When I came into the Church I was on fire. I was excited and passionate about reading the Bible and talking about God. It wasn’t but a few weeks after my baptism that I preached my first sermon.
I read the Bible for hours every day, and I had lots of spiritual discussions. But at 17, I had no idea what it looked like to be a godly man. So, I tried to build relationships with older men in the congregation and the elders.
But I hit a wall. They were very willing to mess around with me and make sarcastic jokes, but I was struggling in a life-and-death spiritual battle. I felt so alone in dealing with my lust, anger, and basically selfish tendencies. I had no idea what a Christian man should be like, but when I looked to the older men in the Church to see how, I met nothing but sarcasm.
But I didn’t want jokes. I wanted a relationship.
The amount of potential influence older men have over younger men is enormous.
When I was younger (around 8 or 10), I got in trouble a lot. People in my life were constantly disappointed with me: talking in class, not doing my homework, making fun of people etc. I remember feeling like a failure, like I couldn’t do anything right.
As a young boy in New Orleans, the preacher seemed like God to me. We had a kind man for a preacher, one who gave out candy and encouraged us children. His name was Mike Fox. I remember every time he saw me he would say, “Joshua, you’re a good man.” This still brings tears to my eyes. I cannot even begin to tell you what effect that statement had on me.
I didn’t believe him. I was so puzzled as to why he would say something like that. “No, I’m a bad kid, he must think I’m someone else,” I would think to myself. But every time he told me I was a good man, I felt something come alive within me that wanted to live up to what he said. I knew I wasn’t a good man, but I wanted to be, if nothing else but that he wouldn’t be lying when he said that about me.
It was his belief in me that later in life made me want to search out God. My dad didn’t live with me, so with the exception of my grandfather, that preacher was the only man I ever felt believed in me.
In switching gears a little bit, let me begin by saying that our society is very different than every other society in history. Kids spend more time with themselves than they do adults. They are their own people group, and there are entire lines of products targeted solely at them.
Youth are raising themselves.
Kids have their own private rooms, computers, phones, and social lives. Typically they live in a vacuum away from normal adult life. Think about it. How many serious life conversations did you have with adults while growing up? I can’t think of a single one.
Recently I’ve been meeting with a 15-year-old who is always around Church stuff. His family is even in ministry. I took him out to eat so we could talk, and I asked him if he had someone he could come to for advice. Nearly in tears he told me that he feels so alone as a teenager. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he told me. “You were a teenager, but I’ve never done this before. I really need some help, man.”
That’s how I felt at his age, too. I felt like adults expected me to live by some ambiguous standard, but they never explained exactly what that standard was or why I was supposed to live by it. The only time I figured it out was when I got in trouble for breaking it.
For a time after being so passionate about God I fell away from Him. I still went to church services every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, as well as any other extra activity they had. But I had stopped reading my Bible, praying, or living for God at all. But you know what? No one noticed.
I’m not blaming others for that, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have come back to God a lot sooner if I felt I had someone to talk to. But I felt alone, like my only connection with God was at the building.
Titus 2:6-7 says older men should encourage the younger men as well as lead a good example for them. But surely this must go beyond Bible class once a week. In order for them to “set an example” they must be intentionally around younger people in everyday life.
I’m so thankful that I’m a little older now, because I KNOW the influence I have over younger men. I work with a missionary program, and it gives me such joy to hear one of the guys say that he looks up to me and appreciates me investing time in him.
I’ve been blessed with many great mentors in my life: Paul Partlow, Brandon Price, Chris Johnson, and Timur Rahimov (in Russia). In 1 Cor. 11:1 Paul tells the Church to imitate him as he imitates Christ. These men have lived out this passage with me. They make me who I am, because as I have followed them I have seen past them and followed Jesus.
My biggest inspiration to continue trying to mentor younger men is the difference older men have made in my life. I know that I am more like Christ because of them, and I know that I can help younger men become more like Christ too.
This is getting long for a blog entry so let me get to the point: You hold enormous influence over people younger than yourself, and if you would just invest some time with them you will reap eternal rewards.
Pick out someone of the same gender younger than yourself and take them out to coffee. Go do something fun. Get to know them. Ask them about their lives and be genuinely interested. See if they would be interested in reading the Bible together with you. Be transparent about your life and your faith. Share your life experiences and the things God has taught you. Explain what it means to be a godly man.
I cannot exaggerate this. Doing this can absolutely transform someone’s life, but you must do it intentionally.
3 days ago