I’ve been listening to some lectures by a guy named Fred Grey. He was the attorney for Rosa Parks, Dr. King and countless cases in Alabama during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.
And he was a member of the churches of Christ.
Dr. Grey has lived a fascinating life, his stories are engaging, his observations are prophetic and he speaks with a mixture of charm and caution about current day issues. But what I found the most intriguing was a point he made toward the beginning of his lecture.
He pointed out that the civil rights movement, and many other movements of its ilk, would never have happened if it hadn’t been for the young people. While the civil rights movement had great leaders rise up among them that have become household names, Dr. Grey insists it was the young people who changed the country. They were the unsung heros who picketed, boycotted and sacrificed their bodies when necessary.
One of the recurring themes in studies about churches in the West is how we are losing our young people. The statistics show that when a young adult graduates from high school they are likely also graduating from our churches.
And I would imagine that when many churches start talking about that statistic their immediate concern might have something to do with waning church attendance. Now I get that, but I am concerned about something else.
Dr. Grey said that historically most societal changes are initiated and sustained by young people. Now these aren’t political changes, but grass-roots ones.
In 1st Timothy, Paul writes a young church planter named Timothy just giving him some advice. He tells him not to let anyone look down on him because he’s young, but to set an example in how he’s pure, how he talks, his faith, how he lives and how he loves.
Now I know that you have probably heard that verse quite a bit. And typically, I’ve heard that to mean don’t let people put you down just because your the B-team. But I think that the verse means something else.
I think Paul knows that while young people need the church, the church needs young people.
Not just as seat-fillers, waiting for their chance to be in charge, but to set an example to others right now. Now I don’t think that young people are just inherently good and older people are bad. If you know me, you know that I have a deep respect for my older mentors and value the people who have gone before me sharing their journey with those who have yet to experience life.
But It’s easy for the church to slip into “status-quo” thinking, to forget that things don’t have to be this way. And I think part of the beauty of the Scriptures is that they demand that the parents tell the story of God and His people to their children.
Because the gospel is reborn in each generation. Jesus comes again with all his implications for the world that exists in this time and this place. The danger comes when our youth are no longer told a story that seems world-changing, when they see the church as just a cold institution of indifference instead of the wild, Kingdom of God, revolution that she embodies.
Our young people are not just an investment in our future. They can be how God speaks a fresh word into the people of God now. They can hear the story of God with fresh ears, asking new questions for this world God is making new among us, and sometimes they may need to lead the way.
At least that’s what Paul thinks.