"We are losing a generation."
It's a refrain I hear again and again. It saddens me.
"We are losing a generation", they say. And they wage their culture wars, fighting for the attention of an age group that they fear are disconnected and disillusioned.
All the while ignoring another generation; a generation living with intense loneliness and emptiness.
While we increasingly accomodate ourselves to the demands of an emerging generation, agonising over how to reach them and connect with their worldview, we readily ignore the elders; those who have gone before us, and yet have never found the reason for their race.
Over the years I have been in countless gatherings where those under 25 or 30 have been called forward. We have prayed our best prayers, trusting Father to do something amazing in their generation. Rarely have I been in a gathering where those over 55 are called forward.
We are losing a generation not because we do not know how to connect, but simply because we do not care to connect. They have become the disposable generation. Those whom we used to set us up in life, yet God's heart aches for that generation.
Most of us have heard the "toms" story; a young entrepreneur had a dream to awaken social conscience through the brilliant business idea of "toms" shoes, one for one, where people in underdeveloped countries can have free shoes. It caught our imagination and fuelled great compassion and innovation. It justifiably gains attention. It's a brilliant story/movement.
I also love the other Tom's story. I am talking about Tom in our community who came to faith less than two years ago. He encountered the Kingdom as God healed his body. It was enough to recalibrate his heart, and at the age of 81, Tom believed.
A year later Tom applied for our Encounter school of mission. When I heard he had applied I was surprised. The course is specifically designed to create a climate of risk. Upon reflection I realised that although it was a little late for a gap year, Tom was perfectly positioned to live a life of risk. Aged 81 there weren't many people who didn't know Tom in our town. He had already established a fine reputation. He had a lot to lose. Yet he embraced the risk and at 82 years old stepped into learning again.
He started the course in September with one goal: to lead someone to Jesus.
In February 2014 God granted Tom the desire of his heart. As I write, Tom has now led 11 people to Jesus, many of whom are part of the emerging generation who we are desperately creating programs and tinkering with theology in an effort to reach. And I wonder if while we keep searching for methods to engage a generation, God might have His women and men, like Tom, already in place to bring life across all generations.
I can't help wondering whether the young are tired of the advertisers and the media, tuning out the voice of their fathers, but still open to the voice of grandfathers like Tom. It may well be a romantic notion, yet what if God wanted to use those who are elderly to reach those who are emerging? What if God was turning the hearts of the Fathers towards the children? What if those who have gone before us are carrying something for those who come after us?
There is simply no way to create a future for the next generation without receiving favour from the previous generation. Living long in the 'land' is not about making sure we have done everything to reach our youth (who incidentally are flocking into the kingdom all over the world) it's about ensuring we have positioned and conditioned our hearts to help and honour those who have gone before us.
So for my friends and colleagues doing a remarkable job developing life giving churches that lead their cities into life....
Please don't run after the emerging generation as though young people were more vital to our communities than the elderly; as though God had intense interest and preferential treatment in mind only for the young.
Please remember that you have nothing to offer the next generation until you learn to care for the previous generation. You can only give them favour when you learn to honour.
Please don't reduce intergenerational worship to an all age service. Instead intentionally unleash the redemptive power of the elderly; release them into greater expansion and effectiveness.
And to my friends and mentors who are journeying faith in their old age...
Please don't pass on the baton just yet. Your race is not yet run and we need your voice now more than ever. You are alive at a time of unprecedented amounts of people living longer because God wants to reveal his salvation to the old as well as the young.
Please don't bury your promise with you.
We are losing a generation but we don't have to, and it was never meant to be that way.