Publication: Pastoral Letter, February 2010
Dear Friend in Christ:
The generational bridge, the one between my generation and those who are now in their teens and twenties, has suffered serious damage. Consequently, eternal truth, principles, and absolutes have been passed on with great difficulty, or not at all. The bridge has been damaged from numerous attacks from media, entertainment, and other powerful influences. The future depends upon our willingness to engage in some serious bridge-building.
I have been privileged to speak to a wide variety of groups and cultures, and often challenged to bridge the gap. Recently, I was asked to speak to a group of young adults. I found them ready to listen and willing to engage a person of my age (73 in April). I was blessed, but again reminded of the vital importance to make this connection as the Scriptures command us. While we cannot take the past to the future, we can pass on the lessons and truth that will build a secure future. We cannot trust the state or some other institution to do that for us if our rich legacy is to be preserved.
Psalm 11:3 says, “If the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Our foundations are under attack, and the righteous must act. Over the Christmas and New Year season, I read several books on three subjects: youth ,history, and the church. I read books on the lives of Winston Churchill, David Brainerd, and others as well as books on the current views of youth and contemporary church. The latter books were not encouraging.
A lot could be said regarding our historical heroes, those people of great courage and convictions who gave their very lives for our freedom and prosperity. While they were not always right, they were committed to those causes which would ultimately bless us. They left us with lessons well-worth passing on to future generations:
They had moral and spiritual foundations. That built a nation able to endure great stress. They had principles and convictions worth living and dying for, convictions that gave us stability in unstable times.
They had faith in God. Some had more faith than others, but they understood that God rules in the affairs of men. Some were deeply devoted to prayer.
They had a sense of history. They studied, some through formal education, others through personal study and pursuit of truth. They had a high regard for the past record.
They were committed to a cause. The value of their lives is measured by the mission for which they lived and died.
They had courage in the face of danger. And they were willing to place themselves between danger and responsibility. That is the nature of real leadership.
They had a sense of legacy. Not only thinking of themselves but those who would follow after. They understood the consequences of failure and gave themselves for us and our success.
As a result of their sacrifice and the sacrifices of many others, we have received faith in God, freedom from tyranny, and a great measure of peace and prosperity. But the highest aim of our enemy is to destroy those foundations and thereby wreck the lives of future generations.
Times have changed. The theology, philosophy, and psychology of the present are very different. Granted, there are still those who embody the values of our forefathers, but the general mood has shifted as younger generations have come to power. Our great challenge is to understand and relate to those who will be the leaders and opinion-makers of the future.
Generally speaking, the younger generation is quicker, taller, smarter, and certainly more technologically attuned than my generation. But their formation is quite different. The “radicals” of yesterday are more the norm of today. This is true in virtually every field. History is often either revised or simply not taught. Subjectivity and self-awareness and personal preference have surpassed historical lessons and their influence.
“Openness” has become a redefined word, and it now defines younger thinkers. “Openness” means that the young are more open to “alternative” lifestyles, homosexuality, premarital sex, divorce, pornography, tattoos, body piercings, drugs, alcohol, more government regulation, and a host of other issues that once were taboo. While these issues do not categorize all youth, there is a greater tolerance for them.
“Openness” has a profound theological impact. It has become fashionable to cast aside the classical theology of the Bible in favor of creating one’s own theology or no theology at all. Atheism has been aggressive toward our youth. The fact that atheism is a historical failure which produced many genocidal movements has escaped the attention of many young minds. Darwin and Nietzsche have replaced Peter and Paul as models for many; consequently, we have lost too many of our most precious youth. This process has begun long before college.
One of the major factors is that so many youth are without fathers, or have negligent fathers. A major responsibility of a father is to pass along a heritage (see Psalm 78). With the increasing instability of family life and social mobility, this trend is accelerating.
Peers have become “parents”. In the absence of stability at home, young people seek refuge in friends whose influence dominates their lives. Friends offer acceptance, advice, and guidance; never mind that they are inexperienced and often detrimental. All of this happens while parents are out of touch and bridges have been burned.
These factors add up to a view of older people and their religion as too rigid, judgmental, hypocritical, and “closed” to new thinking and culture. And too often, that is the case. Unless we understand the realities, we will see a very different future as the young rise to power.
