The conversation about discipling the next generation isn’t new, but how we do it is ongoing. Each generation takes on a different identity and worldview that is unlike the previous one. Everything from fashion choices to language changes from generation to generation.
This has become even more apparent to me within the last few years, because I’m no longer the youngest generation that all of the previous generations are worried about. As a millennial, the discussions about our ways of thinking and living are fading into the background as the ideals of Gen Z are causing older generations to fear the direction of our world.
Generational wars are often filled with hostility, fear, and anger. It’s hard for us to recognize the good aspects of another generation, and it’s very easy to see all of the bad. We’ve become comfortable leaning into our generational categories and viewing all other generations as the bad ones. This brings tension, pain, and bitterness in our society, workplaces, nation, and our churches.
It also makes true discipleship nearly impossible.
Discipleship is about following another person in hopes of being more like them. Jesus had twelve disciples, who would literally go everywhere with him to learn from him and become like him. This wasn’t merely an intellectual process. Jesus’ disciples longed to be like him in every way. They wanted their hearts, minds, and spirits to be like his.
Not only is this what we’re called to do with our own lives, but we are called to make disciples of those around us. As we think of this on a large scale, it’s absolutely important to have the next generation in the forefront of our minds as we desire to follow the commands of Jesus to make disciples.
Discipling the next generation isn’t as simple as sharing correct doctrine. That’s absolutely important, but we can’t boil discipleship down to making classes available at church to make sure younger believers are believing the right thing.
Discipleship is about more than passing on knowledge. There are other aspects of true discipleship that we have to be mindful of when we are mentoring the younger generation in their faith.
Here are 4 ways to disciple the next generation beyond a simple knowledge transfer.
1. Value exaltation over exhortation.
In the conversation of discipling the next generation, your own faith matters. Your journey in following Christ matters. Sharing about the work the Lord has done in your life to the next generation is powerful. This has a way of bringing to life the truths they read in scripture.
“One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works.”
Exalting Jesus is a much more effective discipleship tool than mere exhortation.
It’s important for the younger generations to see older generations filled with excitement and joy about what God has done in their lives. It forces the mentor to be vulnerable and honest with the mentee, rather than always wanting to appear wise and put together.
It can be difficult to relate or understand another generation, but we are all humans and can see transformation in another person’s life. The younger generation has to see that we truly believe in what we are trying to teach them. One of the greatest ways to do that is by sharing what God has done in your own life–and not just years and years ago. You have to be willing to share the way God is working in your own life now.Exalting Jesus is a much more effective discipleship tool than mere exhortation. Click To Tweet
2. Model the Gospel.
I always feel lied to when a celebrity endorses a product on their social media as if it’s something they actually use in their own life. It’s the most frustrating to me when it comes to beauty related products. A celebrity who has an entire team dedicated to making sure they look amazing, says product A is their secret–but it couldn’t be further from the truth.
No one ever likes to be taken for a fool. And that can be the perception when your own life doesn’t reflect Jesus to the person you’re discipling. We are all works in progress and on a long road of sanctification, but our lives should reflect the good news of Jesus in some form or another.
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:27)
The way we conduct our own lives matters as we seek to disciple others. We can’t live by the model of “do as I say and not as I do.” We should actually hope for others to want to live as we do, because of the way Jesus shines through us.
Paul even told others to live as he lives, because he knew he lived his life pursuing Jesus every day. We should live our lives in such a way that the younger generation desires to model their own lives after us as we seek to look more like Jesus.The way we conduct our own lives matters as we seek to disciple others. Click To Tweet
3. Make Space for Growth.
As I think about my children, who will be largely influenced by the generation they grow up in, I know there will be ideologies they hold to that I won’t understand. The way they view the world and the things the deem as important might be entirely different than mine.
They will likely think they’re correct and that the older generation, my generation, got it all wrong. As frustrating as that will be, I know I will have to give my children room to grow.
In the same way I have grown in my faith, they will grow too.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
(2 Peter 3:18)
The next generation will need to grow in grace and in their knowledge of Jesus, just as we should. One of the traps older generations fall into is that we forget how we had to grow into who we are now. We didn’t simply arrive at the point we are now, but it’s something we grew into. We must be patient with the younger generation and give them space to grow into their faith.One of the traps older generations fall into is that we forget how we had to grow into who are now. Click To Tweet
4. Invest in understanding them.
Many Christians love the Apostle Paul because he’s an example of a person who didn’t compromise truth for the culture around him. That’s true, but that doesn’t mean he never tried to understand the culture around him.
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said:
“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”
When Paul shared the gospel from city to city he took time to learn their way of thinking. He never compromised the truth, but he was able to combat their incorrect ways of thinking because he understood where they were coming from.
As you desire to make disciples of the younger generation, you have to invest in understanding them. Their thinking may seem foreign to you, and it will require you to get to know and accept where they are in life.
When you better understand what is important and valuable to them, you can share the truth of the gospel in a far more meaningful way. The Holy Spirit will work through the relationships you’ve built and begin to challenge the assumptions they have about life. It is not your role to change the way another person thinks or to convert them to your way of thinking.
It will be far more meaningful to the person you are discipling if they knew you cared about them enough to get to know them and to share truth in this context, rather than to merely correct them.When you better understand what's important and valuable to someone, you can share the truths of the gospel in far more meaningful ways. Click To Tweet
Discipleship isn’t an easy process, but it’s always worth it.
Disciplining the next generation isn’t as easy as we’d like it to be. It involves people who won’t necessarily think like you and who might not value your opinions the way you’d like them to. But discipling the next generation is far less about trying to change the way a person thinks and more about reflecting the way of Jesus through the way you live your life.
MORE RESOURCES TO CHECK OUT
If you enjoyed this article, these books might be useful resources to you.
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- Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples by Francis Chan and Mark Beuving
- Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples by Robby Gallaty