address issues coming from all generations in the church. Thus effort must be made to include all ages in worship and ensure that all the activities in worship teach why we do what we do theologically.
- Children and Youth Ministries need to be re-imagined as Family Ministries which incorporate ways to equip parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and gospel parents (those who have become instrumental in the lives of young people who do not have Christian or godly parents) to disciple their children themselves.