The Next Generation

Small Talk — 2014 National Conference

Look at the Book: Reading the Bible for Yourself

Alright, howdy! Okay, well, when I was in college, I ran a marathon, and I discovered that it’s really true that when you get out there on those long runs, your chemicals can go a little crazy, and you can experience that runner’s high, which is wonderful because you’ll run along and just love everybody, right? But you can also hit some real emotional lows.

Finishing Well

I remember one time I was out on a long run by myself, and I hit an emotional low. I started to hurt, and it began to rain, and everything in me wanted to do something easier, like sit. I was out in the middle of nowhere, and I thought, “I can’t stop here, son. I’ve got to keep moving.” I needed to think about something to get me moving.

And so my mind naturally went to my Bible study leader, Chris, because the year before, he had run the Houston Marathon — the year that it froze, and ice was forming on the runners while they were running. I remembered standing there at the finish line and watching as people were cramping up and crumbling all around the place. I saw Chris emerge from the chaos charging for the finish line.

I remembered that scene in the midst of my pain. I remembered thinking about Chris finishing well, and as I thought about him finishing well, I thought, “Man, I want to finish well.” I started to think less about my pain and more about what I wanted to accomplish. The more I thought about Chris, the more inspired I was. So, by the end of my run, people probably thought I was crazy. I was in a dead sprint to the middle of campus, tears streaming down my face, going, “I want to be like Chris,” because I did.

Inspire and Instruct the Next Generation

Now, why am I telling you that? For this reason, I needed somebody in front of me to inspire me and instruct me so I could run my race well. The apostle Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). My hope is that you would say the same.

What I’m here to do is to beg you that as you pursue the Lord, do not neglect the important work of inspiring and instructing the next generation that comes up behind you. Please.

It’s fascinating; as you read 2 Timothy, you got the last words and the last epistle written by the apostle Paul. We’re watching him charge towards the finish line. As he writes it, there’s something incredible. As he’s writing the book of 2 Timothy, he’s writing to young Timothy, his protege. As he speaks to Timothy, he says,

Do your best to come to me soon. . . . Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. . . . Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. (2 Timothy 4:9–12)

Do you see what’s happening?

Paul is at the end of his life in prison, but his ministry is not shrinking. It’s expanding! He’s got ministry on five fronts. I heard one pastor preach this and he said he’s like a coach calling plays. He’s out there like, “Okay, Crescens, I want you on a button hook to Galatia. Titus, I want you on a deep out to Dalmatia. Timothy, I want you in the backfield. Let’s go, people.” He’s surrounded by young men that he’s investing the truths of the gospel in and then sending them out to make a difference for the kingdom.

My hope for you is that in your pursuit of the Lord, you would not neglect the important work of imparting the truths of God’s word to the next generation. Let me give you a couple of reasons.

1. Our Churches Need It

The church needs it. We cannot be indifferent about our personal investment in the lives of people if we care at all about the proclamation of the gospel.

It’s a perfect example of this in the company Starbucks. Many of us forget this, but in 2008, Starbucks was in a free fall. Their stock had dropped almost 50 percent. They reported losses of over 7 million. They had to close thousands of stores, and they brought their old CEO back. Within one year, he had gotten them up to revenues over $152 million. How did he do it?

Not by reducing prices, not with a new product line — there was no Frappuccino 2. How did he do it? They closed their stores, and they retrained all their employees. They said, “Let’s take what’s essential for our company to function and impart it to the next generation so that they can know it and they can do it.” Our church has to do the same.

Elders in the Bible are required to have character that’s worthy of emulation and the gift of teaching, so they can impart the truths of gospel to the next generation. That’s how God rigged it. If this is what Jesus prioritized in the apostle Paul, it’s right for us to do the same.

Dawson Trotman’s question is still applicable: Where are your men? Where are your women? As you visualize the next stage in your life, do you have a picture of the young people surrounding you that you’re imparting the truths of the gospel to?

2. Young People Want It

Let me tell you something: they want it. That’s your second reason.

A couple of years ago in the movies, when they rebooted Star Wars, and young Obi-Wan Kenobi wanted to be trained in the Force, he had to learn under the tutelage of Liam Neeson. Around this same time, they rebooted Batman, and young Bruce Wayne, when he wanted to be the cape crusader, had to study under the guidance of Liam Neeson. At the same time, Orlando Bloom wanted to be a crusader in the movie Kingdom of Heaven, and he had to learn sword skills from none other than Liam Neeson. What’s the deal with Liam Neeson?

