4 Things Jesus Tells Us About Reaching The Next Generation

At the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta last year, Andy Stanley asked a question that wrecked me. He said this: “What breaks your heart?”

You don’t have to change the world, but you have to change somethingAndy Stanley
He framed the question with this statement: You don’t have to change the world, but you have to change something. His point was God didn’t ask us to change everything, but he did give us particular passions. It is those passions that pave the road to change.

The moment he asked the question, I knew my answer. My heart breaks for the next generation. My heart breaks for young people growing up in a culture increasingly antagonistic towards Christianity. My heart breaks for the next generation and the hostility they face from the church. Yes, the church. I want to fight for them. I want to affirm them. I want to prepare them.

You see, I believe the next generation should receive the church from us better than we found it. We should prepare the next generation to take the baton and run past us. Handing the next generation a battered version of the church we inherited means we fail.

Investing in the next generation isn’t easy. It involves sacrifice. It involves grace. It involves humility. It involves a future-focus. It involves becoming like Jesus.

And Jesus has a lot to say about reaching the next generation. I want to highlight a few of those. Here are 4 things Jesus tells us about reaching the next generation.

1.) Jesus came down to others. He didn’t expect others to come up to his level. 

Salvation and redemption are a product of Jesus refusing to accept equality with God (Phil. 2). He wasn’t content with his throne in heaven. He came down to us. Jesus had more knowledge and power than any person on earth. Yet he used the power to serve others. He used the knowledge to reach those who were powerless.

For us to acquire power and knowledge but not use them to affirm and encourage those without it is not only bad stewardship, it is ungodly.

I hear these statements often. “The next generation needs to practice patience. They need to stop making everything about them. We sat in pews every Sunday and listened to boring sermons. We paid our dues. The next generation needs to do the same.”

Now, does the next generation have selfish tendencies? Absolutely. But this isn’t a generational problem. It is a human problem. So, what does Jesus reveal to us about solving this problem? He comes down. He empties himself. He doesn’t tell the apostles to come up to his level. He comes down to them.

When the church asks the next generation to give up all their desires and ways to connect with God, we aren’t modeling the ways of Jesus. We are expecting those less mature, less powerful, and less knowledgeable to reach up. Instead of coming down and engaging the next generation on their level, they must come up to ours. It is selfish pride.

Maybe the next generation is leaving the church because they are exhausted from constantly having to feed those who are already full. Maybe the next generation is leaving because they are tired of reaching up and conforming to our way of doing things. Maybe the next generation is leaving because the church’s attitude is more self-centered than Christ-centered.

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2.) Jesus spoke the language of the culture.

When I was in high school if you wanted to call someone, you used something called a dial phone. Anyone under 20 has no idea what I am talking about. Today, land lines are virtually non-existent. Why? They aren’t the most effective way to communicate. That title belongs to cell phones. Cell phones allow us to message anyone in the world instantly, check social media with a click, make phone calls anytime and accomplish virtually any task in life no matter where we are. Today, if you aren’t using a smartphone, you are behind.

What does this have to do with Jesus? Glad you asked. Jesus believed strongly in effective communication. This is why he spoke in parables. He didn’t use large “churchy,” academic words when speaking to crowds. He could have, but he chose not to. Why? He wanted to effectively communicate. That is why he used stories. Stories connected. Stories were the most effective way to communicate God’s message.

The church should want to effectively communicate as well. “Why doesn’t the next generation call someone instead of always texting? Why are they on social media so much?” Well, the answer is because text messages and social media are the most effective forms of communication today. It’s ridiculous to use a dial phone to do business, and it is ridiculous to not embrace the most effective ways to communicate.

So, we can throw up our hands because the next generation doesn’t communicate like we do. Or we can embrace a new, more effective form of communication. They might have something to teach us.

3.) Jesus didn’t lecture. He loved.

When it comes to the next generation, we need to stop lecturing them and start loving them.Perry Noble
 I can’t tell you how many “lectures” I received over the years. “Frank, what were you thinking? You know better than that. Frank, here’s why you are wrong. Frank, I can’t believe you would make such a terrible decision!”

And you know what those lectures did for me? Pushed me further away. Maybe it’s time to admit lecturing the next generation does little to change them.

What the next generation needs to know is we are FOR them. They need to know we love them. They will struggle. They will fail. But when they know they are affirmed and loved, they will be compelled to get back up and keep moving. They will run to the cross and not away from it.

When the next generation constantly hears what they did wrong, what message are we sending to them? I know what message was sent to me: You better not mess up or God will be mad at you. Unless you do things the “right way,” you aren’t accepted around here.

It’s weird. Jesus seemed to understand lecturing didn’t serve the ultimate goal of transforming people. The only ones Jesus lectured were the Pharisees. But that’s because they were gluttons of knowledge and power. They did the very opposite of Jesus. The Pharisees expected others to come up to their level. You won’t find an example of Jesus lecturing those aware of their sin. Instead, you will find Jesus loving them and embracing them. You will find Jesus speaking life to them. He didn’t excuse their sin, but he didn’t lecturing them either.

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You won’t find an example of Jesus lecturing those aware of their sin. Instead, you will find Jesus loving them and embracing them. You will find Jesus speaking life to them. He didn’t excuse their sin, but he didn’t lecture them either.

There is a way to push the next generation towards God without lecturing them. Just look at Jesus.

4.) Jesus prepared the way for the church after his departure.

Jesus not only came down to those with less power, he invested in them. He spent his time preparing a group of men to take over after he left. Jesus knew his time on earth was short, and he knew his mission was larger than his time on earth. Jesus didn’t come to earth seeking to build an earthly kingdom that wouldn’t sustain after his departure. He came to build God’s kingdom that would last forever. Jesus came to prepare people, not allow people to feed him.

The problem with many churches is they aren’t preparing the next generation. They aren’t concerned with the church after their departure.

“Who cares what happens after our departure? After all, we paid our dues, now it is time for us to enjoy the fruit of our patience.”

If Jesus had the attitude of many church leaders today, the church would be non-existent. But Jesus didn’t believe power, wisdom, and title were grounds for others to feed him. He poured into others. The goal was for everyone to cross the finish line. Not just him. Not just those alive during his earthly ministry. Everyone. Jesus came to earth with a future-focus. He came to earth with a selfless focus. Jesus knew if the message terminated on him, his mission failed. The same is true for the church today.

If our selfish actions and attitudes create an environment that isn’t sustainable for the next generation, we fail. The church is larger than us. The church is more than the here and now.

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Again, the next generation is my passion. I will never give up on them. I vow to spend more time affirming and loving them than condemning them. Jesus shows us some principles for reaching the next generation. I pray we think seriously about them.

If you have a comment, please leave it below. I would love to continue the conversation.

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!

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