Throwback: Telling Stories to Children

I wrote this one after a conversation with an older friend about generational alignment and disconnection in the Church.

“Much that once was, is lost for none now live who remember it.” – Galadriel

There are certain things in God’s heart that He has revealed to fathers and mothers in the Church at certain times throughout history causing the kingdom to advance and the Church to grow in number, in spiritual power and in intimacy with Him. However as generations pass it’s not unusual that some of these things are lost or discarded and have to be rediscovered again years later. I think that some of this occurs in generational turnovers, when a younger generation of leaders* and pioneers begin something new, running past or away from their elders. This is where there is often a breakdown in communication. During the youth of the older generation, powerful encounters with God resulted in fresh revelation from His Word and heart, producing new attitudes, values and practices in the Church. However when new leaders arise, the heart behind the attitudes, values and practices can be missed and the baby gets thrown out with the bath water! These new young leaders have not understood or experienced the revelation that their predecessors have and so they tend to either keep the stuff for the sake of tradition, making them into lifeless rules and rituals or they chuck them out altogether along with the heart of God that was being made manifest in that particular area.

This all sounds pretty ethereal and abstract so how about an example? Let’s say a group of young Christians seek God and He really impresses upon them His heart for the poor and His outlandish generosity towards them. The Christians are overcome with the emotion that springs from the Eternal Well and their hearts burst into action. They begin a practice of weekly collecting clothing including their nicest stuff and take it to give to the poor. This goes on and many years later new Christians have come in or grown up in the community. They’ve seen the practice of giving clothes but they’ve not experienced the heart of God behind it or had the revelation from the scriptures for themselves. As they begin to lead they recognise that a lot of time and effort and other resources are going into this operation that could perhaps be better spent on something else e.g. evangelism training** so typically one of two things happens. Either, they stop the clothing collection in favour of the training or they continue the collecting in the name of tradition and start the training while secretly despising the collecting because of the resources it consumes. There is a danger that this group of Christians will no longer carry the heart of God towards the poor of society and what God gave to them from His heart to cherish could be lost to them for years, if not forever. I would guess that something like this happened to the church in Ephesus that Jesus speaks to in Revelation 2:2-5

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

I think that some of this is to do with the relationship between fathers, mothers, sons and daughters in the Church, the family of God. Fathers and mothers are those who take responsibility for the growth and well-being of younger Christians, feeding, fuelling and comforting them, teaching them how to walk with and be strong in the Lord. Sons and daughters are those younger Christians that are full of potential but need guidance and direction from older and wiser sources in order to achieve it. They need the eyes of age to look inside them and see what needs growing and what needs pruning. Throughout the Old Testament, God continually commands the Israelites to tell their children of the things that He did for them and the nature of His relationship with them (Exodus 10:2, Joshua 4:22, Exodus 13:8) and this enabled the generations that came after them to begin with the level of relationship with Him that their parents finished with and move forward. Sons and daughters typically want to start their own thing and often can be uninterested in what went before. We want to do stuff our way!

While I think there is a place for each new generations doing things in a new way, I think there’s an important principal that we can’t miss as well that needs to slot in. Fathers and mothers need to learn how to pass on to sons and daughters, the heart that God gave them and lead them into an encounter with Him that will brand their own hearts. The outward expression of the values God gives them is likely to change but it only remains pure if they have known the heart of God. Anything less leads to hollow ritual and empty performance or spiritual decline with the illusion of continuity. Church splits often come out of disagreements and this is a common place where younger leaders can become frustrated and run off to do their own thing and forsake the attitudes, values and practices that they associate with their older mentors. Perhaps fathers and mothers enforced the attitudes, values and practices upon their sons and daughters without them ever connecting with the heart of God behind them. This is like parents trying to force their teenagers to have tidy bedrooms “because I said so”. As soon as that child grows up and flies the nest, their room is going to be tip! Fact! (maybe not 100% a fact but maybe 99.99…) However if a child is helped to understand the benefits of a tidy room and the dangers of a untidy one, they’re more likely to maintain tidiness (albeit in their own way) because they’ve had a revelation of its significance. Recently a friend and I spent time with a couple in our church who I think are in their 80s. They told us the stories of how they came to know Jesus as their Saviour and how they were filled with the Holy Spirit. I watched as the husband spoke of an experience with God that occurred about 65 years ago and his eyes filled with tears of joy, his voice cracked as he spoke and the presence of God filled the room. That settled in my heart that I want, no I NEED to know God in such a way that 65 years from now I’ll still be moved by the power and intimacy of precious moments with Him! They looked us in the eyes and told us to guard our private time with God in the secret place each day. You can bet that didn’t come across to me as a dead, dry rule but as an challenge full of life that filled me with excitement and determination!

Something I’ve noticed is that the way young people interpret stories can be problematic. Our tiny amount of life experience and our society’s emphasis on self-importance can warp messages that are coming into our ears. Not sure what I mean? Here’s an example. We hear a story of God’s miraculous provision in the life of a father or mother who was sold out for the gospel and fully giving themselves to God. They say to us “Trust God and step out” and what we hear is something like “If I step out to do what’s right and go beyond my means, God should pick up the bill.” We often fail to capture the power of the strength of character that caused the person to step out in the first place that says “This is the right thing to do and it’s right that it is a sacrifice for me. I will use what I have whether God repays me or not.” Sometimes God comes in to bless us, other times He refrains but both are to shape our character and develop our relationship with Him. We just don’t think like that! We’re young and our world is quite small and let’s be honest, is mostly is about us! We may be studying, trying to figure out who we are and what we’re doing with our lives so we often interpret things in a way that will contribute to our own personal progression. Did you get that? Although this isn’t evil it can appeal to selfishness and get warped so fathers and mothers really need to ask God for wisdom and discernment to tell stories of faith and tailor them to the heart they are going in to. Perhaps more on that another time.

It’s hugely important for us to discover language that enables us to communicate what God has revealed to us in our spirits so we can effectively pass it on to following generations, not as a rule but as a value which can grow in their hearts and find fresh expression in their context and their relationship with God. Fathers and mothers need to tell stories and sons and daughters need to listen. Both need open hearts. God may be doing a new thing but He Himself is unchanging. He’s still in the business of family.

Thanks for reading. Please let me hear your thoughts. More to come!

End Notes

*By leaders I don’t simply mean ordained or official church ministers but rather those who take a lead in the life of the Church family and who are willingly followed and listened to by others in the Church community.
**I have absolutely nothing against evangelism training, this is just an example of two important things.

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