Hollywood understands what we too often neglect, and that is that young people want age. They want a Yoda. They’ve got zeal. What they lack is wisdom. They have passion, but they need someone to talk sense to them. That’s what you’ve got, right? That’s why discipleship programs abound.

For me, in ministry to college students, can I say I’ve seen this to be true? I have far more young people asking me for mentors to teach and train them than I do older people asking if they can mentor the young. They want it. They’re seeking it.

3. Young People Need It

Let me tell you something: they need it. They need it. Phillip Zimbardo, who’s the chair the Western Psychological Foundation, wrote a book called The Demise of Guys. He said the proliferation of video games and pornography have left young men without basic social skills. The average young person today will spend ten-thousand hours gaming by age 21 (it takes less than half of that to earn a bachelor’s degree by the way).

In 2012, video game industry profits almost tripled those of the entire US publishing industry. Right? Not only are these things a waste of time, but he said it takes away basic social skills of how to interact with women, how to set goals, how to accomplish real accomplishments, and how to interact with other people with confidence.

Add to that, in the United States today, forty percent of the children born in our country are born into fatherless homes. One-third of the boys in our country are raised without dads. Less than three out of five children in our country report having meals with their parents. The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse says that makes them twice as likely to abuse alcohol and four times as likely to abuse drugs. Right?

There’s an old African proverb: “If we don’t initiate the boys, they’ll burn the village down.” Young Timothy would have been an uncircumcised son of an absent father, but Paul and some other men came into his life, and he became a co-author of some of the epistles and the pastor of one of the most influential churches in the first century. They need mentors. They need you to take what God has imparted to you and entrust it to the next generation. Right? Timothys need Pauls.

4. God Commands It

It’s a command to us. Priests in the Old Testament began at the age of twenty. There was mandatory retirement at the age of fifty, but they didn’t stop working. From age fifty until the day they died, they trained younger priests, and I quote, “to fulfill an obligation.”

In the New Testament, we get the same. Second Timothy 2, we are called to take what we’ve heard and entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). Ladies, your command is found in the book of Titus: older women “train the young women” (Titus 2:4).

General Patton in World War II said, “Always have a man trained and ready to take over your job in case you are killed. The test of your ability is whether you could be killed and nothing would be lost.” The psalmist in Psalm 71 prayed what’s called “The Prayer of the Old Man.” It’s not “my back hurts.” The Prayer of the Old Man is, “Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come” (Psalm 71:18).

I remember hearing Pastor Tom Nelson say, “I want 20-year-old pallbearers at my funeral. Young men with tears in their eyes, carrying my lifeless body, thanking God for the deposit I put into their souls.” I want you to have that, because we can change the world that way. We can change the world.

William Tennent was a preacher in the 1700s in America, and he was boring. His church tried several times to get him removed, but they couldn’t because he’s Presbyterian. But he began to disciple five young men. He built a little log cabin in the back of his yard and he would teach these young men.

People would make fun of him: “William Tennent’s little Log Cabin College,” they would mock. Right? They mocked him for it, but when those young men left that cabin, they left with a zeal for Jesus Christ and a fire within them. They spread out across America to make the name of Jesus great. William Tennent’s little log cabin became Princeton, and 67 other colleges in this country started as little log cabins in the backyards of men who went out into America with fire in their eyes for Jesus Christ.

You may say, “Well, Ben, I’m not talented enough or gifted enough.” Well, you need to be as faithful. You can change the world that way.”

5. It Brings You Joy

My last two points for why we should do it are for your joy and for God’s glory, right?

For your joy. Third John says this: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). As John looked back at his life, he said, “The best thing I have on my way out is that I took the truths of God and imparted them to people that are younger than me — young families, young college students, young high school students, junior high students, and children in the nursery. I imparted the truths of God, and I have no greater joy than to see them walking in that truth.”

Paul, when he spoke to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2, said, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” He said, “For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19–20).

As Paul looked at the summation of all things, he said, “One of the things I’m most excited about when Jesus comes is that, when he arrives, I will not be standing there as a solitary figure welcoming my King. I will be surrounded by the young people that, by his grace and through his Spirit, I proclaimed his word to them, and he brought them to life. Then I taught them the truths of the gospel, so that they proclaimed it as well. I brought more glory to you because there are more voices praising you because of my efforts, and we get to stand together celebrating our King.”

6. It Glorifies God

He says, “What’s my glory and joy at the end is that I get to stand and celebrate him with you.” I want you to know what that feels like as you pursue the Lord. Don’t neglect the important work of inspiring and instructing the next generation for God’s glory, their good, and your joy. May it be. Amen.