Aging is a strange process. While we are young, we can’t wait to get older; when we discover we are old, we wish we were younger. It has recently come to my attention that I am getting older, more than that: I am an adult. I discovered this upon my realization that not only will our daughter graduate from high school within two months but we will release her into the world to begin making her own way. Even though we have, throughout the years, done our best to raise our children well, we can only hope that they grow up to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually mature. Now that our daughter is technically an adult and soon to be headed off to college, I have realized that an important aspect of our own maturity is the ability to help others grow and mature.
This is especially important within the church. Throughout the Scriptures, from Old Testament through the New Testament, there is much evidence that reveals God’s plan for his people to grow and mature by the help and guidance of others, especially from one generation to another, whether there is a family relationship or not. There is no doubt that God’s primary plan for raising children in their faith and knowledge of God and his will is through the example of and teaching by parents and the extended family; this is the foundation of Israel’s identity as we read it in Deuteronomy 6 and elsewhere.
God’s message is a message for all ages and for the ages; it is meant to be taught and learned – and lived – by both young and old and for all time. So, as this was true then for God’s people Israel, it is also true now for God’s people, the Church. The apostle Paul reminded Timothy, whom he called his “true son in the faith,” to encourage the people of the church to grow in this way, writing in 1 Timothy 5:1, 2:
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
It seems that Paul recognized that the church should also behave as God’s family and that God’s children ought to treat each other with respect and honor. However, that relationship wasn’t just for the sake of harmony within the family; it was intended to help us grow and mature together.
Paul gives us several examples of this intergenerational growth and development within the church in Titus 2:2-8. Here he encourages older men to live honorable lives of faith. He encourages older women to be good examples, teaching younger women to be good wives and mothers. Paul encourages young men to be self-controlled. In each of these relationships, Paul directs the older and younger men and women to help each other grow and mature, to live exemplary lives so that the world will not have legitimate reasons to accuse Christians of doing wrong. This is no less important today.
Unfortunately for us at Athens Church of Christ, it’s painfully obvious that we have very few children, much less younger men and women, whom we may help grow and mature in their faith and knowledge of Jesus. But not only should that give us a dire warning about the future of this church body, it should also give us a warning about our ability as individuals to grow in our own faith. Since it is important for our own maturity to teach and help others, our lack of young people – children, teens, and adults – will certainly affect our own growth. Not only will we not grow numerically, we will not grow spiritually.
Certainly, we’re missing the younger people, but whether they are here or not, we must begin to prepare for them to be here. First, we need to take Paul’s advice and continue working on our own lives, so others will be drawn to Jesus through our lives and so we will be able to teach and train others. Second, we need to be ready to welcome them, and that means we need to have people ready to rock babies in the nursery, to teach in Sunday school and children’s church, to prepare rooms and materials for classes and programs. Last, we who are here now must help each other change and grow as individuals so that we might change and grow as a body, and let me be frank, if you are not prepared to change yourself to welcome others or to help others grow, don’t be surprised if you find your own growth to be stunted. Let us be encouraged by God’s plan and efforts through this body which he has gifted, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:12, 13, “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”