The Bible has given us the foundations for freedom, faith, peace, and prosperity. As we lose touch with the Word of God, we will lose these precious gifts. Indeed, much has already been lost.
The Bible is an inspired compilation of truths, experiences, and words from God; it is the Word of God. It commands one generation to give these gifts to successive generations (see Genesis 18:19,Deuteronomy 4:10, Deuteronomy 31:19, Psalm 48:13, Psalm 78, Psalm 145:4, Proverbs 1:8-10, Isaiah 59:21, 2 Timothy 2:2, and Titus 2:1-8). The New Testament is given to teaching the new believers the foundations of the faith.
Just look at Adam’s failure to teach his son Cain, and you will see what happens when one generation fails to pass on the Word of God. It is important that we get back into the Word. A few texts flashed upon an overhead screen are insufficient to establish us in the truths of God. Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (read the entire Psalm). Without the Bible and hearing God’s Word, future generations will walk in darkness.
While I have never built a physical bridge, I have done construction and I know that it takes hard work. What I suggest will not be easy, but the goal is worth the effort. Even those of us who have no children or whose children have already grown up have a part in this serious task. Here are some ways to construct the bridge:
Start early. We cannot afford to wait until the problem is apparent. Jesus built bridges with children and understood the opportunity to give them attention. Bear in mind, that the bridge is not teaching or advice; the bridge is a relationship over which truth can travel.
Pray for the children and youth. In a recent conversation I talked with a father whose son had been through a great difficulty and returned to Christ. He attributed the change to his grandmother’s prayers. God alone can change hearts.
Care about what’s going on in their lives. Ask questions and listen. Give them undivided attention. If we fail to care, we will most certainly fail. God cares.
Be real. Youth are quick to spot insincerity. Someone said, “Don’t worry that your children don’t listen; worry that they watch.” Hypocrisy is a major contribution to our problem. We need to admit the problems of our generations as we face theirs.
Try to understand the culture. We can only do this by reading, listening, and watching. It is the equivalent to studying a foreign language and culture. We do not have to emulate youth – that is not real. We have to understand in order to communicate.
Don’t be offended. If we really hear or see what is happening, we can be offended or even repulsed .But if we react, we close off communication. Defending our position or attacking theirs is useless. We can accept the person though we do not accept the language or behavior.
Focus on specific relationships. We cannot relate to all, but we can relate to some, whether they are our own children and grandchildren or their friends. There are many young people who are seeking real relationship and friendship.
Do not be in a hurry. Trust is difficult to establish. One neighborhood in our city has a church on every corner but the highest crime rate. Those young people do not trust pastors or religious people. It will take time to prove that you care. There are many things that we can give before we give advice – time is one of those things.
Take another look at Jesus’ ability to reach youth. Most of His disciples were young. He had qualities that they respected and they gave their lives to emulate and to serve Him.
Offer Mission and Purpose. Youth need a cause. The great causes of history were served by youth. They have the idealism, energy, and ability to serve a worthy cause. Jesus offers that. A Church without a sense of mission will lose its youth. Take a young person to some field of service; it will change their life.
Finally, bear in mind, the mission is about the kingdom of God, not the Church. The kingdom of God was Jesus’ message and mission_to establish righteousness in the earth under God’s government. Church is a by-product, where citizens of the Kingdom gather to share life and celebrate the King.
Every generation faces the challenge to build a bridge to the future. Some have promised bridges, but they were without foundations, and failed. But we do need a bridge. In the American Revolution, some of the generals were in their twenties. The soldiers who give their lives are often in their teens and twenties. We cannot afford to underestimate the potential of youth, or the terrible loss of wasted youth who go after “pied pipers.”
The generational bridge has been built in the past. Jesus did, and it can be restored if we make it a priority and persevere in our effort. But it will require more than some programs. It will require prayer and work. I pray that we can be up to it. As Jesus said, “Wisdom is justified by her children”(see Matthew 11:19).
P.S. Please continue to remember us this month in your prayers and in your giving. Has the call to reach a new generation ever been more urgently needed? And visit us on the web at www.csmpublishing.org!
Scripture Reference: Psalms, Genesis, Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Isaiah, 2 Timothy, Titus, Matthew
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.