Not a Gap, But a Generation Bridge
About 55 years ago, I learned the importance of relating to different age groups. I asked a man who was 25 years older than me, “How can I get Jesus in my heart?” at that time, I was in first grade. He led me into a relationship with Jesus that has grown me right into my sixth decade of life. Now, I have been privileged to work with a wide age-range of men and women throughout my life.
My first ministry role was to the youth of my local church, which was fitting as I, myself, was a youth. Only a teen with a couple of years of Bible college behind me, I was ready to change the world. I had great mentors and pastors serving over me. I recruited 70+-year-old Colonel John Batterson, USA (Ret) to teach timeless biblical truths to us long-haired “cool” kids, as about 45 of us gathered regularly in a large basement. Everyone loved him and learned solid principles for life. Only recently (41 years later), did I hear that a church was planted out of that group.
Then, at the ripe old age of 21, I launched out to a new town to plant a church. It was Pastor Joel McGraw’s leadership…no, it was his command, that I followed to plant and establish Victory Chapel in Fayetteville, TN. Pastor Joel (also my Uncle) was a great role model in all things pastoral. He never looked down on me because of my youthful ignorance. Instead, he pushed me forward to do more and excel in every area of life. What a great man!
In the church-planting project, at age 21, the new families that gathered did not know whether to refer to me as the youth pastor or senior pastor. I did both. A dear lady in her mid-60’s took me out into the neighborhoods and hollows to meet the community as we shared the gospel and prayed for the sick. Miss Willie would climb up in my hippy-style panel van with its orange shag carpet on the floor, walls, and ceiling and navigate me all over the county. I learned so much from her and her gracious husband, Mr. Kelly Dysart. There was no gap in our generation. It was a dynamic connection.
I connected with the youth, parents, and grandparents alike. I learned quickly that it is all about Jesus and His kingdom. He is the common denominator. Groupings related to age, gender, socio-economic position, and education level all became insignificant. We wanted to lift up Jesus and introduce Him to everyone. I am confident that having such a wide age-range of believers and leaders during those formative years kept me from straying into any unhealthy extremes. I know it held me to a more disciplined life of learning and godliness.
I wish I still had some of the personal letters and emails from senior leaders like Chaplain Col E.L. Shirey, and other men only a few years ahead of me like Bishop Doug Beacham. Each of these men had a huge godly impact on my life, which I did my best to pass on to the younger guys nearby.
All of that was good for the day, but even better preparation for my future as a missionary. In my early 30’s, I realized the Lord was sending me to Europe, specifically London. I was thrust into much more than various age groups. Now, it was a variety of races and nationalities, language groups, other religions, and different “genders” that I did not know were even possible! However, it was not so difficult to adjust to, since I had not cocooned my life into the 1970’s youth culture that I was raised in. Oh, I have great memories, but the past is the past and each age level comes with different graces and blessings.
Early on in the mission field, I was able to mentor younger men and women while receiving excellent direction and mentorship from the likes of Jim & Peggy Eby and John & Edna Parker. They were 10 years my senior and 25+ years my senior. Today, I am pleased to have sons and daughters in the faith that go beyond my own family. Fact is, although I relate to a few of my mentees like a parent, they are different races and different nationalities.
What a joy! I would not have it any other way! Young. Old. Wise, and otherwise. God has used these relationships to help me, and He has used me to help others promote His Kingdom purposes on the earth.