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Say “Yes” to the Next Generation

Erastus. Rufus. Gaius. Phoebe. Priscilla. Olympas. Aquilla. These names don’t mean anything to us but they meant the world to Paul. When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, it was his most theological and philosophical book. It would become the most systematic, categorical, and comprehensive declaration of faith in the entire New Testament. And he ended it with a list of names. Almost three dozen names. After he put the period on his statement of faith, he let the credits roll. People who had shaped him and formed him, people who had invested in him, people who had taken a risk on him, people who had been crazy enough to join him. People who have served as his mentors, his disciples, his teammates, his spiritual family. He realized that even his theology could not be formed in a vacuum.

Saying “yes” to the next generation means we have to say yes to building a church where people matter. A church where everyone knows they belong. The structure we create should set up relationships to thrive.

Programs don’t disciple people. People disciple people. But programs are the environments, the connections, and the glue that facilitate those relationships.

Are our programs set up just to keep people busy? Or do they lead to life-changing relationships?

Disciples don’t emerge from a program. They emerge from a relationship. So our structures have to prioritize those relationships.

If we are going to make our churches places where everyone knows they belong, we have to take Jesus’ last command seriously- to make disciples. I think it’s interesting that he said we have to make disciples…not find them. That takes work and a massive reprioritization of our time, energy, and resources. Relationships need structure, but structure isn’t the goal. Jesus made sure every person he encountered knew that they mattered and had an opportunity to belong. Then, he invited them to play a role in a larger story.

Fishermen became followers.
Tax collectors became philanthropists.
Adulterers became evangelists.
Political revolutionaries became compassionate servants.

That’s how disciples are made. By giving them people a person who believes in them, a place to belong, and a story that is bigger than life. Our faith is shaped by the people around us and the places we belong.

Build Their List
Paul understood this. That’s why Romans ends with a list of names. Paul recognized that no statement of faith is developed and no mission is fulfilled in a vacuum. It is shaped by the people who surround us.

All of us have our own Romans 16 list.

Mine includes people like Mike Mathews, Herb Fisher, Dave Buehring, Stuart Hall, Mary Horton, and Mary Waite. I can’t tell my story of faith without including their names. They were Sunday school teachers, school teachers, pastors, my parent’s friends and my friend’s parents.

Who will be on your list? Who are the people that have shaped your understanding of faith? Who has walked life’s journey with you? A coach, a youth pastor, a grandparent? But then maybe more importantly, whose Romans 16 list will you be on? Who have you walked alongside of and reminded them of who God is and who they are in light of that?

Who can’t tell their story without including your name?

We’ve got to be intentional about making sure every kid has a Romans 16 list. Does the structure of your church prioritize relationships? It’s not about the programs they attend or the projects they complete, it’s about the people who will be on their Romans 16 list. And we have the responsibility to put those people their lives.

Name Their Potential
Building a church where every person matters and every person knows they belong also means naming their potential. Stewarding the influence that God has given to us means we’ve got to keep one ear to the Spirit and one ear to the ground in order to be prophets in the lives of kids—not necessarily foretelling who they will become but drawing out of them who God has created them to be. Our words matter so make them big. Make your words life-giving. Make them not just inspirational but aspirational—calling them to a higher level. You have to be a little crazy to be a disciple-maker because you have to see things in people that no one else sees and that they don’t see themselves. We have to look past the external and have supernatural insight into our kids’ gifts, potential, and calling. Discernment may or may not be one of your top spiritual gifts, but I’ve found that the Holy Spirit will often give insight concerning the people he has entrusted to my care.

When Samuel looked at David, he didn’t see a little shepherd boy, he saw a king.

Jesus looked at a big-mouthed fisherman and said, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.”

When Barnabas saw Saul, he didn’t see a murderer of Christians but a missionary who would take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

When Paul saw Timothy, he didn’t see a young punk kid, but told him “don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young, but be an example to all believers.”

When you look at the kids entrusted to your care, who do you see? We can’t control the choices they make, but we can control the words they hear. We can name their potential.

