Most excelling professional athletes are described as “freaks of nature.” They’re the whole package of height, weight, strength, speed, vision, and brains. While it’s impressive to watch these biological anomalies play with such ease, to say they have made it to this stage on genes alone would not only be wrong but offensive! Such a statement would not only disregard the countless hours of work devoted to developing their craft, but even more so the people who helped them along the way.
Young disciples—namely, students—need others to faithfully observe, coach, and shape their development, too.
Is anything more encouraging in the church than watching a young person’s heart ignite with the glory of God? There is a uniqueness to an adolescent being baptized, serving in the community or on a mission trip, or using social media to honor God. Perhaps, believers are encouraged, when youth stand up for their faith, because it gives us hope that our world is not lost after all. That God is indeed building his church and using young people to do so. But it’s important to remember that this kind of maturity in students does not happen out of thin air.
MORE THAN FREAKS
Every athlete had a set of parents, guardians, coaches, mentors, and trainers who poured into them. Athletes are gifted and talented, yes. But they have also been coached and trained for the big stage.
The same is true of the rising generation in the church. We cannot and must not deny that God has lavished this generation with gifts they bring to the table for building Christ’s church. But to be gifted is not the same as to be discipled. With Paul we can say, “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14-15).
We should also note that students are not resigned to being “the church of tomorrow.” They can make a kingdom impact even today. In some ways, the urgency for them to be coached and mentored and trained is even more necessary for the young disciple than the young athlete. We don’t see 15-year-olds playing in the NFL. But you better believe 15-year-olds can turn a church upside down for Jesus. The implications of 1 Timothy 4:12 are serious—young people are not to be overlooked on the basis of their youth, but in a stunning reversal, they may be the ones setting the example for the rest of us.