I’ve written before, including just four months ago, how increasingly, so much of what goes on in the modern church is a young man’s game. We often tell teens and twenty-somethings that they need to “maximize their impact for God” while they are young. And certainly, when it comes to serving in tropical rainforests, helping out in the high arctic, or ministering in communities located at high elevation, you want to have youth or fitness on your side.
But I’m also reminded of the number of times those opportunities were afforded to me — especially those where a church turned their worship time or pulpit time over to me — where I honestly didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have anything close to resembling the wisdom of age, and I’m still not sure I do. But I do know that I wish I had known then what I know now.
So here we have a dichotomy between offering ministry experience to the young and inexperienced, and then denying the older and wiser those same opportunities because all the time-slots are full.
However, I also have to ask myself if I would be that older, wiser person if those early opportunities to fall flat on my face had not been offered to me. So…
To the young:
- Take the opportunities as they present themselves. Paul told Timothy not to allow anyone to look down on him because of his youth; but
- Get all the training and preparation you can get for each individual assignment.
- Know what ministry roles not to accept because of lack of spiritual fitness in that particular area, or lack of Biblical understanding.
- Get connected with an older — the older the better — person in your faith community who can mentor you in specialized ministry positions, as well as a general mentor for your overall spiritual journey.
To the old(er):
- Yes, you have more experience and can do a better job. Now get over it. The chain of grace isn’t constructed that way. In some institutions, maybe, but not a fully functioning organic church.
- Find young people who are teachable and are willing to be mentored. Meet them halfway by learning about and connecting with their culture, their technology, their family situations.
- Mold and shape them through encouragement, not criticism. Avoid the “in my day this is how we did it” type of stories, and instead, use non-directive responses, i.e. questions.
- Become a translator. Not a Bible translator, but someone who takes solid spiritual concepts from past devotional writers and Bible commentators, and asks, “How would the next generation communicate that same idea?”
Those are my suggestions for today, and you should listen to them, because I am older and wiser, and if you don’t, I’m calling the pastor and telling him that everybody’s doing it wrong and instead, they should all listen to me.
Seriously, I do think there’s something here worth considering. Does your faith family give equal weight to encouraging the next generation and appreciate the wisdom and experience of older participants?
The graphic above is from a book on inter-generational ministry, the other side of the coin, how churches can reach a wide variety of ages. Read more on this topic from Zondervan author Dr. Jeff Baxter