When you are young you are a product of your environment, completely. Your world is created for you by those in authority. Most directly, your parents. When you reach adulthood, you are bombarded with “the real world.” Depending on what world you grow up in, your energy and emotional volatility tend to produce passionate reactions. These reactions lead to many things, some are very dangerous. The most effective way to channel this energy is in the form of positive social change.
The internet, however, has placed different generations in many of the same political and religious circles. This, often tense, interaction is nothing new, but social media has intensified the nature of these interactions. I’ve had some of these interactions recently and the most common themes seem to be older generations accusing the younger of not respecting their experience, and the younger accusing the older of not listening. Unlike the environment when Jesus walked the earth, these generational interactions are occurring millions of times a day. Regardless, if we slow down a bit, scripture has some very important lessons and examples.
Jesus and his disciples were young men
Jesus was 30 when he started his ministry, and his disciples were probably around the same age or younger. These are men who dropped everything and were likely without wife’s or children. There is a relevant journal article out of the University of Chicago by Otis and Frank Cary. Here is a brief excerpt:
As we imagine it, Peter is the eldest of the group about Christ and is evidently taking a prominent place in it, as the oldest pupil in a school is very likely to do. He and Matthew are portrayed as being nearly of the same age, but each of them considerably younger than their Teacher–nearer twenty than twenty-five. With them are several persons of about the usual age of students in the “district schools” of that time – that is, not far from sixteen or seventeen–while still younger
This makes Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees a little more clear.
The Pharisees said, Teacher, rebuke your pupils’ – Luke 19:39
The Pharisees were concerned that Jesus was indoctrinating their children, and Jesus was making it clear that he is a change agent.
America’s founding fathers were young men
These youth led change movements are obviously not unique to human civilization. It’s more, however, than “some crazy kids in the 60’s.” This is prevalent throughout history, and we don’t have to look that far. Here are the ages of some of our most famous founding fathers in 1776.
James Monroe, 18
Aaron Burr, 20
Alexander Hamilton, 21
James Madison, 25
John Jay, 30
Nathanael Greene, 33
Thomas Jefferson, 33
Benedict Arnold, 35
John Hancock, 39
Thomas Paine, 39
Patrick Henry, 40
John Adams, 40
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to lead a social movement or a revolution without youth. As Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
In the next chapter, however, Paul also says “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers.” Older individuals have a tremendous amount of life experience, and that often translates to wisdom. Those young men of the American Revolution, for instance, and the guidance of older men. In 1776 Ben Franklin was 70, and Samuel Adams was 53. I think one of the reasons George Washington was an effective leader was because he was right in middle, 43.
Creating change in unity and love
Once again, we need to use Love (and the posture of love, humility) for guidance. Young people have the energy, time, and passion to lead social change movements. Without learning the lessons of the past, however, these movements are doomed to failed. Conversely, that movement can be stopped in its tracks by conservative (resistant to change) older individuals. In humility, however, these individuals need the guidance of those who have learned from the mistakes of the past.
2020, for instance, feels a lot like 1968. And yet, we are facing many of the same obstacles. For those who were alive in 1968, what went wrong? Why didn’t we see that lasting systematic change that we needed in this country, and how can we approach this differently now?
Generational gifts/skills are unique because they are constantly changing. But they are no different than any other God given skill. If we work together in love, as the body of Christ, his Kingdom on Earth would grow exponentially.