I've heard this statement a jillion times over the years; I winced every single time. While this well-intentioned thought sounds great on the surface, it contains some very horrible underlying messages that Satan often twists for his advantage in the heads and hearts of our young people. For example:
- "If we're the church of tomorrow, then we can wait till 'tomorrow' to really get serious about serving the Lord."
- "If we're the church of tomorrow, no one is really counting on us taking a leadership role for a long time."
- "If we're the church of tomorrow, then I can 'sow my wild oats' today and then be a dynamic leader in the future."
One of the reasons so many Christian young people have their spiritual lives crater in college or young adulthood is because they've bought Satan's lies about delaying their spiritual passion, service, and leadership because they are, after all, only "the church of tomorrow."
Let's face the real truth. Many young adults who put off getting serious about the Lord's work because they are young never get serious about the Lord. Many who have great potential for spiritual leadership never see that potential realized because the opportune moments in their youth to use their gifts are gone, never to come again. Many who sow wild oats harvest their horrible fruit and lose their spiritual passion or have their spiritual lives greatly damaged because of unnecessary sin and its consequences. (PLEASE don't hear this to mean that those who've blown can't come back and live powerfully productive spiritual lives: they can. But, there can be many unnecessarily wasted years and opportunities as well as many unnecessary wounds and regrets as a result.)
No one ever wants our young men and women to think such things. Unfortunately, "the church of tomorrow" line often is heard Satan's way by our teens. Even worse, our accompanying low level of expectations for young Christians and the lack of legitimate leadership opportunities for them drive Satan's message of delay deep into the hearts of the Church's greatest source of potential spiritual passion, vision, missions, service, and leadership.
We must remember the example of the apostle Paul and the way he used young Christians as genuine leaders. In Acts 16, as Paul begins what is called his second missionary journey, he goes to Lystra and chooses Timothy to accompany him on his mission trip. Timothy is a very young man who is highly respected by all in the Christian community. In other words, he had already displayed his Christian maturity and character at a young age and the church recognized it. (Acts 16:2) Timothy had seen Paul persecuted and left for dead on his first visit to Lystra. (Acts 14:8-20; 2 Timothy 4:10-12) Yet when Paul asked Timothy to work with him, Timothy courageously accompanied Paul rather than settling for mediocre, passionate-less, and risk-less Christianity. Over the course of the next several years, Timothy would see Paul run out of town, put in jail, beaten, and abused. Yet Timothy didn't turn back. In fact, Paul used Timothy to go back and strengthen churches and encourage new Christians as a very young man. (1 Thessalonians 3:1-4. Based on the probable dates for the writing of 1 & 2 Timothy and the firm date for Timothy's time in Thessalonica, several conservative scholars believe Timothy was around 19 at the time of his work in Thessalonica!)
First, our young people are the church of today. We cannot afford to let them wait until they are older to make important contributions to the life of the Church. Their ministry is essential. The things they can do, the places they can go, and the people they can impact in their teens and twenties are incredible. Their ministry builds the church, reaches the lost, and grows them into powerful leaders at a much younger age. We need them now just like the early church needed them! (Philippians 2:19-23)
Second, we shouldn't call our teens and young adult Christians to boring and safe church work, but to hard and faith-stretching service. The young will not be satisfied with uninspiring and boring "status quo keeping" roles. So rather than leaving them spiritually bored so that they do potentially dangerous and sinful things, let's challenge them with meaningful ministry opportunities like Paul did Timothy! (2 Timothy 1:7-9; 2 Timothy 4:10-12)
Third, let's realize that in the early church, not only were the older Christians challenged to be an example and model for young Christians, but young Christians were also challenged to be an example to older Christians in their "faith, their life, their love and their purity." (1 Timothy 4:12) Their idealism and passion for the bolder edges of Christian truth need to be seen as a return to Jesus and not something they will simply outgrow or lose as they age.
We're in the long season of graduation ceremonies for many different ages. Let's commit that this also be a graduation time for our congregations, our para-church ministries, and our parents. Let's graduate out of the flawed mentality that the youth are the church of the future, but instead, live passionately with the conviction that the youth must be a vital part of our churches and our ministries today!