When I was about 6 years old, I distinctly remember being fascinated by the red glow a spiral-shaped coil of metal on the top of our stove. My mother turned it on to heat up while she filled a pot with water. In a moment of curiosity, I quickly reached out and touched the surface of the burner to see what it felt like, and it was then I learned a lesson that would forever be, excuse the pun, “branded” in my mind… The lesson was, “don’t touch things that will burn you”.
At such a young age I encountered an experience that, no matter how old or young I was, I could speak of. I could warn of. I could advise about. To deny me the space to speak about my experience would be disrespectful at the least, but potentially damaging to those I could help at the worst. I taught my younger brother the lesson as soon as I could, and to my knowledge he has never made the same mistake I did. It seems there was validity in what I was able to share.
Obviously, I’m headed somewhere with this. I am growing concerned about a trend that is crippling us as a movement. Indeed I’ve written articles and posts about it, and shared my feelings with other men I respect, both older and younger. This trend is that of, “despising the youth” around us.
I realize that we have seen an increasing number of young men and women grow disinterested in traditional Pentecostalism, and an ever-widening gap between those who are considered “young” and those, “old”. But this is not a new problem. I think it’s just becoming more noticed now that it is reaching what, in my estimation, is a critical mass. It has grown to a point where it can no longer be ignored. The concern I have is definitely for those youth and the direction they’re headed, but it’s also for an aging population among us that is further pushing the wedge into this divide rather than mending the breach.
Shame on those among us who, with all seemingly good intentions, further cripple our movement with an exclusionary disrespect and segregation of a generation who will one day replace us. They will not be trained through expulsion, led by castigation, helped by neglect, encouraged by insults or empowered by ridicule. To deride a generation saying they don’t have, “enough corn in the crib”, are “all hat and no cattle”, “wet behind the ears”, or whatever other self-aggrandizing statement can be quickly quipped, is nothing more than a shovel-full of dirt being dug into the grave of our future efforts to evangelize the world.
I am now 39 years old, have been in ministry for more than 20 years, have married, buried, consoled, counseled, prayed with and for more people than I could count, though the faces of radiant joy and overwhelming grief and suffering regularly show themselves vividly in my memories. I have experienced life and death, blessing and cursing, trials and triumphs, successes and failures, injury and healing, miracles and disappointments… yet to some, I am but a “young man”. I realize that I have much more life to live, and many more lessons to learn… in fact, I often feel inadequate with my knowledge and frustrated with the shallowness of my accomplishments. But on this side of the middle of life, I can see that life has taught me many lessons of value. Men my age and even older are still considered a voice of youth or even inexperience by men not much older who may have a few more gray hairs, but perhaps not equal experience or wisdom. Understand that I am not making a case to demand or even desire respect or a “place on stage” from anyone… I am certainly quite confident in the reality of my life and ministry, and receive all the validation I need from the God who called me and the people whose lives I’ve influenced. What bothers me is the pattern I see where aging men further separate themselves from a generation that needs them the most by demeaning their voices, minimizing their experiences, and marginalizing their value among us.
I realize that this may sound disrespectful to an older generation that has earned a place among us as elders and leaders, but that is not the intention. In fact, I love, admire and respect those who have lived a life of sacrifice and paid a price to earn a voice among this world. My intention, rather, is to speak a cautionary word to those who might see their age, position or experience as validation in the suppressing of a voice we desperately need among us.
As the icons and heroes, conference-speakers and camp-preachers of our younger days age and die, we will be faced with the fearful reality that, though there may be some to take their place next year, the crop is growing thinner and thinner. Next decade, if the Lord withholds His coming, how many ministers will we have in our movement? How many pastors, preachers and elders?
Further castigate and demean the youth of today if you wish. Quiet the voice of experience, whether it be young or just “young”, if you wish. Make pithy remarks about the accomplishments of a generation younger than us if you wish. But when we sit on the edge of our bed in years to come with whited hair, frail bones and weathered skin… and when we consider the vast expanse of unharvested fields and lack of laborers in that day… just remember that we had a choice today to contribute to it, or try to make it better.
1 Timothy 4:12 “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”