The apostle Paul had it right when he challenged his student, Timothy, to “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
The context of this verse gives clear indication that this great missionary leader was encouraging young Timothy to make sure that his private life substantiated his public message. In other words, he was telling us that young people can and should be examples to older people. From reading this passage, one can conclude that others in the Ephesus church were older (maybe significantly so) than Timothy. Yet, he was instructed to be an example to them. This same principle can be a clear mandate for teenagers today.
Our students can have a church-wide impact. I’ve seen it happen and probably so have you. Students come back from a conference, camp, or missions trip fired up to do something great for God. The Lord has been at work in their hearts, and they come home totally on fire and completely dedicated to the cause of Christ. The adults hear their testimonies and sense their passion to do something great for God. This genuine enthusiasm is contagious and infectious to people of all generations.
I’ve seen this phenomenon lead to a spirit of true revival that has effectively spread throughout the entire church. Let me tell you quickly about one such occasion in a church I know. It started when the Lord used one of the volunteer youth workers to lead a teenage girl to Christ. This 16-year-old new believer then led her best friend to Christ. These two baby Christians quickly became motivated to start a Bible study to reach other friends for Christ in their local public school. Almost at the same time, some of our regular attendees had recently returned from a major youth conference and were eager to see God continue to use that event to change lives back home. One young man prayed accept Christ and another made a public decision to be more vocal about his faith. On one particular Sunday almost twenty teenagers made public decisions to commit their lives to Christ. Soon several of their parents followed them, and other adults soon followed. Without any exaggeration, this sense of revival very quickly spread throughout the entire church. God used two new Christians and a handful of other students returning from a youth conference to impact that whole church body.
I don’t want to presume that I can identify here in this short article all of the factors that the Lord can use to bring this kind of church-wide revival, but I do believe Paul’s instruction to young Timothy that he could be an example to other believers. I find it interesting that 2 Timothy 4:12 identifies some specific areas in which young people can be an example to older Christians. (“…in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”) Students can indeed impact others through their words, their manner of life, their love, their enthusiasm, their dedication to God, and through their moral purity.
The key is that the youth ministry should have personal, public, and positive exposure to other ages within the church. Let me explain.
1. Make sure that your students have personal exposure to other age groups in your church.
Students need to get to know the adults, and the adults need to get to know the students. It’s that simple. We must build significant interpersonal and inter-generational relationships in our churches. I believe that this process starts when godly adults are willing to take the initiative to develop these nurturing and mutually beneficial relationships with kids. Don’t expect most kids to go out of their way to get to know adults. That’s probably not going to happen. (Just make sure that your church’s child protection policies are known and enforced.)
The adults in your church will probably need to be taught to be proactive and seek out individual students to mentor. It’s a well-reported fact that over 90% of today’s teenagers are interested in positive and growing relationships with adults. But, remember that the obligation is on the adults to make these relationships happen.
This exposure can happen in several very effective ways. I am a firm believer in making sure your students are welcome to actively participate in all areas of your church ministry. Also, youth workers need to plan creative and well-organized events for the adults and teenagers to interact together. You will undoubtedly find that you need to motivate both adults and teenagers to be involved; but once you hold these positive events on a regular basis, the existing walls of aloofness and intimidation will break down.
I also believe that one of the most important and effective ways to nurture these inter-generational relationships is for the groups to spend significant time in prayer together for specific and strategic needs. Acts 12:1–17 sets a Biblical precedent of various generations who prayed together. Praying together shows other people your heart, your burden for the lost, and your desire to see God work.
Don’t forget that this process works both ways. The adults in your church will impact students as they demonstrate their vitality and genuineness in prayer, but the teens will also reveal those same qualities to the adults. It is powerful for teens to hear adults pray, but it is also beneficial for adults when they hear kids pray.
I encourage all youth workers to brainstorm and then implement other ways to help the different generations in your church develop intentional and growing interpersonal relationships between members of the various generations.
2. Give your students public exposure to other age groups in your church.
It is also important to give students public exposure to your church. I admit that I am a long-time fan of “youth services” and other ways for the teens to interact with other generations in a public way. The first time I ever preached was during a youth night service where the teenagers took over our church’s entire evening service. But please recognize that I do not believe that these periodic services should be the only way for teenagers to get involved in your church. If these youth services are the only public exposure the students have, it can lead to the feeling that the teenagers are actually “on show” every so often and not really a vital part of the church.
Why not let your teenagers take an active role in the regular ministries of your church? I think that some talented teenagers chould participate in the worship team during regularly scheduled church services for example. I like to encourage and train other teenagers to serve as ushers or greeters. I also think students should be encouraged and taught to tithe and to participate in church business meetings. After all, this is their church too. They should be involved.
Young people should also be given the opportunity to serve with adults in your church’s kid’s ministry, or other key areas of service. The key here is the part about serving alongside of adults. This team ministry can be an amazingly effective way of training future leaders and servants for ongoing church involvement. When adults and teenagers work alongside each other, they see each other’s heart for God and for other people. This, too, will break down the walls of suspicion and negativity between the generations. This principle should work both ways. Make sure your students have exposure to adults as well.
