This is Part 3, the last installment in Misty Gilliland’s series “Bind Us Together, Lord”. You won’t want to miss the context by reading Parts 1 and 2.
When our focus is in the wrong place we miss out on opportunities to serve and sow, because we think things are “hard” or we “don’t feel like it” or we convince ourselves “she just wouldn’t understand because we’re too different, why bother?” I may not be a parent, but I do know love and can enjoy being around children. I understand frustration, exasperation, disappointment, heartache, taking joy in others, discipline, neurotic worries . . . so maybe we can be friends after all? I may only have a certain measure of life experience, but I’m interested in the life experience of my elders, my married friends, single friends, the widows and widowers, and the single parent. Each one matters and I need them in my life.
In connection with our “sense of identity,” it seems like no matter where we are in this walk of life that we are all fighting for relevance or struggling to maintain our relevance. To understand something’s relevance is to know the reason it matters or how it is important. Oxygen is relevant to me, because it prolongs my life and is vital for sustaining my internal organs. My glasses are relevant to me, because without them I can hardly see and I would not be an effective or productive working adult. The meaning and spirit of the word “relevant” involves a connection with someone or something that matters. The word “connected” means to link, unite, join together and establish communication. It also means to cause to be associated as in a personal relationship. My Bible study leader is relevant to me, because her studies and teaching gift make a difference in my understanding of the Scriptures and she helps me to learn God’s Word. To be relevant is to matter and our connections display our relevance. So, with that in mind, are you relevant? Are you connected with other believers? Do you know why you should be?
No matter how old we are, we don’t lose our innate relevance, but we can become irrelevant in ministry. In fact, that’s not hard to do at all. The thing we struggle with often is that we lose our perception of our relevance depending on our circumstance. Our focus gets distorted easily, we become discouraged, and sometimes we quit. We are not called to be quitters.
Believers, if we cannot reach our own in Christ, how will we ever reach a lost and dying world? We must help develop the next generation of leaders in the church. If we don’t make changes and pursue those around us, who will rise up as champions of the faith? We will vastly lose our effectiveness for Kingdom work if we do not strive to be the body: together, in unison, championing the Gospel as ambassadors for Christ. Friends, we are called to this life of service. We are called to make disciples. We aren’t called to quit or called to make excuses. We have the Holy Spirit within us and we serve the Savior whose name causes the very foundation of Hell to quake and the demons to shudder. If there is life within you, Believer, you can live a life for Christ!
When we consider our identity or our relevance, the problem we face lies within our hearts and manifests in our mind, ultimately expressing itself in our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. Jesus said, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man” (Matt. 15:18-20). If I think more of myself and less of someone else, that’s going to be evident. If I let anything other than Christ become my identity, that’s also going to be evident.
We aren’t battling the generations, we’re battling a persistent on-going fight-to-the-death warfare that will distract us and confuse us so we focus on the wrong thing and fail to engage in the pressing work of the ministry which is the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20). The battles we face take on many forms, but it shouldn’t be each other. Jesus told His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This is where we should be focused. We’re engaged in this spiritual warfare and battling our flesh daily (Rom. 8:5-6; Gal. 5:16-26; Rom 7:14-25). We’re called to persevere and intentionally fulfill the work of the ministry by making disciples and putting into action our unique gifts, talents, and abilities for God’s glory. As we do this, we must remember: we’re not fighting this battle for victory, but from victory—we are already conquerors, equipped and able to do this work. We should care for one another, because God gave us each other to help accomplish the work before us.
If one thing is certain, Believers, we must manage our mindset concerning how we look upon our elders, those who are young, and how we cultivate those relationships. We have to be deliberate about what we let define us and what we let divide us. We need to take hold and get a grip on the issues that really matter, issues such as: (1) daily supporting and praying for our brothers and sisters suffering with the persecuted church, (2) being obedient to the calling in our lives, (3) actively studying the Word of God, (4) sowing and serving in the local assembly for Kingdom growth, (5) sharing and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, (6) allowing ourselves to be discipled, and (7) making disciples. We must break down barriers and stop building walls. We can still celebrate our differences (and we should), but our differences shouldn’t draw an impassable line in the sand. Our perceived differences should not become so much of an excuse that we forsake fellowship and friendship over it. We shouldn’t grieve the Holy Spirit with indifference and disregard for others (Eph. 4:17-32). We need less of us and more of Jesus.