If we want to build churches where everyone belongs, we’ve got to put people in their lives that will give voice to their potential.

Brave Their Mess
Building a church where people matter and know they belong means we’ve got to be willing to run headlong into the mess they will inevitably create or find themselves in.

It begins with the mess of diapers and drool…and if only it could stay that clean. Before you know it, the mess turns into divorced parents, learning challenges, bad choices. As they enter the teenage years they make more messes than they can possibly keep a grip on. It’s the moment on a Friday night after an incredibly busy week when you are sitting on the third base line enjoying the baseball game…and your phone begins to buzz. The teenager popping up on your text sounds frightened and desperate. Two innings later they confess they might be pregnant and need help. So you run all over DC trying to find a CVS that’s open to buy a pregnancy test and sit with the kid during the excruciating moments that will follow.

Sometimes it’s sin mess- either sins they’ve committed or sins committed against them. Relational mess- the inevitable result of throwing people together with all their baggage and brokenness. Or life mess- the uncontrollable crap life throws at them.

Saying yes to relationships means saying yes to really messy situations. It means saying yes to really hard conversations. It means saying yes to inconvenience. It means saying yes to shifting priorities.

If we want to build churches where everyone knows they matter and they belong, we have to give them a person who isn’t intimidated by the mess. A place where the mess can be contained. And an assurance that God doesn’t leave us in mess but works in it and through it for our growth and his glory. Messes can be the incubators for miracles.

Communicate God’s Story
Finally, invite them into a story that is bigger than their own. It’s one thing to explain grace. It’s another thing to experience it. Creating structures and programs where people experience grace means putting a face on it, giving it a place to live, and ensuring it is part of the stories we share.

It is easy to give a kid a list of statements and say “believe it.” Or to hand them a list of rules and say “do it.” It’s something else to put people in front of them who live it.

We are not going to win the next generation if all we are doing is speaking at them. We’ve got to lead with conversation and not condemnation, inviting them into a story that is bigger than themselves. We’ve got to show them that it’s not rules to live by but a calling to live for.

Your platform will not last. Your books have a shelf life. Your sermons won’t be remembered. What will be remembered are the conversations. The presence. The sacrifices you made. We won’t be remembered by our title; we will be remembered for our love.

We have a responsibility to set up people who will communicate and communicate again the story of God’s grace and pursuit…and let them know they are wanted to play a significant role in it.

Say Yes
There are two preachers that I admire. John Wesley and George Whitfeield. Both left sermons in their wake—messages they preached that fill the shelves of seminary libraries. But one of them left entire congregations in their wake. Wesley sacrificed time and energy he could have spent to become a better preacher and invested it instead in helping others become better preachers. And it started a movement. Who do we leave in our wake?

When a kid leaves your ministry, who is going to be on their Romans 16 list? Because you control that. You can’t control the messes they create but you can determine they don’t walk through it alone. You can’t control the Scriptures they will believe or the commands they will obey but you can control that they experience grace in the fullness of truth and truth in the fullness of grace. You can’t control what the world tells them about who they are, but you can determine what they hear about who God has created them to be. Build their list. Name their potential. Brave their mess. And communicate the Story.

To build a church where every person matters and every person belongs, we cannot let Jesus’ last command become our least concern. We have to give every kid a person- someone who believes in them. We have to give every kid a place- somewhere that is a safe place for them to encounter a dangerous Gospel. We have to give every kid a purpose- an opportunity to experience the grace of God.

3 Responses to Say “Yes” to the Next Generation

  1. Angie Webb says:

    Such a great reminder of the power of people and the power of community. Great word Heather.

  2. Sarah says:

    Loved loved loved this post Heather. Thanks for the great synthesis of lots of different stuff and putting it together into a brief, compelling post. Also, it was good to see you for a hot second last week! Thank you for speaking into the lives of so many, including my own.

  3. Thank you for sharing this at Orange Conference. This clearly shows how deeply we need to be involved in the lives our students in order for life change to happen.

    Thanks for sharing.

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