3. Give godly students positive exposure to other age groups.
Another thought that I want to emphasize concerning exposing teenagers to the other generations in church is that the exposure should be positive exposure. You want the adults to see kids who love the Lord and are passionate about serving Him. It is contagious to see godly kids who are genuinely enthusiastic about the Lord. That cannot be ignored! Therefore, make sure you give this exposure to students who are not fleshly or carnal. I am not saying that external things are the most important characteristic. Please do not hold your teenagers to higher external standards than you require of the adults who serve. But I am saying that the students who participate in other organized church ministries should be living for the Lord. (I also believe that this standard should be expected of adults, by the way.)
God’s Word is very clear on this idea, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10). However, unless there are habits of unconfessed, public sin, all Christians should be actively involved in church ministry (Ephesians 4:11–16.)
What a powerful visual aid to see students who love the Lord and want to serve Him! Adults can’t resist the excitement and eagerness from teenagers who are truly motivated about living for the Lord. In fact, when adults see the passion and enthusiasm of teenagers who really want to live for God, the external things will become almost non-issues.
I also want to emphasize that the ministry experience should be positive. In other words, you want students to enjoy serving the Lord and to do so without being coerced or made to feel guilty for not serving. Ministry should be fun and exciting. It is a blast to serve the Lord. Yes, it is difficult at times, but look at all the Lord did for us. We should want to serve Him and live for Him because of our desire to be obedient to Him. That’s what we want from our students as well.
Yes, I believe that Paul had it right. Students can be an example to “big church”!
In the early days of this current Coronavirus situation, the World Health Organization suggested a plan to help thwart the spread of what became a world-wide health crisis, the contagious proliferation of COVID-19. Their plan was to limit person-to-person contamination by what is known as social distancing, or “to slow down the spread of infectious diseases and avoid overburdening healthcare systems, particularly during a pandemic… by closing schools and workplaces, isolation, quarantine, restricting movement of people and the cancellation of mass gatherings” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_distancing).
Of course, the practice of social distancing is really nothing new. The Bible, and especially the Old Testament (Leviticus 13 – 14, and other places), teaches about the terrifying disease of “leprosy” – where infected people were placed in literal isolation away from the general population of society.
It’s important to remember that the current instruction to segregate from other people is not accurately “social” distancing in today’s technological world. It’s probably more like “physical” distancing. We are being told to stay at least 6’ away from other individuals, not to gather in large or even small groups; and in some areas, we have been instructed to “shelter in place”, to stay in our homes, and not go out at all.
But we still can make connections with other people. Ours is not really a matter of total social isolation. We can communicate – and that provides the opportunity to minister to other believers and to share the Gospel with people who do not know Christ. It’s probably just a matter of intentionality, effort, and creativity.
Ministry leaders have had to answer a key question about what is becoming the new normal for believers, churches, and other ministries during the current practice of staying away from other people.
How can we do outreach and ministry in a culture of social distancing?
Of course, we can champion the amazing ways some churches are utilizing technology to accomplish their mission right now. Watching the ingenuity of innovative ministry leaders to apply Google, Facebook, Zoom, Go-To-Meeting, Instagram, and other media platforms to communicate God’s Word, to minister to others, and to reach out to our communities is absolutely incredible.
But we must not forget that “low tech” ways exist to reach out and encourage others too. We must keep in mind that there are practical ways to make personal connections with the people we want to mentor even during times of social distancing.
Here are some basic principles of mentoring during a pandemic that may be worth considering:
- Mentoring relationships may mean more during times of crisis and difficulty.
There’s something quite special when a mentor reaches out during a difficult time. It means they are thinking about you – that they are concerned and that they care about what you are going through. Mentors should do whatever they can right now to connect in any way possible with those they are mentoring.
- Mentoring is not necessarily a commitment of a great deal of time.
I don’t believe that effective mentoring necessarily requires a commitment of “extra” time. It is basically, doing what you do, just doing that with someone younger than you, or with someone who needs a mentor. As everyone is saying, these are weird days right now – and a Godly mentor can have an incredible impact by even taking small action steps to keep in touch with others.
- Mentoring relationships require taking the initiative to connect.
Any healthy relationship requires effort. Mentors are the ones who should take the initiative to make intentional connections. As I mentioned above, this does not necessarily require a commitment of a great deal of time, and it certainly does not require technological expertise. But it does demand a certain degree of purpose.
- Mentoring can use “low tech” instead of “high tech” methods.
I gladly applaud the efforts of so many church leaders who are demonstrating their knowledge and creativity during these days of the pandemic. I am not very talented with technology, but I’m thankful for how today’s communicators are utilizing technology to make a global difference for Christ in these days of social distancing. But friends, let me emphasize to you that mentoring does not require a degree in computer science from MIT. Nor does it mean that you have to learn how to use Zoom or even Facebook Live. In fact, it has been my experience that “low tech” methods are often seen as more valid and more genuine. We can always get some envelopes and some stamps, or make a quick phone call to keep in touch with the people we are mentoring.
