To Reach Young People, We Need to “Become Like Children” Explore More Content
My grandparents were young at heart. They were our role models growing up; the one example Susie and I had of an intact, godly married couple. But more than that, they “connected” with us many years before we would become married adults ourselves. Back when we were dating as teenagers, we would drive out to my grandparent’s home to spend a week with them, sitting around the dining room table talking over a meal or a playing a game of Rummikub. They were 45 years older, but you wouldn’t have known that if you were eavesdropping on our conversations. They were our grandparents, our mentors and our closest friends. Years later, now that both of them have gone home to be with God, Susie and I think about how blessed we were to have had Warner and Evelyn in our lives, even as we ponder what it means to be “young at heart." We want to be like my grandparents so we can mentor our own grandchildren and reach the most critical demographic in the church: young Christians.
Jesus said an attitude of youthfulness was more than an option; it was a necessity for those who wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)
What did Jesus mean here when He said we must “become like children” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven? It clearly had something to do with submission; Jesus immediately described the importance of humbling oneself in the very next line. As I examine this passage, I can’t help but think of my grandparents and their ability to connect with people more than four decades their junior. They had, in many ways, “become like children”; they possessed a humble nature that I’ve struggled to understand and describe over the years. I think I’ve isolated two features of this childlike humility that might be helpful for those of us who want to “become like children” so we too can mentor and guide the young Christians in our lives:
People Who Are “Young At Heart” Are Passionate If there’s one feature of young people that seems to separate them most from their older counterparts, it’s passion. I noticed this immediately when I transitioned from the role of Youth Pastor to Lead Pastor. You want to lead a two day missions trip to Skid Row to evangelize the homeless? You’re youth group will get fired up and turn out in droves. Adult groups? Not so much. Young people are excited; they’re up for almost any challenge. They’re passionate and fearless. Adults are often more measured, tentative and uninterested. Jesus knew that people who are uninterested and dispassionate about the kingdom of heaven won’t even care enough to listen to the plan of Salvation. You have to be passionately interested in God before you’re going to be willing to search for Him.
People Who Are “Young At Heart” Are Teachable Young people are also ready to learn. They’re surrounded by older folks who demonstrate a higher level of proficiency in nearly every aspect of life. They want to know what we know and they are eager to surpass us. They are humble enough to know there’s a bunch of stuff out there they still need to master and they are willing to tackle new challenges. Older folks sometimes settle into a rhythm as we learn just enough to effectively work and sustain our lives. We fall into a comfortable pattern and start to think we know everything we need to know. We seldom push ourselves into unfamiliar territory. After several years, we’ve forgotten many of the disciplines we had as young, eager students. We become more settled and stubborn over time; we’re less and less teachable.
Now that I’m over 50, youthfulness has become ever more important to me (I’m not ashamed to confess this). My body reminds me that I’m aging and there’s not much I can do to reverse that physical reality. But I can do something about my attitude. As an old guy with white hair, I still want to reach and prepare young Christians. This is the one group all of us, as Christian Case Makers, ought to be targeting. But I know I can’t reach them on the basis of my physical appearance, my taste in music or my skills on a surfboard. I’m going to have to be “young at heart” and “become like a child." I need to be passionate and teachable. When students see my passion and humility as a learner, they are far more likely to be passionate learners themselves. I may not dress like them, talk like them, or listen to their music, but I am passionate about them and I want to learn with them. My grandparents modeled this for me, and I want to model this forward to the young people I train.