The great thing about this blog post is that it is relevant to YOU.
No matter where you live, who you are, or how embarrassing your music taste, there will always be Those Younger than yourself who need you to walk alongside them as they (and you) follow Christ. They need plain old you.
Here’s the problem as I see it – a distinct lack of leadership.
Everywhere you look, we are broken down into our peer groups – in the form of grades at school or age appropriate groups at church i.e. kids, teens, students and young adults, young parents, older parents and retired. It is not hard to see why people end up prioritising people who are near in age with a similar stage of life. Now I’m not saying that there is no one around them to look up to – there is. But who is actively sharing life with them?
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. Romans 1:8-12 (ESV)
There are two things that strike me about these verses as I think about the topic of leading others. First is Paul the apostle’s earnest prayer (desire) to want to be with the believers in Rome; and second is the stated result of Paul being with them (mutual encouragement).
Paul uses the term ‘I long to see you’ – it is telling of a deep affection he had for his fellow believers. He prays ‘without ceasing’ that God would grant him the company of these believers that he is writing to.
Personally, I am quite taken aback by the way he writes to them and to other believers in his other letters. I wonder if I am even close to having a fraction of the same longing for my family in Christ in other places, or even… my immediate context.
The reason this is striking is because he speaks of imparting a spiritual gift to strengthen them and goes on to explain that this will be brought about by being mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
There is nothing mystical about this gift – spending time with other Christians so that we are BOTH encouraged, not only one party. But do we regard this is as a gift from God, and do we seek to encourage and be encouraged in the company of others? God uses people to sharpen and help others and vice versa (Proverbs 27:17).
My guess is that we either do not put enough emphasis on the importance of passages like this or we quite naturally prioritise work or some kind of extra-mural over and above connecting with other people (even of our own age group). We all need to realise that meeting with people and seeking after Godly encouragement in one another’s faith is one of most important activities we have as Christians. We need to fight to make sure we have people to walk alongside us too!
Where to from here?
Please don’t feel guilt-tripped into meeting with someone. I pray that you will have a heart-felt joy and longing to meet with other believers and reap the benefits both for yourself and them. In so doing, I hope you will be compelled to be available to someone younger in age or faith to provide them with the same opportunity.
Young people face many of the same issues we do on a weekly basis and are far less equipped than we are in dealing with them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could just share some of your life experience with them in following Jesus?
Don’t worry about:
1. The fact that you aren’t perfect
None of us are. Don’t expect yourself to model perfection because you are setting yourself up for failure. When they see your flaws use that as an opportunity to show repentance and trust in God.
2. Feeling like you have to know everything.
There are enough theologians out there. You don’t need to know all the answers. If younger people have questions you can always come back to them after doing some research. Sometimes we should use wisdom to know whether it is better to speak or just listen – that in itself can be a gift to them.
There is bound to be a level of awkwardness as you spend time with someone younger than you are. After all, it is difficult for you to relate to one another’s contexts. Be willing to endure some discomfort for the sake of serving them. Yes, encouraging others is a form of service to God (Romans 12:8).
To bear in mind:
When you choose to be a leader, role model or mentor to someone younger, you need to take the initiative and be responsible in trying to reach out to them. Be intentional – don’t be misleading as to why you are interested in meeting with them e.g. “I really think it would be great if we could meet up and encourage one another by reading the Bible or a devotion together.”
2. God’s Word.
Alluded to in point one – as Christians we are not called to merely be social and good at networking with each other. I have learnt that no amount of sifting through someone’s problems or speaking about your own can compare to hearing what God has to say from the Bible. God’s Word is alive, active and is able to bring out our innermost thoughts and desires (Hebrews 4:12). If you are not comfortable in your Bible handling, make use of a good devotional resource or a fully worked out Bible study (try www.theword121.com for something to start with).
Sadly I must mention this point. Of course it is unwise in a leadership/mentoring capacity to meet with someone of the opposite sex. In any case when you are meeting with anyone younger than you, make sure his or her safety never feels compromised. Always meet in a public place (or even in the home where there is family present). Both for their sake and your reputation. Do not leave space for situations to become questionable.
Okay, so this has not been an exhaustive guide. I just hoped to either show you or remind you the privilege we have of leaning on one another in the family of Christ, and how special it can be for you to help someone younger learn from your experience by just sharing your life with them. It is not easy to build relationships with people you don’t as easily relate to, and you will have to sacrifice time and your own interests to get to know theirs. Let us pray that we will be a more integrated family and that we would be able to see opportunities to help Those Younger than ourselves on this journey with Christ.