Recently as a church we saw, in both Leviticus 19 and in Acts 16, the value of the elderly. In the case of Leviticus 19:32 we were exhorted, “You shall rise before the grey headed and honour the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD.” We learned from this that, by virtue of “priority of existence,” we are to show respect to the elderly. This matter is of such importance because this is the way that God has ordered society. The fact that this command is coupled with the command to “fear your God” indicates how seriously God views obedience to this statute.
We deduced from this that the older generation has much to offer the younger generation. In fact, I made the point that all too often the youth ministries of churches are led by men who are, frankly, too youthful! In other words, our youth ministries need a “generation gap.”
In Acts 16, we learned that Paul (who at the time was in his late forties or early fifties) chose Timothy (a man who, at the oldest, was in his early twenties) to accompany him on his second missionary journey. This young man would play a key role in Paul’s succession planning for the future. In fact, one day he would become the pastor-teacher of the great church in Ephesus, a church planted by the apostle Paul.
What we should note is that there was an age gap of perhaps 25 years between these two men. And the gap was necessary, particularly with reference to Timothy.
You see, Timothy quite clearly had great potential for the ministry, as indicated by the fact that he was “well spoken of by the brethren in Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2). In other words, Timothy had a wonderful testimony amongst believers; he was commended for the ministry by the church. And yet he was in need of further training. He needed the mentorship of an older, more experienced and therefore wiser man. A generation gap was necessary.
Though there is much that can be said about this issue it is clear that the younger generation (youth and young adults) is vital to the spiritual health of the local church and that it has much to offer. But it is also true that these young people need the mentorship of the older generation; and we neglect this to our impoverishment as a community of faith. Though the popular concept of the generation gap is typically a negative one, I would argue that, handled correctly, a generation gap is precisely what the church needs. The older generation needs to teach the younger generation all that it has learned in the “gap” between being young and now being older.
It is for this reason that I have never quite understood the rationale that argues for a really young youth pastor. And when it comes to such things as “Youth Conferences,” is there not much wisdom in using the experienced—those who have been young who are now old—to preach and to teach?
If we are serious and clear-headed in our thinking about the value of younger people in the ministry and life of the church, then let us treat them like adults. And one way to do so is to utilise much older adults to mentor and to instruct them. Thankfully, at BBC, this is taking place through such ministries such as Young Guns, and with our current YP and Young Adults, and in many other less formally structured ministries. This is good for BBC. Yes, such a generation gap between learner and instructor is a healthy one.
As a church we must be committed to cultivating an ethos where the younger generation comes to appreciate the generation gap. Young people need to learn that the gap holds a lot of wisdom that can be called upon as they embark into what can otherwise be a chasm of darkness.
Young people, learn to listen to those who have traversed that chasm and you will be the better for it. And to those of us who are older, love the younger generation and prove it by practically helping them as they grow older. If we are faithful to do so now, they will one day find themselves ministering to the next generation from the other side of the gap.