Training the next generation
by Rick Warren
"Tell your children about these things, then let your children tell their children, and let your grandchildren tell their children." (Joel 1:3 NCV)
God says we have a responsibility to pass on what we know to those younger than us. That’s a responsibility for all of us – not just parents, but everyone. This responsibility is of extreme importance to you as a pastor. God is calling you to pass on everything he has shown to you to a new generation that will outlive you.
What have we been called to pass on? Knowledge, perspective, conviction, skills, and character.
Jesus modelled all five of these in how he trained his disciples. For the past 27 years, we’ve built Saddleback on these five building blocks as well. Whenever I prepare a message, I’m thinking about each of these five elements. But you don’t have to be a pastor to help people grow in these areas. Teachers, supervisors, parents, and just older friends in your congregation – all of us – need to be passing on these five building blocks to younger generations.
1. Help them to acquire knowledge.
Proverbs 16:16 says, “It’s much better to have wisdom and knowledge than gold and silver.” (NCV) In other words, it’s better to be smart than wealthy. It’s better to have knowledge than money.
How do you help kids or young adults acquire knowledge? There’s lots of ways you can do it. You can take them on trips with you. You can go to the library with them. You can pass on books to them that are important to you. I’m going to pass on a library of more than 10,000 books to my children. Why? It’s part of me passing on a legacy of what I think is important.
Still, the most important way to pass on knowledge to the next generation is for you to be interested in it as well. Learning is contagious. You’ve got to want to learn. You must model it. As a leader, this should be second nature to you. All leaders are learners. I’ve told my staff that for years.
What’s the most important knowledge to acquire? Knowledge about God. The Bible says in Proverbs 1:7: “Knowledge begins with respect for the Lord.” Knowledge of everything else is important. In fact, God wants us to know as much about as many different things as we can, but he wants us to know him more than anything else. The most important knowledge you can pass on to the next generation is knowledge of God. I expect that’s a vital part of your ministry.
2. Help them broaden their perspective.
What is perspective? Perspective is seeing life from God’s point of view. That’s not the natural way for us to see things. We normally see life from our point of view. That’s what causes all our problems.
Perspective answers the “why” questions of life, just as knowledge answers the “what” questions. The more you get God’s perspective on life the more you understand why what’s happening is happening.
How do you help young people gain perspective?
- Introduce them to the Bible. Help them to become a Bible reader because God’s perspective is in his Word.
- Introduce them to wise people. The quality of their lives will be determined by the relationships they choose to have.
3. Help them cultivate convictions
The people who changed this world – for good or bad – were those with the deepest convictions. They were passionate people. When you have convictions, you can accomplish almost anything.
If kids don’t have convictions, they’ll be captivated by culture. This culture basically has four values: pleasure (“I want to feel good”), possessions, (“I want to make a lot of money”), prestige (“I want other people to envy me”), and power (“I want to be in control”). We can’t allow the next generation to be captivated by these values. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Hold tight to your convictions. Give it all you’ve got. Be resolute.” (MSG)
So what to do we do? We share our convictions passionately. Convictions are caught not taught. If you’re excited about your convictions, those whom you lead will be as well. Convictions grab people.
More important though is that convictions must be modelled. In other words, you be what you want them to become. Jesus talked about this in the Gospel of John. John 17:19 says, “For their sake I dedicate myself completely to you, Father, in order that they too may be completely dedicated to you.” (TEV) Jesus modelled conviction for us. Now we must model it for the next generation.
4. Help them develop skills.
Skills answer the “how” of life. And today’s youth need our help in developing both learning skills and life skills. They need to learn how to do things from figuring out their multiplication tables, to how to make their bed, to – eventually – how to raise children and get along with a spouse.
You see, hard work doesn’t guarantee success. We’d like to think it does, but it doesn’t. I know a lot of people who work hard and are not successful. Why? Because it’s not hard work that brings success. “If the axe is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success.” (Eccl. 10:10 NIV) The Bible says skill will bring success.
So how do you help people develop skills? There are three ways.
First, identify their S.H.A.P.E. (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences). It’s how God has wired us. Want to change the destiny of a young person? Help them understand what they’re good at.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go.”(NIV) The Hebrew there literally means “in his natural bent,” the way he’s naturally wired by God. If you try to train a young person in a way that opposes his S.H.A.P.E., you’re doomed to failure.
Once you’ve helped them figure out what they are good at, you help them practice what they are good at. The only way you develop skill is by doing it over and over and over again. Whether the skill is hitting a baseball or preaching a sermon, the more you do it, the more skilled you become.
Then you trust them with responsibility. You’ve got to let them do it on their own. People respond to responsibility. If you treat kids like babies, you’re going to have to diaper them the rest of your life.
5. Help them establish character.
This is the pinnacle. God says you’re going to take your character to heaven so that’s what’s important.
The Bible says, “Take on an entirely new way of life, a God-fashioned life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.” (Eph. 4:23-24 MSG) This is one of God’s five purposes for our lives – to grow up and develop the character of Christ.
How do you help young people establish character? There are many ways. Let me just give you two.
- Protect their minds from evil thoughts. Garbage in – garbage out. Proverbs 15:14 says, “A wise person is hungry for truth while the fool feeds on trash.” (NLT) The Bible says we want to keep youth innocent regarding evil, so that they become mature in what is good.
- Don’t protect them from difficulty. As I wrote in chapter 25 of The Purpose Driven Life, we grow through tough times. We build character not by having everything go our way. Failure is not fatal. Everybody’s got to learn that. Allow your kids to learn from their failures.
Anytime you’re around somebody younger than you, you can do these five things. Whether it’s a kid in your church, one of your own children, or a neighbourhood kid that needs an older person in his life, there’s someone in your life that needs you to help acquire knowledge, gain perspective, cultivate convictions, develop skills, and grow in character.
A lot of what we do isn’t going to matter five minutes from now much less five years or 500 years from now. But when you’re building into a life, that’s the most important thing you can do. It’ll last for eternity. It has eternal implications.
Who can you help?