This essay was adapted from Paul Dudley’s talk at our 20 October 2021 event. Watch or listen to his talk on our website.
It is a great, great privilege to be raising the next generation. I think back on all my time, working in schools, working in churches and doing social work, and seeing those great moments of joy. I think of the wonder of children in that moment of realisation as the gospel suddenly clicks in a young mind. I think of walking alongside a youth dying of cancer who, in their final days, dies full of faith. Raising the next generation is a great, great privilege.
But why is it such a great privilege? Let me give you two reasons: firstly, it’s because the next generation are beautiful and precious in God’s sight, and therefore should be in ours. And secondly, it’s because we get to walk alongside the next generation as they face various challenges.
1. The beauty of the next generation
The Bible sees children and youth as being very precious and beautiful. God treasures the next generation the way a child behaves when they find something precious: they pick it up, they might wrap it in a little tissue, and they come and bring it up to you and say, “Look at this!” As we peel open the Bible and read what it says about children and youth, it’s like God saying, “See how precious they are!”
a. Beautifully created
Firstly, the next generation are beautifully created: children and youth are created “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:13-14). Think of their gifts and talents, and the way God has fashioned them all so very different. Not only that, they’re created in his image (Gen 1:27). They have intrinsic value—inherent value—not because of what they will become, but because they’re created in God’s image. Furthermore, they have purpose: they were created “through [Christ] and for him” (Col 1:16).
You see, children are eternal. In 2 Samuel 12, when David has a child with Bathsheba and the child is dying, David is pleading with God. Then the child dies and the servants outside are worried about how David will take the news. They come in, David asks, “What’s going on?” and they say, “Oh, we’re worried about telling you the news”. And David says these great words: “I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam 12:23). Children are eternal beings, and those who are involved in raising children and youth are involved in raising eternal beings. What a great privilege!
However, it’s also clear from Psalm 51 that from the moment of our conception, we are sinful (v. 5), and we need to be matured and developed. This is why we who are of the older generation need to be diligent about teaching them about the Lord (cf. Deut 4:9-10).
b. Beautifully saved
Secondly, the next generational are beautifully saved: they can come to faith. Jesus, speaking to his disciples, said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16; Mark 10:14). Children and youth can be in relationship with the creator of the universe through the work of Christ. What a privilege it is to be involved in making that happen and encouraging it!
c. Beautiful teachers
In that same passage from Luke 18, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (v. 17). Jesus points out to the disciples that children are teachers as well, and we can learn great lessons from them as we observe their model of faith and trust.
Raising the next generation is a great privilege, because children and youth are beautiful—beautifully created, beautifully saved and beautiful teachers.
2. The challenge of raising the next generation
The second reason why raising the next generation is a great privilege is because we get to walk with them—support them, help them thrive and guide them—in the midst of various challenges. What a great joy!
There are many challenges that youth in particular face at the moment: we live in a rapidly changing world where the pace of life has never been so fast. The society and culture that we’re living in is VUCA—that is, it’s volatile, it’s uncertain, it’s complex and it’s ambiguous. We’ve seen this during the COVID-19 pandemic, with students being in lockdown, then coming out of lockdown and dealing with with all the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguousness that COVID brings. The fingerprints of COVID are all over the youth of this generation as they deal with fear and languishing.
Of course, the challenges youth faith aren’t just restricted to COVID and the rapidly changing world we live in. Think of the digital explosion: I am not a digital native, but they are, because they’ve grown up with technology their entire lives. Think about work: the nature of it is rapidly changing, and educators are now educating for jobs that don’t even exist yet. Think about the nature of our world: we’ve become more globalised as a society than ever. Think about sexuality and identity—the topics of consent, toxic masculinity, the #MeToo movement and pornography. Then add in tribalism, cancel culture, the Black Lives Movement, and the entitlement youth feel within their different tribes. Then add that other layer of challenge: the challenge and growing hostility towards Christianity in our society.
There are many, many challenges. But what a privilege it is to walk with the next generation in the midst them.
3. Listening to the next generation
What do young people think are their biggest challenges? What are their biggest fears?
a. Challenges versus fears
I read some McCrindle research recently that talked about the top five challenges that students perceived they were faced with:
- 72%: High pressure to do well in exams and assessments.
- 63%: Navigating their own mental wellbeing.
- 62%: Preparing for unknown careers.
- 58%: Navigating loneliness and social isolation.
- 57%: Juggling work with study.1
Here are their top five fears:
- 65%: Not having enough money to live comfortably
- 61%: Being stuck in a job they don’t enjoy or find fulfilment in
- 54%: Not reaching their full potential
- 48%: Not finding love
- 47%: Never being able to buy their own home.2
b. Mental health
As I speak with many different schools and churches, one of the big things that keeps on coming up is mental health and wellbeing. This was even before COVID came along. During COVID, we’ve seen that there are those who cope well with it, but those who are already languishing with many issues are struggling, and for some, COVID just brings more new fears.
Finally, I often hear youth in this current generation talking about their purpose, and the good life and what it entails. One student says,
I believe that there is no set purpose in life, but rather, the only purpose there can be is that what is constructed by the individual in order to try and find meaning.
Another student says,
I was left on this earth for a reason. I have a purpose. To be honest, I haven’t quite worked out what that purpose is. That is what makes me get out of bed in the morning—not knowing my actual purpose, but knowing that one exists.
And another says,
I don’t know. I have no clue on what to do with my life. I don’t know what I’ll want to be or what I seek in life. However, the idea of having no purpose sits well with me. I accept my life as it is and I want to live it to its fullest by experiencing as much as I can.
Young people seem to be trying to work out what purpose there is in life and asking, “Is there purpose in life?” For so much of our youth, it’s about that lived experience, and that lived experience trumps everything. But having a sense of purpose makes young people happier and healthier, more engaged and less stressed.
In contrast to the world, we have a great message to share with them—that they’re not an accident; that life will often involve walking through those long, tough valleys, but they won’t have to do it alone; that they are created by a loving Father; and that they were created for a purpose. We have a better story we can offer them—a better story that talks about the truth, the beauty and the goodness of the gospel of Christ.
It is a great, great privilege to be raising the next generation. It’s a privilege because the next generation are beautiful and precious in God’s sight, and because we can walk alongside them as they face the various challenges life and our world throws at them. What a great privilege it is to be able to speak the gospel of Christ to them, model that gospel to them and walk with them in that gospel as we raise the next generation! My hope and prayer is that as you interact with the next generation, you will have opportunities to do so.
Except as otherwise noted, Bible quotations are from THE HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by International Bible Society, www.ibs.org. All rights reserved worldwide.
1 Sophie Renton and Mark McCrindle, “The future of education: Insights into today’s students and their future expectations” (Norwest: McCrindle Research, 2021). Accessed online 3 December 2021.