It was the end of “pre-teen” camp, and I was PUMPED. As campers, all week we had been learning about what you might expect; how God loved us each as individuals, how we can each hear from God, how we are unique- we even had a blast each day jumping around to fun music that celebrated God. What I was experiencing was the typical “camp high,” and it was my first- which is always the best! I was hooked! Sad to leave, but excited to take what I had learned and change the world! (I was ambitious from a young age, can you tell?) I felt believed in, empowered, and ready to ROLL, that is, until the last session of the week…
“You kids are the next generation! You are the future!”
“Wait… what…? The future? What about now?”
I was confused.
I was crushed.
I was put on a shelf, and told to wait.
A statement that was meant to be empowering, took the wind right out of my sails. It undermined all confidence I had gained that week. Previous to the last camp session, I was ready to go immediately! I was ready to take what little I had and give it away immediately! I was going to change my school! I was going to love and encourage my teachers- not to mention the amazing grades I was planning on making. I was going to be the best daughter ever! But… this guy just told me I wasn’t ready- he said I was the future. Why wasn’t I now?
With his simple, unassuming comment, he stole what had been given to me that week. I went home believing a lie; I wasn’t prepared. My age dis-qualified me to do anything relevant. Ironically, the verse of the week was 1 Timothy 4:12; “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” It sounded like the Bible thought I had things to offer… but according to this guy… not yet.
With what I know as an adult, I can easily look back and identify that the speaker meant well. I can even see some truth in what he said… perhaps what he meant was that with age comes wisdom, discernment, and understanding. If only he had said it differently… if only he had told me what was true. The truth was that I was kind, that I loved well, that I cared a lot about people’s salvation and well-being, that I burned for justice, that I had deep friendships and was well-liked by my teachers and deeply loved by my family. The truth was that I did have the power to change things- despite my age. Often it’s in the humility, and the genuine honesty of children and young people that hearts around them are shaped and changed forever- hearts young and old! Sure, I was bound to make mistakes- but that’s still true at the ripe “old” age of 26… or even 36… or 66…
Unfortunately, this teaching that youth are “next” is not rare; it is not even few and far between. I’ve heard it so many times since then; preached to me, and even around me. To this day, those words burn inside of me.
It’s not true.
There needs to be a paradigm shift:
No matter your age, you are responsible to steward your gifts and abilities now. You are a leader now. You have something to invest now.
Discipleship does, and needs to happen to help mature anyone at any age. But this should not stop anyone from leading in their current context, with the tools they have available to them now.
Sadly, the lies that people are unequipped, and under-qualified don’t stop with youth. I can’t tell you how many pastor’s wives or even elderly women I have heard say that they have nothing to give. I can’t imagine my grandmother looking me in the eyes and telling me she had nothing to give- it would break my heart. She had vocal and music lessons to give, she had over seventy years of life insight to give, she had recipes to give, she had beauty advice to give, parenting advice, wisdom, a home, a family, a listening ear… but most of all, she had love to give. She listened, and she cared. Likewise, children and youth also have things to offer! They have time to give, they have full and honest hearts to give, they have passion and zeal… the list goes on!!
What would happen if we empowered the youth? What if we encouraged them to more readily accept what they have already- big or small, and invest it into people, people groups, ministries, schools, and those around them with intentionality? I think classes would change. I think teachers would change. I think entire grade levels would change! Schools would change, families would change! I think towns and cities would change! What if the youth changed the world? I think they can.
I think that the “next” generation, starts now.
This post was written by Becky Rabb, a member of 3DM’s central team and leader in the local student ministry.