If only our hearts were truly broken, and we could see the world with the vision and clarity of those suffering for the cause of Christ in the persecuted church—then we would know what matters most. With that vision, we would be daily reminded that Jesus died on the cross for us to not only be reconciled to God; but, to make disciples and share the Gospel. We are called to pick up our cross (Luke 9:23) and know that the world will hate us, because it first hated Him (John 15:18). Christ made that sacrifice and calls us to live sacrificially. We are not struggling against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities, and the spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). We are defenders of the faith and we hold within us the very Light that makes the darkness flee (John 8:12; 1:5). If that’s not true about you or in your life, you need to take a hard look in the mirror and change your life, your heart, and your mind accordingly. We’re not here to make the Scriptures fit our lives, but to let the Scriptures transform us into who God created us to be.
As we look to those around us, younger or older, it is imperative that we change our hearts and our minds. Pray and ask God to show you where He’s working and join him there. Reach out and find a connection. It doesn’t matter that you’re different, that just gives you something more to talk about. And, you may find that what you have in common is you’re both one in Christ. It would be our shame if we let anything stop us from living in obedience to Christ. The work in front of us is too much, too important, for us to let something so small as age, social status, personal interests, or some other difference, interfere with the work of the Kingdom. If you’re wearied by the young, lean in to the Scriptures and learn what God can do through the lives of the weak and powerless, through the small and insignificant.
If you want to know what God can do in a person’s life, young or old, take time to learn about David who honored God in his youth and was anointed to become a king (1 Sam. 16-17). Read the Book of Daniel to learn about Daniel who lived a life that should have been fraught with identity crisis, but was overcome by faithfulness to God. It was Abraham, advanced in age, whose obedience to God made him the father of many nations (Gen. 17; Heb. 11:17-18). In fact, if you want to know about things that really matter, just read your Bible. All of it.
As we consider what to do about this, we should look to our relationships with believers and unbelievers with the understanding we are seeking to honor God with our lives. There are obstacles in the way and we need to tear them down. To defeat these obstacles, we must examine our hearts and ask the hard questions. Am I striving to become more like Christ? Do I share my faith with others? Do I unite people? Am I seeking relationships with other believers? Do people know I care? Am I making disciples? Have I ever let myself be discipled? Am I accountable? Am I serving God with the gifts He has given me? Am I regularly in God’s Word hiding His truth in my heart? If your answers are yes, then you’re probably not the one who looks down upon the young or dismisses the old. If your answers were yes, then rise up, Believer, because it’s the bottom if the ninth, the bases are loaded, and we need you to make the grand slam. Christ is counting on you and He’s called you.
I hear it all the time, “I wish there were more young people in my small group,” or “I think I’ll just stay home, because I’m too old for the crowd at the fellowship.” We’ve fostered this “separation” mentality in the church by dividing up the classes or groups we offer and segregating the body of believers by age, marriage, or some other reason. On the surface, the logic is sound, the purpose is intentional, and it makes a lot of good sense. People do well in groups they share similarities with and generally open up more. But, has it really made the right difference? Has this practice been effective in the church?
I believe these behaviors have hurt the church significantly and through these seemingly little things we’ve created a bigger problem. I believe we’ve created a comfort in surrounding ourselves with people so similar that we have developed a handicap that discourages relationships with people less similar—with those we don’t understand or think we can’t relate to, but should try to. Similarities can be good and create an atmosphere of comfort. But, we’re not really here to be comfortable.
In many ways, we’ve created a chasm we’re unsure how to cross. I know so many mature, wise, and loving older believers who would snatch up any chance to mentor a young person. And, I know there are young people yearning for authentic discipleship from those same older believers. We seem to get stuck though, lost in the cycle of uncertainty, fear, and self-doubt. Dare we disciple the young adult, the parents, and the elderly together? Is that even possible? The young women in the singles group want to know the married women; the older women want to connect with the younger women. I know that to be true, because I was once that young adult wanting so much more than to be surrounded by only other young adults.
Aside from a young adults group that met at a specific time and place in the church, there didn’t seem to be anywhere else I could go when I was a younger believer. With the exception of a chance meeting over a hobby or church event, how do we make connections? How can we be searching for one another and continually miss the mark? How can we be intentional with our relationships to become more inclusive instead of exclusive? Does it really matter? It matters.
The purpose of this writing is to address an element of the sweeping identity crisis we’re facing in the church. Let me qualify this more appropriately: in the American church.
For most older people, I could probably sum up a host of perceived problems in and out of the church with the word “Millennial.” But, friends, let’s be honest, Millennials aren’t really the problem and I’m not here to put them down. You might think they can be a problem, but they are not the problem. They are not the chief problem in the church at least. How do I know that? Well, if we remove every Millennial from the face of the earth, will that create a perfect world? No. Why? Sin. It’s all of us collectively who create the problems in the world. This isn’t something that just developed in the last 20 years or is isolated to one group of people. This is a long-term humanity problem. Our identity has been skewed since the fall of man and our identities can be really messed up.
To be continued…