Publication: One-to-One, Autumn 2007
Someone recently gave me a note which contained words taken from a wall in a children’s hospital. The note read: “Children are a message we send to a time we will not see.” The note struck me as a profound statement and I wondered how we could send our best message to the future.
The subject of future generations grows in my mind as I grow older. My focus was sharpened even more by a new book written by my friend Mark Hoffman entitled, The Joshua Principle. It is the best book I have ever read on the importance of and means to reach children and youth. Mark and his brother David co-pastor Foothills Christian Church in El Cajon, California, near San Diego. That church reaches 5000 young people each month through its various ministries. (The book can be obtained by ordering from CSN, 833 Broadway, Suite #201, El Cajon, CA 90210.)
As you know, we recently conducted a survey of our readers. I made a startling discovery: 80% of my readers are over 50 years of age. I deeply appreciate my readers and of course, I fall into that same category of age. But I became concerned about how I could better relate to younger people.
Carolyn and I have 8 grandchildren, including a brand new baby granddaughter, Madison Genoa Mejia. We have a multi-cultural family and love each member. I believe that Carolyn and I have a good relationship with our grandchildren, but what about their peers? That is our deep concern.
This past summer, I was in Costa Rica ministering to a conference led by my long-time associate, Hugo Zelaya. Hugo is near my own age. At the close of the last service, we prayed for numerous people including many teenagers. Some of them face huge challenges, as do teens in our nation.
One of my challenges in relating to kids is the huge shift in culture. The language, media, family-life, and exposure to destructive forces is radically different from my own youth experience. Human life has been greatly devalued by abortion, drugs, divorce, and other influences. Perhaps the greatest impact upon youth has been the disconnect between generations and the resulting influence of non-parented peers.
Many adults have taken a “hands off” attitude toward children and given up their obligation to be a guiding influence. The resulting “freedom” for youth has far exceeded their maturity and responsibility. And, by removing the powerful influence of prayer and Bible study form schools, teenage suicides have exploded by 300% and teen pregnancy by 600%!
Teens are often given cell phones, TV’s, IPODs, cars, and computers without parental oversight. Facebook, Myspace, and YouTube have expanded their experiences into unknown and often dangerous territories. Drugs, alcohol, and sex have become a fatal cocktail for far too many, as they imitate the celebrity culture. In those cases, we are sending a sad message to the future.
Jesus connected with children and youth. A prime example is found in Matthew 19:13-15, which says, “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them.” But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.” Sometimes it’s Jesus’ disciples who miss this purpose with regard to children and youth.
Jesus literally touched the lives of young people, and He personally prayed for them. Children need the touch of spiritual leaders, and leaders need to be in touch with children. The generational connection is required for an important exchange of life. We get the humility of child-likeness. They get whatever blessings that we have to offer.
Several years ago, Carl Sagan produced a movie called Contact. It was a fictitious account about connecting with extraterrestrial life. Governments have built the world’s largest telescopes and spent billions of dollars in an effort to make a connection with extraterrestrial intelligence. Meanwhile we have failed to make adequate contact with the intelligence right in front of us.
How can we connect with the younger generations? Here are seven suggestions:
Jesus’ success was based on several issues: He was authentic and approachable; the Holy Spirit drew them to Him; He was out there where they were; and they sensed that He really did love them. Jesus was not critical of sinners or the young people; He accepted and blessed them.
The Bible is full of teaching about children and their importance. Adam’s failure to reach Cain, Noah’s success with his children, or Abraham’s teaching of Isaac are all there to study. The books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes tell us a lot about the importance of training our children. The genealogies remind us that God and His people understand the vital nature of training children. However, my purpose here is not primarily to do a Bible study, though I hope that you will. My purpose is to urge the issue upon us-make a connection and give what you have received. Make it a personal priority and not only a church priority.
I am a privileged person. I have been allowed by God’s grace to speak to churches literally thousands of times. That experience has furthered my own education and helped me to see some things that have greatly benefitted me. One thing that I have observed is that when children and teens are seated in the very front of the congregation, good things are happening. When they congregate primarily in the back rows, it is not a good sign.
One might think that the answer is to say, “Now we want all of our young people to come sit down front.” No, that is not what I mean! It is when children and youth want to sit down front that good things are happening. It means that outside of the meeting someone has made a connection. It is the connection that is needed, not the demand.
I know this to be true because when I was young, and my spiritual life was messed up, I sat in the back. When I connected spiritually, I moved forward. Kids in the back row will move forward when real contact is made.
Kids on the back row are a symptom of where the Church has placed its priority. And the kids that are not there at all show us the problem the most. The percentage of non-attending children and youth in Western culture is overwhelming. These kids, our future, are at risk.
It is not my purpose to criticize what any of us may be doing-it just isn’t enough. We may look at our church and say, “We have a fine group of young people; we have a good youth ministry,” and so forth. And that may be true. But what I advocate with any focus is that we move involvement from the institutional level to the personal level.
We cannot afford to lump our kids into the “youth” category and measure results by numbers in church on a given Sunday.
The focus must become a matter of me and a particular young person that my life can touch personally. Impartation from group-to-group is hardly effective. But, from person-to-person, impartation will be life changing.
Our son-in-law, Enrique, works with underprivileged and often desperate children where he also spent his younger years. He is able to relate. In addition to the seven children that he and our daughter, Charlyn, have, he meets with others on a personal level. They come to his home and he goes to theirs.
I recently prayed with two of these boys, Nini and Javier, both early teens. I saw God touch them and heard them respond. They come from a very desperate environment–broken families and a drug-infested area. But because Enrique went to where they were, they are coming to where he is.
These and other kids like them have names and they have a story. They are not just part of a group we call “youth.” They are individuals that need a deliverer and they live near you.
Here’s what I dare you to do: get out of any rut that you may be in. Break out of your own culture. The adults that we fellowship day-in and day-out are yesterday’s fruit. It is not as likely that great change will happen in their lives. But a child is yet unformed and they desperately need what you have.
The people that affected our lives the most probably did so when we were very young. And now our greatest affect will be upon the young – if we will reach out. Can I say this? I dare you!
In heart surgery they call this a “bypass.” I had a quadruple bypass in 2000. The blood was not flowing properly in my heart. There was blockage. The Church needs a “bypass.” The life needs to flow more freely to kids, but there is too much blockage. We must cut around the blockage and provide arteries that go directly to the area that will die if we do not take the action. We can go around any blockage in the Church by taking personal responsibility to give life to a child. If you know a young person that would be interested in receiving any of my articles or letters, please, send me their name and address – then tell them that you did and why. I’ll send you a CD of your choice, free. Let’s work together to put kids in the “front row” of our lives and send the Gospel message to the future.
Scripture Reference: Matthew 19:13-15
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.