Investing in Future Generations
In the New Testament era, what Timothy received from his mother and grandmother as recorded by the apostle Paul in II Timothy 1:5, is one of the greatest blessings that can occur through intergenerational relationships. Paul writes, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” This may be one of the most important goals of intergenerational ministry–to leave a legacy of faith for the next generation. In a society where the retirement years are often seen as a time for ‘self’ – some retirees are turning this idea upside down and investing themselves in the future generation.
Ronnie Green, an adult lay leader at First Baptist Church in West Monroe, LA did not set out to intentionally do something intergenerational, he simply wanted to use the second half of his life in service to God. At the age of 55, Ronnie went on his first mission trip and now nearly 10 years later, he’s been on over 10 trips. His work has taken him to Africa, Alaska, Guatemala, and Mexico-not to mention the various ministries he has been involved with in the states. Ronnie has come in contact with many young people throughout these years of ministry and has had a tremendous impact on their futures.
On a mission trip to Zambia, Africa Ronnie asked an 8 or 9 year old African boy if he could talk to him and his friends about Jesus. At first the boy said ‘no’ but then said, “if you’ll climb up in a tree with us old man then we will listen to you.” Zambia does not have very many older adults and the novelty of this white-haired man seemed to make these young people more open and receptive. Ronnie says with a laugh, “At my age, I wouldn’t climb up a tree for just anybody! But for the chance to share the gospel with these children I was more than willing. I have found that if you just make yourself available to God, then He will take care of all the excuses you have about why you can’t serve Him, even the excuse that you’re too old.”
This was never more evident than when Ronnie was working at a youth retreat in the states and an overweight girl felt like she could not participate in one of the races. “All her life, she had been told that she could not run. I told her, ‘Even though I’m 64, I’ll run this race if you will run it with me. And she did.” God continues to stir in his heart a passion for young people. With a lump in his throat Ronnie recalls a freshman boy asking him a simple question during the last days of a youth camp where Ronnie was a sponsor, “Mr. Ronnie, can we go pray together?” Ronnie says, “We found a quiet place to pray and I will never forget feeling this teenager’s tears fall on my hands as we opened ourselves to God.”
Many churches are discovering the exact thing that Ronnie is experiencing – intergenerational ministry is a rewarding, God-honoring work. And as the generations interact with one another, people are finding ways to fulfill what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 78:4, 5b-7, “…we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done…He commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands.”
How are you helping older adults invest in future generations?
(This is an excerpt from my Leadership Network Paper, Breaking Down the Age Barriers. You can download the entire paper at leadnet.org).