I am convinced that one of the biggest mistakes we are making in the church is not empowering, elevating and resourcing the next generation of leaders within the church. Whatever happened to what we once called “Paul-Timothy” relationships? Today, it seems things are downright adversarial.
I say that not as a 20-something, or even a 30-something, but as someone who is speaking from a greater number of years experience in the church than your average blogger.
Slight digression: There’s a guy in ministry with whom I would have frequent conversations. One time we were talking about the difference that exists between the conservative churches and the liberal churches in our community. He said something like this:
‘If there’s a familiar Bible passage and the common interpretations or applications of this passage might be numbered #1, #2, #3, etc.; the evangelical churches tend to preach on one of these first three subjects, but the mainline church will read the passage and then go with interpretation or application #7.’
One of the problems we are facing today is that Evangelicals have always read the Bible as a set of doctrine propositions, and a new generation — yes, I’m back to that topic now — are reading it as story. Embracing the narrative to which both Eastern ears generally and also first century Christians would be more readily tuned to.
In other words, reading the Bible in ways that we’ve missed. And applying it to the felt-needs that the average 21st century Joe or Joanne can articulate. The things they think are what matters or what is important. In the terminology that they use.
And the Bible, being living and active (and sharper than a double-edged sword) is going to speak to the needs of all people in all places at all times. (You could almost say it won’t bounce back off the walls with an empty echo.) In other words, we don’t need to make the gospel relevant, we need to communicate the relevance it already has. The robed and sandaled carpenter and itinerant teacher has something to say to our high-tech world.
The problem is, the people of a previous generation don’t get it when next-generation leaders speak to their tribe. They listen to the words that they can’t possibily ever hope to process and say, “That’s not application #1 or #2 or #3. That’s #7 or even #12 and it’s a million miles from the central message of the text.”
Let me say this to the critics as respectfully as I can: Maybe they’re not talking to you. Maybe you’re eavesdropping on a conversation you were never invited to be a part of. (And remember that I’m saying this as a blogger who is measurably older than most.)
I don’t endorse 100% of every word spoken or written by every young pastor or author I mention or review here. Let me be honest, I hear and read stuff that makes my eyes bug out with surprise. But then again, I’ve sat and listened to sermons delivered by some of the most respected names in conservative Christianity and heard things that simply should not have been said. I’ve heard things passed off as fact that were merely opinion. I’ve heard jokes that were inappropriate for Sunday morning. I’ve heard conclusions that were illogical. I’ve heard points of doctrine that contradicted points made five minutes earlier. I’ve heard bad exegesis, bad eschatology and bad hermeneutics. However, I didn’t go on public forums and trash those respected pastors or authors.
But I know that in listening to some of the younger voices in the breadth and width of the faith movement we call Christianity,
- I’ve been inspired to read more Bible, more commentary, more discussion;
- I’ve been made aware of things in both the Old Testament and New Testament that, despite growing up in the church, I had never heard preached before;
- I’ve become more passionate about my personal faith;
- I’ve become more willing to pray bigger prayers, not in a charismatic sense but in the sense of believing in a God who is able to do, as He wills, the things we would consider impossible;
- I’ve become better able to articulate the truth and beauty of scripture to seekers and new believers;
- I’ve been inspired to try to do more to make a difference in the lives of those who are hungry, both in terms of our local weekly meal project and in terms of doing some alternative giving at Christmas;
- I’ve been stretched in my understand of who God is, who we are in Christ, what The Church consists of and is meant to accomplish;
- I’ve been witness to people who are so intentional about faith and witness and being serious about communicating the love of God and the need for salvation, that it consumes their every waking moment;
- I’ve been refreshed in my spirit in hearing things said in new ways with new energy to people who otherwise would never give attention to anyone who mentions the name, Jesus.
And I owe all that to pastors and teachers and authors and bloggers who were or are, for the most part, under the age of 35.
Oh yeah, and thanks to all the trashing they’ve had to put up with from the older generation because they lit a few candles, or dressed casually, or refused to use certain words and phrases,
- I’ve become sharper in my discernment; separating truth from lies, yes, but also separating what matters most and what really counts from what creates division and what is said in hate.
To you under-30s or even under-25s who are just starting out in ministry: Go for it! Study. Aim for God’s approval. Correctly and accurately handle God’s Word. Then say it the way it needs to be said to your generation, in your location at your place in time. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold, yes; but also don’t let the church force you into its mold, either.
Do that, and I support you.