Boomers. Generation X. Millennials. These words punctuate every arena of life and culture—in advertising, media, fashion, and ministry. Entire books have been published describing the generalities of these generational groups. We tend to categorize generational, cultural, economic, educational, racial, and other differences when discussing people.
The demographic categories we use to describe groups of people are compelling, especially when considering how to influence others. However, in ministry, these labels fall short. They divide more than they unite. I have found the biblical language of neighbor, mother, husband, and daughter much more helpful.
The reality of ministry is this: we minister to people, not groups. As much as people in a generational demographic have common experiences, the individuals who make up these groups have distinctly different needs. Therefore, I have learned to think more broadly. People are either younger or older than I, whether that be in experience or in age.
For years, one of my quests was to find a mentor, someone who could provide guidance, input, and spur me forward in my spiritual growth and life skills. I found short-term mentors through friends, professors, and books. For them I am grateful. However, I never found the long-term mentor I craved. Each time I met an individual who seemed promising, I was disappointed when, perhaps, they proved unwilling, uninterested, unavailable, or maybe they did not know how to be a mentor.
Eventually, I gave up looking for those ahead of me, and I determined to be a mentor for others. I felt compelled to give what I had long searched for. In my role, leading a team of ministers serving abroad, I have had the opportunity to assist others through sharing my ministry experiences, helping with language learning, or advising on the practicalities of life as an expatriate.
Discipleship Beyond (DB), the ministry I founded with my wife, Corrie, has provided other ways we serve those coming behind us. This program gathers young adults for five months of intense discipleship and service.
DB provides an amazing opportunity for our team to invest in the generations that follow us. Participants mature in their walk with the Lord, they grow through living in community with other participants, and they increase their perspectives through experiencing other cultures.
We have also discovered that a by-product of pouring into others is that we, ourselves, also experience growth. We enjoy the benefits of increased spiritual depth and of greater development in our leadership and our teaching skills.
The first portion of the program is called Formation. We focus on our personal walk with the Lord, asking Him to shape and fashion our hearts in His image. For 12 weeks, we fly in teachers from around the world to share wisdom and experience in their area of expertise. We learn from men and women from every stage of life—single, married, parents, and grandparents. Two years ago, our teachers were in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. What a blessing to see God move through the generations!
Following Formation, our DB crew goes on outreach. This is 8-10 weeks of intense ministry in multi-cultural and multi-generational settings. This time often proves to be the most impactful of the Discipleship Beyond experience.
Altogether, DB is one of the ways that our team of ministers has sought to provide love and leadership for those coming behind.
I have other reasons for wanting to impart my life and what I have learned into the generation that follows me. I have served in the Middle East for about 15 years. When confronted with the task of reaching all the millions and millions who have yet to hear the gospel, all of us working in the region are intensely aware that it is likely not our generation who will see the work completed. Even as we do all we can to advance the Lord’s kingdom into the darkness, we are thinking of those who will come behind us. It is they who will continue the spread of banner of Christ over the earth.
We are truly seeing scripture fulfilled. “One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” Psalm 145:4.
By The Shirey Family