After I left university, Sandy Millar did the same as Jonathan had done, in a different way. He showed me a model of how to live the Christian life, to which I still aspire. Ever since, there have always been people in my life from whom I am learning and others to whom I am trying to pass it on. As in a relay race, we have a responsibility to pass on the baton. Here are three ways to empower the next generation:
You have a story to tell. Every family has stories. Every church has its own stories of what God has done. Every Christian has a story – a testimony. All of us have access to the great story of what God has done in Christ. We have to ‘tell the stories’ (Psalm 78:6). The psalmist says, ‘We will tell the next generation[ei] the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done… to teach their children, so that the next generation would know them… and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God’ (Psalm 78:4–7).
Juan Carlos Ortiz tells the story of meeting an old lady in his native Argentina who introduced him to a young girl, who was one of her great grandchildren. She went on to say that she had six children and 36 grandchildren. Her family was impressive in number and among her grandchildren were many well-educated and professional people. Carlos asked her, ‘How did you manage to produce such a large, well fed, well dressed, well educated, extended family?’ She replied: ‘I didn’t. I just took care of the six. And each of them took care of their six.’
Each generation has a responsibility to tell the next one about the goodness of God and to warn them of the mess that we make of our lives when we turn away from God’s goodness.
Paul recognised he had a responsibility to train up others. He found Timothy – ‘a fine young man’ (Acts 16:1–2). Timothy was discipled, trained and taught by Paul. Paul was a mentor to Timothy. They are a great example of what we all should be doing. Find a Paul from whom you can learn and find a Timothy to whom you can pass it on.
Bill Hybels has said that every major strategic step or decision he has made was inspired and encouraged by someone three feet away from him and not when he was in a crowd of a thousand people. While preaching can make a big impact, preachers often overestimate the amount of truth that is assimilated between the pulpit and the pew. In his life, ‘truth applied across a table’ has been a key to his own personal growth. This seems to have been the key for Timothy.
It was through Paul that Timothy had become a Christian and they became very close friends. Paul was older than Timothy and he described their friendship as being like that of a father and son (Philippians 2:22). Paul described Timothy as ‘my son whom I love’ (1 Corinthians 4:17).
They went through a great deal together. ‘They travelled from town to town’ (Acts 16:4). They even spent time in prison together. During all this Timothy would have been watching Paul, and being trained up as his successor.
It is not enough to hope that the ‘Timothys’ are watching us. We must strategically position younger disciples to have significant opportunities to lead. Paul bestowed on Timothy real responsibility. He could trust him because he knew him so well.
The final letter attributed to Paul is 2 Timothy. To the very end of his life, Paul’s priority was encouraging and releasing the next generation. Let’s make it ours too.
Unless we learn the lessons of history and ‘teach… the next generation’ (Psalm 78:5–6) they will repeat the mistakes of the past. The book of Kings records the history of the people of God so that the following generations may learn from them.
The account of Jeroboam (1 Kings 12-13) is a terrifying one. He passed on a terrible legacy to the next generation. ‘After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves’ (1 Kings 12:28). It is not enough to ‘seek advice’ if we consult the wrong people! The sin of the house of Jeroboam ‘led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth’ (13:34).
Jeroboam’s key sin was that he made up a form of religion and worship to suit himself. He encouraged idol worship rather than the worship of God. Jeroboam’s religion was a made-up religion, created to suit his own desires and needs. We may not worship golden calves, but the same danger is just as evident today. As Pope Francis has said, ‘The most dangerous idol is our own selves when we want to occupy the place of God.’
Jeroboam may have had many military, commercial and political achievements and yet, it seems these successes are fairly irrelevant. As Jesus said, ‘What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?’ (Mark 8:36).
What matters most is a close relationship with the living God. That’s what must be passed on to the next generation.
Nicky Gumbel is vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton and pioneer of Alpha. This was featured in his Bible on One Year commentary bibleinoneyear.org