This afternoon, my parents and I had one of those great, deep discussions. I love it when that happens. It's an impromptu conversation (or an occasional debate) where we express our views on political or theological topics, discern the truth, and I pay absolutely no attention to the fact that I'm still a teenager.
You may have been surprised that a discussion between a teenager and their parents could follow all of the following:
1. The discussion includes the teenager (not just the parents).
2. The discussion is not a lecture.
3. The topic is deep, mature, and meaningful.
4. The teenager is actually interested (and participative) in what is being discussed.
This is exactly the kind of integration and unity that I want to write about today.
Multi-generational unity is just as important as multi-ethnic unity. However, the topic is rarely discussed in the Church, despite the fact that the Bible teaches it (Titus 2:3-5, Luke 2:41-52)
Why is the subject or multi-generational unity ignored? Because it simply isn't expected.
This brings about another question: why don't teenagers listen to, participate in, and care about mature conversations? For exactly the same reason.
Many adults are apprehensive about including teenagers in adult classes and discussions. Perhaps I can address these concerns one by one.
Teenagers will be bored.
This is a common response to the idea of including teenagers in adult classes and discussions. In our culture, we often assume that everything needs to be age-segregated. This mindset suggests that teenagers should only spend time with other teenagers, and adults should only spend time with adults. Everything is within neat and orderly lines. Like with like.
To me, this seems awfully similar to the concept behind racism. White with white. Black with black. No mixing.
This is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible doesn't use the word 'teenager.' It uses 'Christian' and 'unbeliever.' 'Christian' is a blanket statement referring to all types of Christians, of all ages. The universal principles for children, teenagers, and adults are simple: read and study the Word, pray, fellowship, worship, witness, and become more like Jesus.
What happens when we constantly separate teens from adults is that we treat them like different types of Christians. One group passionately pursues God, while the other just stays out of trouble. One truly cares about the Gospel and studies solid theology, while the other is simply 'well-behaved.' The distinction is that adult classes tend to be more Christ-focused, while the other moral-focused. What youth really need is the same as what every other person in the world needs: the Gospel. Not watered-down. Not sugar-coated to make it sound better.
If someone (youth or otherwise) is truly saved, he or she will care about the Bible - no matter what comes with it.
They aren't mature enough.
Several years ago, two teenage boys from my church (one of which was my brother, Nathan) began attending a men's breakfast. They spent time in fellowship with people much older than them. They even taught at least one lesson there while they were still teenagers. Today, they are both in their early twenties. Each of them has preached at least one message for the congregation. Together, they've taught teenagers the Gospel through Sunday school, Bible studies, and Vacation Bible School. They continue to live lives devoted to God and set an example for those around them.
Personally, I've experienced first-hand the value of having conversed with adults from a young age. I engaged in (and continue to engage in) adult Bible study and I am immensely grateful for it.
If you are the parent of a teenager, you may be thinking, "But those are exceptions to the majority. My teenager isn't like them." While it is true that teenagers teaching a men's breakfast lesson is uncommon, I would venture to say that all teenagers have the potential to do such things. It is the expectations of them that make the difference. Great people aren't born that way, they become that way. The two men I mentioned didn't maturely converse with adults because they were 'above average'; they became above average because they spent time with adults. I can say the same for myself. I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't deviated from the age-segregated track.
Your teenagers are mature enough. Even if they aren't, they can become that way through practice.
Those who are older may bring up inappropriate topics.
Lastly, this is another common response to the age-integrated mindset. I will admit, this one I partially agree with. If inappropriate topics are brought up that weaken one's spiritual growth, they shouldn't be in that class. However, I have learned that in a teenage and young adult class, it is often the younger teens who bring about inappropriate comments, and those in their twenties deviated from and discouraged the topics. It was the students in their twenties who brought maturity and wisdom into the class.
For practical application, it's important to remember that a change in the church begins with a change in the home. Parents, please include your teenagers (and even your children) in deep theological topics. Ask them their opinions on moral issues. Discuss the Bible together. Your teenagers don't have to be 'above average' or 'top-of-the-class.' They can become those things through the quality time that you have with them. Teenagers, forget the fact that you're teenagers. Forget your age, and see yourself as a Christian if you truly are one. Don't just strive to be 'good for your age' at something, but be good at it in general. At this point in your life, your physical, mental, and emotional energy is at it's peak - don't waste it. Also, feel free to use your tech-expertise for a good cause. Lastly, as first Timothy 4:12 states, set an example for the believers, regardless of your age.
If you want you or your teenage children to grow beyond our society's expectations, I've included a list of resources below:
Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex & Brett Harris
The Rebelution (blog)
Raising Motivated Kids (video series)
This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years by Jacquelle Crowe (this book is excellent for both teens and adults. It covers how Christianity affects each aspect of life).