Reaching and Retaining the Next Generation

Experience can be a cruel teacher. It must be balanced with loving instruction. A young man decided to take private boxing lessons. He found a boxing coach at a nearby gym who agreed to give him twenty-six weekly sessions. As part of his instruction, the young man was required to spar with other aspiring boxers at the gym.

After the first session, he was sore and swollen. He didn’t realize that it would be this difficult. The battered youth had some questions for his coach.
“You say there are twenty-six lessons in this course?”
“That’s right,” answered the teacher.
“And the rest of them are going to be like today?”
“That’s right,” the coach replied.

Scratching his head, the student asked, “Well, sir, I was wondering if I could take the other twenty-five lessons by correspondence?”

Now it would have been good if there was more instruction and less experience. I wonder if the church expects the next generation to learn the art of Christian living by experience only? Do we not have an obligation to pass along what we have learned over the years? How might we do that?

The goal of today’s message is to help you understand the value of the next generation. Not only do the presence and participation of young people in our congregation’s life insure our future in the community, but it blesses our present ministry and reflects the kingdom of God. So today, I would like to give you two reasons why we as a church should invest ourselves in the lives of young people. For one…

JESUS REGARDED YOUNG PEOPLE AS PRECIOUS, EVEN AN EXAMPLE TO US ALL.
Our Lord referred to children, youth and young people several times in the gospels and most, if not all of them, were positive. For instance, regarding the gospel message, Jesus said in Matthew 11:25:

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

And then He gave that gracious invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest….” He invited all ages to come, follow and learn. But the revelation is given to those who are young- babes, those humble and hungry.

God’s work of revealing Himself to humans is not discriminatory regarding age. Neither does sin. How many of us have thought of our youthful ignorance and the things we’d like to do over? Anyone can come to faith at any age. In fact, studies have shown that if a person does not receive Christ by the time they are 18, then it is likely that they will not. In fact, the gospel is a safeguard to the awful teacher that sin is.

Young people need faith, hope and love today. “Nearly 80 percent of deaths of Americans age 30 and younger result from injury or violence… .” “Teen suicide is a growing health concern. It is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, surpassed only by accidents, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.”

While some young people see their lives as invincible and expendable, Jesus saw them as delicate, impressionable and precious in value. Matthew 18:5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Jesus had a profound interest in children. He often took them in His arms and blessed them. Matthew 19:13 tells us:

“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’”

Jesus employed the young as faith examples. He said in Matthew 18:2:

“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’”

And so we must take notice and see the ministry ahead of us among young people. Because in blessing them, we bless ourselves. Why? Because…

YOUR CHURCH’S HEALTH DEPENDS, IN PART, ON HOW YOU SERVE THE NEXT GENERATION.

Towards the end of his ministry, the apostle Paul writes a letter of encouragement to his friend Timothy. He tells him to be dedicated to his calling, which was preaching, teaching and ethical excellence. He instructs him regarding his ministry in 1 Timothy 4:12:

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Notice the list of imperatives given here: devote yourself, do not neglect, practice, immerse, keep close watch, persist. And his obedience in such things would equate to an overall blessing found in verse 16: “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

According to Alan Nute, Timothy, “…needs to be encouraged to teach with authority. His comparative youth, (probably he was in his late thirties) may lead some to treat him with a measure of suspicion, if not disdain. He must not allow himself to be intimidated.” In contrast, Timothy must be a faith example.

Such advice is priceless. And I wonder if God is not calling Central to use the wisdom given to this church to make a positive and Christ-honoring impact on the next generation, with some effort from us.

We must reject the notion that children, youth and young adults don’t have much to contribute to the life of our church until they get to be 40 or so. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do the presence and participation of young people in our congregation’s life insure our future in the community, but it blesses our present ministry and reflects the kingdom of God.

At Central, the younger demographic is our fewest represented. We understand that our church, to be at its peak, must grow in this area. My comments must not be misunderstood into thinking that the upcoming changes and new ways of ministry is attempting to change Central into a “young persons only” church. That is far from the truth. There are other churches that are doing that. Nevertheless, it would be a sad thing for Central to have no young adults or young families in the years ahead. My friend, that is not God’s will. We must strive for balance. The younger generation is equated with more young people serving and being active in the life of our church.

