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Raising the Next Generation
By Rt Rev Dr Steven Gan (Synod Moderator)
Jun 2015

Once I heard a song by John Mayer entitled "Daughters." It was sung by a man who didn't seem to understand the woman he was falling in love with. While she appeared to be interested in him, at times it looked as if she was unable to receive or return his love.

At first, he figured it must have something to do with him, but he eventually realized that it had more to do with her father, who had failed to be the person she needed when she was growing up. One could reasonably surmise that at a critical moment in this young girl's life, he walked out on her. That experience still haunted her, many years later, inhibiting her ability to love and be loved.

And so the singer reminds fathers and mothers to consider the impact their decisions have on the children who look up to them. Subsequently in the song, he broadens his message to include more than just mothers and fathers. On behalf of every man, he says, "Look out for every little girl."

He is reminding us that we all play a part in the development of the children and young people around us. What we do and say really matter; how we live will influence the lives of those who follow us — for better or for worse. So let’s be good to the children in our lives.

In this article, I'd like us to consider how that transmission of faith takes place, both in the home and in the church. To illustrate how this works, I’ve chosen the analogy of the 4x100m relay race, in which runners pass a baton from one to another on their way to the finish line. They win or lose as a team. And that’s how it works for us as well. As members of a family, we pass the baton of faith from one generation to the next and the next.

There are three vital biblical principles we need to note with regard to raising the next generation: Firstly...

[1] Those who run before SET THE PACE for those who follow (2 Timothy 1:5)

This first principle is best illustrated by the USA Women's 4x100 Relay Team who won the final at the Seoul Olympics 1988 (video clip below).

Now, every relay team has its own strategy. The American team had put their fastest girl, Alice Brown, in first position. The idea, of course, was that the first runner would open up a big enough lead so that the second runner had a head-start on the other second runners. If all went well, the second runner could hold on to some of that lead and pass it on to the third runner.

And that was exactly how it went. The gun went off, and Alice Brown exploded off the starting line. That not only gave the team the advantage of a headstart on the other runners, it SET THE PACE for her team-mates. If she could run that fast, maybe the rest could as well!

A similar thing happens as spiritual values are passed on from one generation to the next. Each one looks to the preceding generation to see how the race is run. And each generation brings to the one that follows either a head-start or a handicap.

The apostle Paul wrote to a young pastor named Timothy: "I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also." (2 Timothy 1:5)

Notice how the race began with a woman named Lois running the first leg. We don't know how she came to faith, but she ran a good race, and passed the baton of faith on to her daughter, Eunice, who then handed it over to her son, Timothy.

Now, how many generations were involved? Three! But notice the particular kind of faith that was passed on: SINCERE FAITH. Not just religion or cultural Christianity, but real faith – life-saving, life-changing faith.

Like a runner in third position, Timothy watched his predecessors ran the race, and learned what real faith looked like. My PE teacher used to yell at us, "Come on – my grandmother can run faster than you guys." Timothy's grandmother, Lois, could run pretty fast! She had set such a remarkable pace that her grandson not only took hold of her faith, but he became a spiritual champion of his generation.

What kind of pace are you setting for the children who are watching you? Is the quality of your faith giving them a head start or a handicap? Some concerned parents would spare no effort in enrolling their preschool kids in various enrichment classes just to give their children a head-start in school. Well, that’s the academic aspect of your children’s life. What about their spiritual aspect? Are you giving them a headstart or a handicap?

The next principle to note in building up the next generation is that:

[2] A Successful Handover is the result of A THOUSAND PRACTICE RUNS (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

This second principle is also well illustrated in the video clip I mentioned earlier. In that clip, the USA Women’s Relay Team won the Gold Medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, through strategic placing of their fastest runner and superb passing of the baton. But they did badly at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, even though the team included Marion Jones, who had won 4 gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

At that final, the American team was already off to a strong start when Jones took the baton for the second leg of the race. She gained ground as she ran her stretch of 100m and approached Lauryn Williams, a young sprinter who would run the third leg. Williams began running as Jones drew near, but when she reached back to receive the baton, they couldn’t complete the handover. Three times, Jones thrust the baton forward, but each time it missed William’s hand, or she couldn’t seem to wrap her fingers around it. Finally, on the fourth try, they made the connection, but by that time they had exceeded the 20-metre designated zone for the baton to be exchanged and were promptly disqualified.

Everyone knew they were the fastest team on the track. In fact, the night before, they clocked the fastest qualifying time. But when they couldn’t complete the handover, their race was over.

As important as it is for the previous generation to set the pace by living authentically, at a certain point, a handover must be made in which the next generation receives the baton of faith and begins to run with it. That handover isn't as easy as it looks. It is the result of countless practice runs.

That's what God calls for in Deuteronomy 6:6-7: "These commandments I give to you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." These verses remind us of the present generation's responsibility to teach God's truth, both formally and informally, at home and in church.

Some of it takes place when you intentionally sit down with children or teens and look at God’s Word together. Some of it takes place as you walk through life, responding to situations or talking over challenges and difficulties.

You can't rush through this process. It takes time through thousands of bedtime prayers, innumerable discussions about God, faith, heaven and the Bible, and a thousand trips to and from the church with your kids.

Unlike an Olympic race, there's no specified zone in which the handover can and must take place. For some, it will happen at 5 years old, for others 9 or 13 or after they go off to college. The truth is, there will likely be several exchanges made before the baton is fully passed. But whenever it happens, it will be the result of unrelenting practice through the journey of life.

Those involved in the Children or Youth Ministry know how children in their particular phases of development can be easily distracted, despite all your efforts and patience in training them.

It feels like you're just going through the motions. And you feel like calling it quits. Please don't! Because that's exactly what you are doing – you're going through the motions (or practice runs); so that when it is time for the real handover to take place, those motions will come naturally.

In fact, you are imparting values, such that when a decision needs to be made, it will be made quickly and rightly. That child or that teenager is getting used to the feel of the baton in his or her hand, so that at some later point in life, when they reach for it, their fingers will easily wrap around it.

So, please do not underestimate the impact you have on the children and young people around you. By your authentic faith and personal involvement, you are helping to prepare that child for the day when they need to take hold of that baton for themselves.

The third and final principle to note in raising the next generation is that:

[3] Once the handover has been made, KEEP ON CHEERING! (I Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Can you imagine a relay race in which the first runner completes the handover, watches his teammate take off running, and then picks up his sweat-towel and heads into the locker room without watching the end of the race?

It's unthinkable! He's going to watch and cheer and channel every bit of energy he can, to speed his teammates along. The race is not over after the baton is passed; there’s still important work to be done.

So it is in the relay race of our faith. You can set a pace for children by the way you run, giving them a good head-start. You practice the handover for years as you jog through childhood and adolescence. But when the exchange is made, or missed, you're not done. You need to keep on cheering, as Paul did in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12: "For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory."

They say you never stop being a parent – that no matter how old your children get, they continue to look to you for love and support, and you continue to help them and agonize over their challenges and choices.




 
 




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