Today, while eating lunch with my son Trey, somehow we got on the subject of the Grace OAKS (the 55+ members of our church). I want to pass on what he shared. He said, "I really like the fact that the older people at Grace don't oppose the teens, but actually support them. For example, when we do our prayer events they show up and pray with us and pray for us. I feel like they are trying to find ways to connect with us."
This isn't something I'm used to hearing in the church world, so I probed a little deeper. I asked, "Do they support you generally, like all the teens as a whole, or do they also take time to connect with you personally." He chewed his orange chicken, gazed past my shoulder thoughtfully for a few seconds, then looked back at me and replied, "No, there are several who connect personally."
"Like, in what ways?" I asked.
"All sorts of ways. Like Will...he takes time to encourage me and tell me I'm going to do something great for God. Then, I really like Bob. He's going with us on our missions trip to New Mexico. He's a cool guy. Have you seen how strong he is? I worked with him when we were demolishing the bathrooms this winter. He picked up some heavy stuff. He's like over 70. He's a beast! Shirley Caldwell, she's my prayer partner, and she stops me every single Sunday to ask me how my week went and lets me know that she's been praying for me. Ms. Faith and Ms. Cheryl are always writing encouraging things on my Facebook page. Then, there's this older lady...I can't remember her name...but every time I play the drums, she finds me after service and tells me that my playing makes a big impact on her as she worships. It's actually pretty cool. Yeah, we have some really cool older people at Grace."
We went on to other topics like college plans, the NBA playoffs and that Scooter guy for the Reds who hit four home runs in a game, but I couldn't stop thinking about what Trey shared.
Somebody is doing something right.
See, it's not going to be the 55+ generation that sets the future culture of our church, of our community, of our country. For better or for worse, it's going to be people who are under the age of 30.
Probably under the age of 20.
You have a choice: you can either pick them apart and fight them or you can encourage them and influence them. If you want to make a difference, if you want to leave a legacy, love a student.
They need your influence.
They need your affirmation.
They need your support.
They need your prayers.
They need to know they matter to you.
Here's the crazy thing: when they know they matter to you, you matter to them. They will want to know your story. They will want to know your songs. They will want to know about your faith. But until they know they matter to you, any potential influence you have is wasted. And don't kid yourself: you have so much to pass on. If nothing else, you can share what not to do. We all learn more from personal stories of failure than we do from the guy who has never screwed up.
You might have blown it with your kids, been a terrible parent. You might not even have much of a relationship with your own grandkids. All of that can be rectified by deciding to change today. You can make a difference.
Here are a just a few things right off the top of my head:
1. CATCH A STUDENT DOING SOMETHING GOOD
If a student serves in the coffee shop, let them know you're proud of them. If you observe an act of thoughtfulness, commend it. As Andy Stanley often says, "What gets celebrated gets repeated." Compliments and affirmation influence the next generation. If you want to have students around, just compliment them and laugh at their jokes. They will love you! That actually works for me, too.
2. WRITE A THANK YOU CARD TO A STUDENT
Nobody, NOBODY, gets a card in the mail any more. If you want to do something that stands out, send a card including some handwritten reasons why they matter to you and God.
3. COMMIT TO PRAY FOR A STUDENT AND LET THEM KNOW YOU'RE PRAYING
This is huge. On a whim, Pastor Matt decided to try a teen/adult prayer partnership initiative with Grace Teens last summer. We came together for a meal, worshiped together and then Matt cast vision to a simple program in which adults "adopted" a teen to pray for. Nothing weird or over the top. Just prayer and encouragement. This might be the most effective thing anyone has ever done here at Grace outside of VBS to break down generational walls. So many cool stories have come out of this.
4. VOLUNTEER IN NEXT GEN MINISTRIES (KIDS, STUDENTS, COLLEGE)
"I'm too old."
"I'm not cool."
"We won't have anything in common."
I'm going to buzz you on all your protests. Students don't need a buddy; they need a hero. They don't need someone trying to fit in with them; they need someone who is brave enough to live out 1 Corinthians 11:1: Imitate me as I imitate Christ (as imperfect as it may be at times). They need a mentor, someone to model their lives on. And, just so you know, there is nothing more cool than unconditional love. If you have that in common, watch out. Great things are going to happen. You don't have to be a leader or a teacher. One of our former youth volunteers, Pam, was one of our unsung heroes. She was always behind the scenes serving food, sweeping floors and hugging kids. Because she wasn't up front, she could have easily bought into the lie that her ministry didn't matter. Oh yeah? Ask the girls who reached out to her in some tough times and had her pray for them. Ask the guys she joked with. She made a difference and you can, too.
5. SPONSOR A KID TO YOUTH CAMP
Grace is going to be hosting our first-ever youth camp for our teens up at our Smiths Ferry campus. We are going to go all out to make sure students are introduced to Jesus and have the best week of their lives. I would love to have you there with us volunteering. We have a fun job for everyone. But, with a gift of $100 you can scholarship a teen to go who might not be able to go any other way. In fact, you can click RIGHT HERE to do that now in under 2 minutes. Send a kid to camp for a week and potentially change a life for eternity.
6. BRING FOOD TO A WEDNESDAY NIGHT MEETING
They will love you for the rest of their lives. One of our 55+ ladies brought boxes of dry cereal (Froot Loops, Cheerios, Fruity Pebbles) to our teens and they ate it up! Literally. The students thought it was the coolest thing ever.
7. PASS ON SOMETHING THAT HAS BEEN A CATALYST FOR YOUR OWN GROWTH
They might look at you a little odd, but they will remember. I still remember the older guy that stopped me after a church service and shared with me something that helped him when he was struggling with faith. I probably didn't express a lot of interest, but it stuck with me and influenced me.
8. SERVE WITH STUDENTS
Find ways to get your hands dirty with them. What I love about millennials is their passion to justice and oppression, their desire to make an impact on the world. Serve with them. If you have a ministry, invite them to serve with you. You both will grow through the process.
9. COACH, MENTOR OR VOLUNTEER AT AN AREA MIDDLE SCHOOL OR HIGH SCHOOL
This will make an immediate impact. We have a lady in our church who volunteers with middle school students who struggle with reading. She coaches them two days a week and has been doing so for three or four years. She has seen a tangible change in the behavior and attitude of the students she's mentoring.
It will take time, but just know if you are 55+, you can still make a difference. If you're not dead, God's not done. Nothing wrong with retiring from a career; just don't retire from encouragement. Our students need you. You still matter.
Instead of whining about how popular culture, universities and social media are ruining our kids, get on the field and influence the game. It will give you a new sense of purpose and allow you to pass on a legacy that will far outlive you.
So, Will, Bob, Shirley, Faith, Cheryl and the older lady whose name Trey can't remember...thank you. Thank you for investing in my son. Thank you for being a source of encouragement instead of a source of criticism for a teenager. And to the rest of my awesome OAKS group who do this for other students, thank you.
You are changing tomorrow, one student at a time.
What are some other ways adults can positively influence the lives of students?
How have you been influenced by someone older?