Our church survey revealed that 73% of you said that either adding new families or reaching younger people was our top priority over the next three years. Generations are meant to exist side-by-side. As I’ve said before, some of my strongest friendships in ministry have been with people old enough to be my parents and/or grandparents. And, as a pastor, I try to cultivate influential relationships with those much younger than me. The latter, are relationships of investment, where I try, as I’m led and allowed, to pour myself into someone, as well as listen to them.

There is a wealth of ministry in which you can participate! The Old Testament equates advanced age with wisdom. Proverbs 16:31 tells us that: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” And, Proverbs 20:29: “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” But let us also be willing and open to hearing different ideas and offer different programs to serve a wide range of age groups, even if it stretches us a bit.

But it would be a shame if we neglected the ministry ahead by living for ourselves and not investing in the next generation. So, in three years we hope that the demographic of 18-44 year olds will be the fastest growing segment of Central. We want our children’s ministry to increase and a large number of you to be involved with mentoring and investing in the next generation.

To accomplish this priority, three things need to develop at Central Schwenkfelder Church:

For one, we want to develop a Young adult ministry that specifically targets young adults ages 18-30. This ministry will be focused on building community and relationships, encouraging spiritual growth, and reaching out to Christian and non-Christian young adults who are not currently connected with a local church. The foundations of the ministry will include small group Bible studies, fellowship gatherings, and community outreach and service events.

Secondly, while maintaining the excellence of the traditional service, we also want to further develop the informal worship service. I understand that for a number of you, that service is not your “cup of tea.” Nevertheless, we need you to support the service and not begrudge it. Young people, not exclusively, but by-in-large, like a contemporary worship service. The traditional service, up until seven years ago, was the only worship style we had. But we made the decision nearly a decade ago that we would have a contemporary worship service. And it has done well. But we think it can do better.

One of the things that came from our study with the Center, is that no growing church has a service that goes past 11:45 a.m. So, in the coming year, we want to change the time of that service, and possibly change the structure of Sunday morning, and also make some changes to Fellowship Hall, to give the Contemporary worship service the best opportunity to succeed, while maintaining a Biblical message.

Lastly, we want to develop a young family Support Center. This means providing resources for young families to be connected, cared for, and supported. Offering programs to aid young families like MOPS, Marriage and Parenting, including one-day seminars, and various events. A media content manager will coordinate an online resources centered to support these ministries.

The goal with each of these is to reach more people for Christ. Inter-generational ministry is an incredible strength, not to be minimized. We have the tools to do it. We must create space and time for this to happen. Mentoring and Christians sharing life-on-life must be not only something we wish we could do, but it needs to be reality. And for it to be reality, we must be intentional about it. Pastor Brian will be speaking more on such things next weekend.

Someone once said: “The most significant contribution we make in life, is the passing of our faith to the next generation.” One church in Columbus, Ohio saw this as critical to their existence. In the Winter 2017 edition of “On Campus,” magazine, Mike Richardson, Lead Pastor of the Indianola Church of Christ, said:

“When I came to Indianola five and a half years ago, the leaders of the church were facing many important decisions. After decades of declining attendance, we had to decide whether or not we had a reason for continuing on as a church family in the community where we were located.”

Faced with some difficult challenges and located just down the street from the 53,000 students of Ohio State University, the church, “transformed their building, their worship services, and their financial priorities in order to make their space inviting to college students.” They did things like making their fellowship hall into a coffee shop outreach; providing dinners during finals week, intentionally welcoming college students, and even taking many of them out to lunch after church.

The end product? “There is now a growing understanding and appreciation between the generations. As our senior adults continue to serve our young adults, our young adults are finding ways of serving our senior adults in return. The most exciting thing is to see God move in and through our congregation- seeing new young people come to our (programs). Their youthfulness and enthusiasm are infectious!”

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