Dr. Nathan Lewis, our guest speaker at our upcoming Equip Conference said something to me a few months ago that shook me to my core. “We are just a generation away,” he said. And I knew what he meant. Statistics are shocking, the church in America in its current format is hemorrhaging young people. Kids raised in the church are leaving. Which means something in the church is drastically broken. I would argue that it has been the church’s three decade long (at minimum) focus on entertainment over discipleship. That’s a generation’s worth of a lack of discipleship. And we are now seeing the result of what is happening when an un-discipled generation becomes parents…
One of the key signs of and requirements for life in God’s creation is reproduction. Every cell in your body reproduces itself. In fact in one given day, over two trillion cells in the average human body divide and thus multiply. If this process stops, the human body will stop. Life will end. Species of animals reproduce; if they do not, they become extinct. Plants produce seeds. Funguses produce spores. Animals produce eggs. Reproduction is woven into the fabric of life. And thank God it is or you would not be alive today.
So here is an important question. While all life is of extreme value and should be treasured, what kind of life is of the highest value? I’m not asking what type of person is most valuable, far from it, I’m asking what kind of life is so valuable to God that in order to create it he sent His only son to die on the cross and give up his own physical life? The answer? Spiritual life. Being physically alive is of great value, but being spiritually alive through new birth in Christ is of the highest value. It is spiritual life that enables us to know God, be empowered by God, and live forever with God. It is spiritual life that sets the church apart. It is spiritual life that radically changes and calls us to care for all physical life around us.
At its core, the church is to be those most concerned with reproducing Christ’s spiritual life in this world. Christ’s calling to go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey His teachings, is essentially the call to spread spiritual life in this world. Like God putting Adam and Eve into the Garden and telling them to be fruitful and multiply, Christ has placed the church in the midst of the world and said “be fruitful and multiply.” But how do we do that? The current format of dropping our kids off in rooms with entertainment is failing. Filling our sanctuaries with adults who are entertained is failing. So what do we do?
DISCIPLESHIP IN SCRIPTURE
Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles and author of half the New Testament, was a single man with no children, whose work gave spiritual life to countless people across the Gentile world. He even opens his letters to Timothy, a young man he met in the church in Lystra as his “true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2) and his “dear son” (2 Timothy 1:2). Paul understood that his work in the Kingdom of God had eternal significance and led to many “children in the faith.”
Paul recounts Timothy’s spiritual birth in 2 Timothy saying,
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:5-6).
We might read this account and think about this as having taken place over a long period. Indeed, Timothy’s grandmother and mother were both Jewish and Timothy grew up learning about Jewish scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15 – parents, teach the Bible to your kids!). But his conversion to Christ and thus the “sincere faith that first lived inside of him,” did not come until much later. It is estimated that Paul first met Timothy’s grandmother Lois in Lystra during his first missionary journey somewhere around 46 A.D. where he then shared the Gospel with her. Lois’s influence and genuine new birth led to Eunice’s conversion as she saw new life in her mother. And that new life led to Timothy’s conversion in the faith. Paul returned to Lystra around 50 A.D. where he met Timothy and began discipling him. At that point Paul is estimated to have been in his late 40s and Timothy in his early 30s.
So let us break down this generational influence in the family of God: Grandmother’s faith + mother’s faith + single middle aged man’s faith = Timothy’s Faith. But the spread of Spiritual Life doesn’t end there as Timothy went on to travel with Paul on his missionary journey and eventually became the pastor at the church in Ephesus where he brought about the Spiritual Life of many others.
This is the church at it’s best. Sincere, relational, spiritual, multi-generational influence in and out of the physical family leading to the spiritual birth of new believers. So, we need to address several people with this point of view:
- Grandparents: never underestimate the power of your consistent Spiritual influence in the lives of those in your family.
- Elderly: never think you do not have influence in those younger than you in the church. Men and women in today’s world are hungering for Godly mentors and friends. When an older person thinks they have “aged out of ministry” like a parent who is past their child rearing days, the church suffers. At no point in a person’s life, when they are filled with the Spirit of the living God, do they become spiritually impotent and past their prime. You have so much influence left within the family of God. Please, for the sake of the church, do not waste it! Our society may not value those of old age, but in the family of God you are absolutely invaluable and we need you!
- Parents: how are you fostering and growing the spiritual life of your children? Do you feel equipped? Are you teaching the Bible to your kids? Do you know how?
- Parents of adult children: Eunice was led to faith by her elderly mother and then turned around and led her adult son to faith. Do not think because your child is an adult that they are beyond your influence. Your example of Godliness, love, truth, and grace infused with the Spirit of the Living God contains within it what is needed for faith to come alive in your children.
- Single adults: Note that Paul was single and yet had a profound impact on the Spiritual Lives of those around him. His singleness did not disqualify him from ministry. Quite the opposite, it freed him to focus even greater attention on discipleship.
- Those without children: In the world of Spiritual Life at Church, you have the ability to have countless “true sons (and daughters) in the faith.” That was Paul’s perspective. Is it yours? Who are you laboring to see come alive in the faith? Whose faith are you fostering and helping grow?
Making Disciples is not just a part of what the church does. Nor is it just something a few people in the church do. It is something that the entire church plays a major role in. And the first mission field the church has is the young people within the church. It has been my experience, and revealed in research, that the most impactful and effective method of seeing young people come alive in their faith is with multi-generational, relational investment.
This Friday we will begin the Equip Conference where we will examine the most effective principals and practices for seeing spiritual life birthed in our younger generations at church. There will be vital equipping for everyone as we seek to right the ship in our lack of generational discipleship. Have you signed up yet? If no, why not? Join us for part or all of the conference and sign up here!