I know. You’re thinking, he meant, “Will our children have faith?” It was Walter Brueggemann who turned this statement around and asked, “Will our faith have children?”
This has always been the proper concern of God’s people. At Passover the patriarch was supposed to convey the essential story of Israel’s freedom from slavery to the next generation (Exodus 12:26,27). You can sense the urgency in Paul’s words: “I charge you, in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is the judge of the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season …” (2 Timothy 4:1,2).
In a word, Paul was anxious that the faith be passed down to the next generation. I am now in a time where I am preparing young men to lead the next generation. I want, so badly I can taste it, to see the faith ensured for the next generation, and the next, and the next. I am concerned, however, that we often lack vision and thoughtfulness when we handle especially the next generation of spiritual leaders in our church. Many become so discouraged that they quit the ministry, or quit the church altogether.
“But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (Philippians 2:22).
Gordon, Texas, 1976. I suspect most who read this have never heard of “metropolitan Gordon TX.” On the ninety-two mile marker of Highway 20 between Dallas and Abilene you will find the Gordon/Stephenville turn off. Two miles north of that turn off, in the rolling country of the Brazos River Valley is Gordon: the sign proudly declared the population: 495.
This was my first regular ministry, begun in 1976 (you can do the math from here). These 70 or so saints listened patiently to my sermons, good, bad and indifferent for three and a half years.
Countless small churches have afforded young preachers the chance to start their ministries, to set a young person’s sails straight and ensure decades of fruitful, faithful ministry. What a privilege these congregations have! They help train missionaries, elders, big city preachers because they are willing to be patient and watch the talents of a young man unfold. I always think that having to produce four lessons a week is the making of a preacher. Either he studies, digs into the word of God and becomes good at his craft, or he does not and drifts into another profession.
Small churches can take legitimate pride in what they do. I have often listened as they list ten or twelve men who have gone on to other places – “Brother so-and-so – you know him? He did mission work in Ghana (or wherever). He used to preach here!”
Here’s what I’m getting at, beloved. If you are either a member or a leader in a small church that has a young man serving you as minister, could you please be conscious of the effect your words and attitudes have not just on the way he serves now, but the way he serves the church for the next half century? When a young man surrenders the fight and decides to go into car insurance or real estate, the church has lost incalculably! I know tough times can often be the making of a young minister, but do the tough times have to come from his own brethren?
God and the brethren at Gordon, Texas were patient and loving. I owe them a great deal. In a sense, small churches minister to their preachers. Look fifty years into the future, and know that you have a part to play in the future of God’s church.