In Matthew 21, Jesus reminded the Jewish leaders that God had ordained praise from children and infants (Matthew 21:14–16), and by extension this includes youth as well. The children and youth in our churches have been ordained by God to worship him—and to eventually become leaders in the Church. Older generations must come to grips with this truth for the Church to continue and prosper. We must look to Scripture for biblical models of intergenerational relationships. The importance of bridging generation gaps is exemplified in our Lord. The gospels depict Jesus as an advocate for children, a role that was shocking in a culture that placed little value on children. Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me,” and he warned, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:5–6). Jesus emphasized God’s unwillingness “that any of these little ones should be lost” (Matthew 18:14).
The Old Testament models healthy intergenerational relationships and leadership transition models in the stories of Moses and Joshua and of Elijah and Elisha. The Old Testament also includes examples of what happens when one generation does not listen to another, as when Solomon’s son Rehoboam rejected the good advice of the elders for the bad advice of the young men with whom had grown up, a decision that ultimately divided the kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12). God’s perspective on children and youth is seen in his description of himself as a “father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5). God expects older leaders to “bear fruit in old age” (Psalm 92:14) and expects one generation to commend the works of the Lord to another generation (Psalm 145:4).
We must continue to find ways to restore the broken connections between the generations. Both younger and older generations need each other, and the world needs them both. Negative stereotypes exist in both younger and older generations, but both have many positives to offer to the other. Two Congolese sayings, spoken side by side, can help bridge the generational divide. When an older person in the DR Congo desires to put young people “in their place,” he or she might be heard to say, “I saw the sun before you did”; but a young person might counter with another local saying: “A little boy can play the drum, and the elderly will dance to it.”
Jesus said that “every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Matthew 13:52). Both the younger and older generations in the Church have treasures to share, but they need a relationship of trust between them before they can appreciate the value of each other’s treasures.
REFLECTIONS: What do you treasure about the younger generation? What are some negative stereotypes you carry around about children and youth? Ask God to give you his perspective on children and youth. Display Scripture verses about God’s view of children in places you will see them often.
Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God