Discipling the next generation may seem daunting. But it’s in the church’s DNA. We see Jesus disciple and launch young men who changed the world with his gospel. We see Paul mentor a young Timothy, who would continue ministering in Paul’s footsteps long after Paul’s death. How do we disciple the next generation in our day? We return to our heritage and rediscover the worthiest purpose a young person could ever be called to.
Traditionally, 2 Timothy is thought to be the last letter that Paul wrote. The letter’s recipient is a young man named Timothy with whom Paul suffered and served in ministry for many years. Paul mentored Timothy as a son and displayed a deep love for him, evident through the text of 2 Timothy and other New Testament books.
In the letter’s final chapter, Paul informs Timothy that the time of his (Paul’s) death is at hand, having run the race and completed the task set before him by God (4:6-7). And having served the Lord wholeheartedly, Paul finds himself at odds with the world, imprisoned again, and abandoned by many former friends who were perhaps ashamed of his constant arrests or who had simply abandoned the faith altogether.
So, Paul is left alone in a prison cell with one last parchment, one last message to send to a dear friend who means the world to him, who has not abandoned him or the faith.
“…one last message to send to a dear friend who means the world to him…”
2 Timothy feels like a letter that says, Timothy, if I could teach you just one last thing before I go…if I could prepare your heart for ministry with one short letter…if I could impart all my wisdom in one attempt…if there’s one thing you should know…my dear Timothy, it would be this.
The letter culminates in Paul’s final charge:
“And so I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus–who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear. They will reject the truth and follow strange myths. But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at bringing others to Christ. Complete the ministry God has given you.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5, NLT)
And so, in his final charge, Paul entrusts the mission of the cross to a young Timothy, elevating his life to the call of eternity.
Discipling the next generation: “Paul entrusts the mission of the cross to a young Timothy, elevating his life to the call of eternity.”
Scholars don’t know exactly how old Timothy was at this time. Paul’s encouragement “to not let anyone look down on you because you are young” happens in 1 Timothy written perhaps many years before. But the idea of passing the torch to a younger generation and calling them to embrace a life lived for the ministry of the Word wouldn’t have been something aberrant to the faith. In many ways it reflects the call and commission of the original twelve apostles.
Again, scholars might debate about the specific ages of the apostles (suggestions range from preteens to late 20’s or early 30’s), but the important element is the picture of Jesus’ intentional discipleship and elevation of those young men’s lives.
Both Jesus and Paul, through right teaching, fervent prayer, and personal sacrifice, inspired a younger generation to actively promote and establish the kingdom of God on earth. They imparted a divine purpose into the restless lives of youth.
Discipling the next generation: “They imparted a divine purpose into the restless lives of youth.”
Some modern studies suggest that adolescence, the maturation from a child to an adult, can roll into the late 20’s. The specific numbers are a distant point to the issues that this current generation faces both internally and externally.
From the outside looking in, there seems to be a lot of gawking at and maligning of a generation that self-defines, self-explores, and unfortunately, oftentimes, self-implodes. It’s an age group crushed by depression, suicide, and societal pressures (exacerbated by comparisons in social media). It’s a clear picture of a mass searching for purpose and for worth.
But there don’t seem to be many adequate prescriptions given. Seldom are these seekers entrusted with anything of real value, no greater call or purpose than self-discovery or self-redemption.
“But you know what I teach, Timothy, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is.” (2 Tim 3:10)
“[M]y life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about God’s wonderful kindness and love.” (Paul in Acts 20:24)
Paul, Timothy, and the Twelve shared a radical life calling. They shared a purpose that infused their life with power, with love, and with self discipline (2 Tim 1:7). And their faith, through the will and grace of God, changed the world. It was a life worth living and a purpose worth dying for.
Discipling the next generation: “It was a life worth living and a purpose worth dying for.”
Empowering the Next Generation
I recently interviewed a Renew.org author named Andrew Jit who has a deep passion for this model in Scripture, the desire to impart the mission of the gospel to the world’s youth. It’s a call that he got to live out at 18 when World Vision sent him as one of three chosen high school students from New Zealand to represent them internationally. He was sent to Cambodia where he witnessed the call and power of God’s ministry firsthand. Since then he’s been to every continent except Antarctica and visited some of the world’s most hostile/dangerous nations. His fervor and call remains the same: to awaken youth to the purpose of sharing the gospel.
He established a ministry called Missionaries in Training (MiT Global) that executes that call. The ministry mobilizes and trains high schoolers from all around the world to become and then make disciples. The mission has a passion for people groups unreached by the gospel and is a fierce advocate for motivating youth specifically to take on the call of ministry around the world.
Andrew shared with me a story of a time when he was speaking to a youth group about the call to go to the nations. He challenged some of the high school students to answer the call to make disciples of all nations. One particular student was deeply convicted and inspired to go to the least reached nation in the world; a flame was stoked deep in his heart to participate in God’s global mission. The student’s local pastor, though, had no idea who the kid was. The point being that we have so many students in pews and auditoriums waiting to be stirred, to be given the chance to immerse themselves in God’s commission, but they are rarely given the opportunity. They aren’t discipled, nor are they entrusted with the mission.
Discipling the next generation: “We have so many students in pews and auditoriums waiting to be stirred, to be given the chance to immerse themselves in God’s commission, but they are rarely given the opportunity.”
Andrew told me, “We have more young people than ever before, but we’re sending old people out on missions instead of giving students a purpose that counts for eternity.”
Instead, Andrew encourages young people to live into the call of Hebrew 11:41.
Go on; look it up for yourself.
It’s an exercise that Andrew does with his students and with his own children. At the tail end of Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith,” where the author recalls faithful men and women who quenched flames of fire, overthrew kingdoms, and raised the dead, we don’t find a Hebrews 11:41. Andrew uses this to challenge students to think about their own faith story and what God calls us all to. How can we radically live into God’s purpose in our own faith story?
But what the backdrop of Hebrews 11 also creates is an awareness of the grandeur of the mission. The story of faith is often one of bitter struggles and persecution. But it is also one of power and promise. God calls his people into an epic mission, an epic story, one with value and implications that impact all of humanity for eternity.
Discipling the next generation: “God calls his people into an epic mission, an epic story, one with value and implications that impact all of humanity for eternity.”
Andrew’s passion, reflected in the examples of Scripture, is to invite our youth into the story, to awaken them to the purpose of sharing the gospel to the ends of the earth.
“Hold on to the pattern or right teaching you learned from me. And remember to live in the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. With the help of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard what has been entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14, NLT)