The single strongest memory that runs through my life up to this point is the teaching of God’s grace through Jesus Christ for undeserving people like me. This reality changed me as a child, it changed me as a teenager, it changed me as a college student, and it changes me now as an adult. This truth will continue to change me until I am glorified. I could list many things that have impacted me: a multitude of sermons, college ministry large groups, small groups, etc. But nothing has impacted me more profoundly than hearing the truth over and over again about God’s grace toward sinners from friends who are older than me.
I’m thirty-one now and still have those friends who are older than me, but I too have become a friend older than someone, trying to remind them of God’s grace and his goodness.
Today we’re faced with a heartbreaking problem. Young people are walking away from the church and their faith by the masses. Some research shows numbers as high as roughly 65%. When we see numbers it’s easy to ask, what are we doing wrong? What is the church doing wrong? These are questions that should be asked and should be thought about deeply. It is also right to grieve and lament the massive amount of young people who are walking away.
What about the 35% though? What is it that seems to be keeping young people connected to the church, flourishing in faith and life? (God in his sovereign mercy presupposed.)
David Kinnamon and Mark Mattlock have devoted time and years to asking this question. In their book, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon, they explore the answer with 5 research-based practices that are cultivating faithfulness in young people in the church today.
Those 5 practices are:
- “To form a resilient identity, experience intimacy with Jesus.”
- “In a complex and anxious age, develop the muscles of cultural discernment.”
- “When isolation and mistrust are the norms, forge meaningful, intergenerational relationships.”
- “To ground and motivate an ambitious generation, train for vocational discipleship.”
- “Curb entitlement and self-centered tendencies by engaging in countercultural mission.”
I want us to focus on the 3rd practice mentioned: “When isolation and mistrust are the norms, forge meaningful, intergenerational relationships.” Why camp out on this practice? When I think back on my life, it is the one that has shaped and bolstered the other four.
When I think back to when I was thirteen, twenty-five, and even today, I learned what intimacy with Jesus looked like by watching my friends who were older than me. They had experienced pain and suffering beyond what I could imagine and yet praise never ceased to be on their lips. When high school was hard, I was able to look to a friend who had been there before.
I remember when the first iPhone came out. I was seventeen. Culture was rapidly changing (it still is) and so many things were right at my fingertips! When something felt off or uncomfortable, I had someone older than me to go to for an opinion on how to view and navigate things. Their wisdom and guidance were an invaluable voice, rooted in Scripture and experience and oftentimes very different than the voice of my peers. I learned cultural discernment and a biblical world- and life-view from friends that had seen culture shift and change much more than I had.
When I graduated college, I worked in campus ministry at a university for three years. I was moving cities which meant changing jobs. I had never worked a job that wasn’t a ministry job, and I was at a loss for how I could possibly glorify God in my work if I wasn’t doing ministry. It was a friend much older than me who helped me think through a theology of work, who helped me remember that there is dignity in work, whether that work be ministry or practicing medicine or working in retail.
Today’s culture screams at us, “You do you! Live your truth!” It’s a message of self-worship. What I feel has to be true. I don’t need any encouragement to pursue selfishness, but I do need God’s mercy and grace daily to rebel against society’s norm and live in service to others. I could write a novel about the way I see my older friends refusing to live out this “you do you” mentality. They’ve been around long enough to know it’s all a lie. Their friendship and their wisdom help me engage in our countercultural mission.
In an age where we often focus on what we’re doing wrong, I’m grateful for some things we’re doing right. I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Pray for Me Campaign here.
The Pray for Me Campaign is helping individuals, families, and churches create these intergenerational relationships that are proven to help cultivate faithfulness among the next generation. I encourage you to check out how you can benefit and begin helping others cultivate faithfulness using the Pray for Me Campaign.