Ed Hird in his book, Battle for the Soul of Canada, calls for churches to rise up and nurture a generation of Timothy’s. Who was Timothy and why do we need modern day examples of this man? Timothy was Paul’s “go to guy” when he needed a loyal, smart, courageous and spiritually sensitive leader for a particularly difficult task. What is amazing about Paul choosing Timothy to be his ambassador to a number of difficult churches was his young age. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for them in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4: 12
Over the next few posts I would like to look at exactly who Timothy was and why Paul had such reliance in this young man. But, before we do that we have to ask ourselves where are the young people that need to be nurtured and encouraged? If we honestly look around the churches there aren’t many youth sitting in the pews to be encouraged to become leaders. I am sure we could have a long discussion over the reasons why youth turn their backs on church, but the reasons may be different than what we think. My brother-in-law Don sent me a link to a CNN Religion article on what young people are seeking in their spiritual growth, and it was an eye opener. The gist of the article was that youth are not looking for a church that is “cool” with great bands and amazing sound, instead, the number one thing that could lead them to consider church is authenticity. Youth, just like us older folk, are looking for a faith community that is honest, straightforward, and is not ashamed of the gospel. In short, youth would consider a church that not only preaches and teaches the gospel, but also lives it out in their communities.
Young people think the church is too political, too exclusive, too old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice, and hostile to gays and lesbians. They struggle with the conflicts between faith and science, as well as feeling that a Christian must leave his/her brains at the front door if they are going to enter a church. Here’s the problem we have as Christians; they are right. Let’s be honest, the church as a whole, is not a nurturing environment for young people. We do very little that is stimulating or relevant to their spiritual growth. Most teachings of the church are hostile to their lives and the world in which they find themselves.
We are going to have to become honest and stop picking fights with our culture where there is no need for a fight. Regardless of our views on homosexuality, for example, we should all agree that everyone should be accepted and encouraged through the local church. When we preach sermons against homosexuality, lifestyle issues, or promote political and cultural exclusiveness, young people see us as out of date, out of touch and indifferent to the world around us. When will we wake up as Christians and begin to find bridges to youth instead of insulting them?
I know I don’t want to go to church and be bombarded with mindless dribble that I know isn’t true, and I imagine it is the same for you, so why do we expect youth to sit quietly in the pew and listen to outdated presentations that insult their integrity. We are not going to make Timothy’s in the church if they are not part the church in the first place. Someone recently reminded me how inspiring youth retreats are for the young people, but I reminded him that these same young people have to come back to the reality of their local church where they may be the only youth. How do they stay excited and grow in that environment without a sincere commitment from the local congregation to treat them as a beloved addition to the church family.
The CNN article goes on to say, “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.” This is our challenge to become relevant to the needs of youth while still standing tall for Christ in the marketplace. I think the wake up call for me was when the writer said, “we are not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there we are leaving because we don’t find Jesus there.” It’s time the church does some soul searching and call on the power and wisdom of God to give it a vision for youth. Meanwhile, in the local church we can talk to the few young people left and find out how we can honestly minister to them and with them. And let’s be brutally honest, if they don’t find Jesus in our churches then the question is why should they stay? Yes, we all want Timothy’s to rise up but do we want to do the work of Paul in teaching them the joy of the gospel? If we are to see Timothy’s spring up in the church we need to become more serious about our own walk with Christ.