Several years ago, we brought in Lecrae to perform in one of our Sunday services. At the time, he was raising money for his "13 Letters" project - a discipleship curriculum based on the thirteen books the Apostle Paul authored. This curriculum is geared toward inner city kids and supported by an accompanying record. (In case you're living under a rock, Lecrae is a Grammy Award winning Christian hip-hop artist whose lyrics exude sound doctrine and the supremacy of Christ.)
Our church loved him. He did two of his songs from his record, "Rebel," and my interview with him revealed that he is more than a musician. This brother has depth and his passion is to teach skillfully God's word and make strong disciples. After the service, he and his team worked his merchandise table for at least an hour, selling out of everything. His associates even ran out to their cars to grab extra CDs scattered across their floorboards.
That Sunday was hugely positive for our church. First and foremost, Christ was highly exalted and everyone knew it. Second, our people were deeply encouraged. They were blown away that a skillful hip-hop artist could share the same skin as a devout Christian. Third, I believe that Lecrae is both a prophet to the church and an evangelist to the inner city and I wanted our members to be exposed to his life and ministry.
But there's nothing more frustrating than to hear two days later that the usual suspects were "unhappy" with his ministry. Apparently, these "old school" people view the entire hip-hop genre as being irredeemably anti-Christian - a view that I reject. My heart reacted in angry immaturity when I got word that these older, influential people in our congregation once again were contributing only resistance to my leadership. My reflex-thought was that these critics (sadly, no longer in fellowship with our church) should be rejoicing the loudest at what God is doing in the next generation to expand his kingdom on the earth. Rather, they threw a wet blanket on what I considered a "win."
As my emotions subsided and I thought about it more objectively, it occurred to me that our church had a deficiency. I didn't know of any older people - people around the retirement age and older - discipling and mentoring our younger people, showering on them the wisdom they have gained over a long lifetime. I'm not talking about general encouragement and the occasional "Atta-boy." I'm talking about older people crowned with the glorious grey hair of wisdom (Prov. 16:31) who are forming younger people in Christ (Titus 2:2-8). I was and am convinced that one of the reasons this wasn't happening was because the younger in our church weren't doing ministry the same way they did. So I swore I would never be this obstinately opposed to the efforts of the generations that succeeded me.
Well, now I'm only a few months from turning 40. Yes, I'm far from retirement, but I no longer think the way I did when I was 25. I'll be celebrating another anniversary with my wife in a few months - for the 17th time. I've been in the ministry for 20 years, 18 of which have been full-time. I've got a kid in youth group who's about to turn 13. My hair's starting to turn grey. And my wife and I have begun to realize that we're a bit older than most of the people we're hanging with these days. I could go on...The point is I'm aging (I can hear you laughing, John Owens).
This last week I really showed my "age." An associate who is younger than me and has far less ministry experience than I took me to school. Big time. We were talking through how to handle a certain sticky situation in the church. The course of action he was prescribing seemed naive and idealistic to me. So I pulled the seniority card. "Man, I've dealt with this type of thing a thousand times..." I just knew his efforts were going to lead us into a head-on collision with futility. And this exercise would cost me hours and hours of my week. (Again, immaturity.)
But he persisted. And I'm glad he did.
Through that philosophical conflict, I realized that I was becoming the stifling old critic I once resented. I realized that what I referred to in myself as "wisdom gained from much experience" was merely crabby cynicism. And the more I resisted the more I realized that I was wrong. Truth was like a python wrapped around me. With every gasp of air and every struggle to break free, it's grip tightened. Alas, I was vanquished.
I'm saying all that not because I have some profound point to make. I just wanted to share something I'm learning with you about the acquisition of wisdom. I'm learning that I need inexperienced people in my life just as much as I need the wise. (Boy, I never thought I would say that!) Both groups bring insight and baggage. The wise can keep me from stepping off a cliff that I don't see right in front of me, but they also bring a large degree of passivity and skepticism (generally speaking). And though the inexperienced may often out-kick their coverage (a metaphor, you non-footballers, for diving into something without thinking), they also bring a never-say-die, risk-taking attitude that pries me out of my non-action. They are the ones who incessantly ask the question, "Why?" And they never stop asking that question until they get a non-cynical answer! (Recall the python...)
I need the inexperienced in order to off-set my cynicism. It's so easy to blow off younger people because "they just don't know" or "they just don't have the experience," both of which are often true. But there are times when a younger person will be a prophetic instrument in God's hand, intended to draw us back to a pure and undefiled risk-taking, big-dreaming faith. The Jesus kind of faith.
It's easy to submit to a sage. But will you open your heart to a young idealist who may light a much-needed fire under your rear end?