When working with teens and college-aged students, two things become immediately clear: 1.) They can smell hypocrisy a mile away; 2.) They resonate with and respond to transparency from the generations before them.
While some older Christians wring their hands over these characteristics in young adults, I believe we actually should view it as a tremendous opportunity. We’re ministering to a generation that is a.) highly relational, and, b.) highly responsive to truth spoken and demonstrated to them. What a perfect time to touch young lives!
Transparency should be a natural thing between older and younger believers. After all, it is the wisest man in the world who equates an “honest answer” with a kiss of true friendship (Prov. 24:26). Additionally, Asaph the psalmist reminds Israel that God commanded each generation to tell the next about God’s works and commandments, in order that each generation might make its own choice to place their trust in God (Psalm 78:5-8).
That passage in Psalms makes it clear that the young generation HAD to know these things if they were to avoid the failures of/in the previous generation–failures of stubbornness, rebellion, inconstancy, and unfaithfulness. And Paul makes it clear that the Body of Christ should be characterized by people who have left falsehood behind and now speak only truth to each other (Ephesians 4:25).
There are many pastors, parents, and others in the elder generations who understand and practice this with their own children and the young people entrusted to their charge. But there are others who risk the next generation’s faithfulness by holding to a more stoic and distant approach that was modeled to them by generations that spoke right things, but didn’t often speak of personal struggles and growth.
To continue that approach is appealing. After all, admitting we still struggle in our walk–inconsistency in time with God, wicked thoughts, pride, covetousness, the pressure to conform to this world, and all sorts of fleshly desires–is painfully humbling. Focus instead, however, on the fact that you would be sharing those words with younger believers who struggle daily with the same things–and often feel hopeless and failing in their desire for growth. Sharing warnings and lessons from our own lives demonstrates that we’re after the bigger picture–commitment to and love for God in theirs.
We can also share with them that growth is possible; that God supplies grace and maturation over time (Philippians 1:9-11); that the struggles weaken when we’re walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-24); that God has given us His Word, His Spirit, and everything we need for life and righteousness (2 Peter 1:3); that God’s love is steadfast–independent of our performance, yet strengthening us to live in a manner suiting the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27); and that God’s forgiveness is faithful and just, no matter how many times we have to return to Him in confession of the same sins (I John 1:9)!
These are things that help put flesh and bones on the “pilgrim’s progress,” and they give encouragement that younger Christians aren’t alone in their struggles or their walk. Christ has blazed a trail and left a testimony. Older generations have followed Him obediently, though imperfectly. And this generation can follow Christ even more faithfully, aided by the honesty and transparency of those who have already lived and learned these lessons–by God’s grace and to His glory!
P.S. This is part one of a two-part entry. Obviously, this post is largely addressed to those 40 and above. The next will be an appeal to younger believers to live as citizens of heaven.