- Mentoring is probably more effective with “high touch” methods.
There are so many simple things we can do to make personal, yet intentional connections with those we are mentoring. I am not trying to “blow my own horn” here, but just this past week I made several personal phone calls, wrote and mailed a couple of dozen of “praying for you” notes, mailed a bunch of small care packages, and sent some McDonald’s gift cards to kids from our church.
Readers, we are not living in isolation. We have ways to make connections with others. But, it’s important to remember that key principle from Proverbs 18:24, “The one who has friends, must show themselves to be friendly.” Let’s all take the initiative to make connections with others – especially those we are mentoring. Blessings to you.
The concept of “mentoring” most likely originated in Greek mythology. In Homer’s “The Odyssey”, Mentor was the older gentleman who was entrusted with tutoring Odysseus’ son and providing guidance and instruction in the absence of his father. From what I understand, Odysseus wanted his son to have another male influence in his life during the times when the soldiers were away from home at war.
Perhaps Odysseus was on to something that has turned into a significant opportunity in our current culture. Here’s what I am seeing that is so often happening today:
- Our culture and our churches tend to isolate various generations from each other into age-distinctive programming.
- So many families are struggling. Many families are no longer “traditional” (with a strong Dad and Mom) and too many kids are growing up without the positive influences of Godly adults in their lives.
- I’ve also met several Christian families who attempt to protect their kids from outside influences and actually detach their kids from the larger body of Christ.
I have become more and more convinced that every young person today needs older mentors – and that every mature, older person should be a mentor of younger people.
It’s time to connect the generations – especially in the church.
Like the ancient warrior’s son as described by Homer, our kids today need the influence from other adults in their lives – especially Godly adults who are committed to encouraging them to grow up and go on for God.
Here are 5 quick reasons why mentoring should be a priority in your church:
1. Mentoring is a practical way to connect the generations.
Sure, it makes sense to keep children together with other children, teenagers with other teens, and adults with other adults in many aspects of our church ministries. There are many valid reasons for doing just that. However, the different generations need each other, and mentoring is an ideal way to institute a layer of older-to-younger connections in your church. My own research has revealed that most young people would love to be mentored by significant older adults – and most older adults would be interested in positive relationships with young people. All it takes is a little bit of motivation, organization, and intentionality.
2. Young people want positive relationships with older adults.
I want to expand a little bit on what I just mentioned above. It has been my experience that the current younger generations in the church (such as “Gen. Z’ers” and “Millennials”), usually welcome positive, growing, and healthy relationships with caring and Godly adults. Often, it’s the older adults who feel as if they don’t have the time to develop these relationships. However, the real genius of effective mentoring is that it is not necessarily a commitment of extra time. I tell people all the time that real mentoring is just “doing what you already do, just doing it with somebody younger.” Almost anyone can do that!
3. Mentoring gives older people opportunities to connect with younger people.
For about the last 30 years I have had the opportunity to visit about 30 different churches each year. Most of the older people I’ve met love their church and want to see it continue as Christ tarries. They just don’t know how to hand off ministry and leadership opportunities to upcoming generations. They don’t want their young people to walk away from church, but they are not sure exactly what to do about it either. Friends, mentoring (especially in various aspects of ministry) may be your answer. If older people are willing to develop positive and personal relationships with young people at church (like even in the church foyer), they often find that these young people have a heart for God and would love to live for Him over the long haul. It is amazing to me how encouraging, personal relationships break down the barriers of external trends and fads. Who knows? Maybe the two generations have more in common than they realize.
4. Mentoring provides ways for people to minister to others who have things in common.
That being said, one of the best ways to make mentoring connections is through the things the two generations may have in common. It’s not that hard to identify some areas of commonality: you go to the same church, you live near each other, you have the same interests or hobbies, or the older person has gone through life experiences that the younger person is going through now. I love the story in Acts 11 where Barnabas was sent to the early Antioch church to encourage them spiritually (see Acts 11:23). The greater text in that chapter tells us that one of the reasons Barnabas was sent there was because he had certain things in common with many of the people there. Those background experiences gave him a great opportunity to connect.
5. Mentoring is Biblical.
Take a look at Titus 2:1-5. The Apostle Paul specifically instructed his readers to connect the generations. He believed that older people could be used greatly by God to “admonish” or encourage, train, teach, and challenge the younger people in that church. This pattern is what God intended. He wants older believers to minister to younger people and to encourage them in the things of the Lord. As this passage indicates, the older men and women certainly have the life experience to help younger people in specific areas of life – like in family situations (see verses 4 and 5).
NOTE: For more specific information on how mentoring connections could be developed and implemented in your church, take a look at my new book, Mentoring the Next Generation: A Practical Strategy for Connecting the Generations in Your Church. You can purchase a copy on my website at: www.GoingOnForGod.com.