You Want to Talk About That?

“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” (Eph. 5:8-14)

 

I had the privilege of speaking on this passage in my church’s youth group a couple weeks ago. It was hard to speak on a couple specific verses before these because they were just…well…uncomfortable. But it led to good conversations and I was able to touch on this passage.

Every time I’ve heard this passage preached on, the preacher generally will like to stay with the whole we are child of light part. Which, don’t get me wrong, is truly awesome! I am literally eternally grateful for the fact that I am a child of light through the work of Christ. But I don’t remember ever hearing a good explanation of what exposing the unfruitful works of darkness looks like.

My mind automatically goes down three trails of thought when I read this. First, I think of Scooby and gang pulling of the mask of the villain as they reveal his plan and him saying, “I would have gotten away with it too. If it weren’t for you meddling kids!” Next I think of this tattle-tale kid telling his dad that his brother or sister did something wrong. Or last, to a legalistic-type preacher naming off a list of things he doesn’t like in the world and labeling them as wicked, and thus he exposed the darkness of the world. But this passage isn’t any of those and it’s what so many mentoring relationships need.

So what is it?

We as the redeem children of God were in darkness (sin) and have made light through the blood of Christ. So we should have a desire to live life in a matter pleasing to Him and that’s found in all things that are good, right, and true. So as we live here on earth and have the light of Christ shine through us into other’s lives we see things they might not. Those dark places are exposed by the light of Christ and they become visible.

In summary, it is us being an imitator of Christ as a dear child and letting His light shine through us. And as we do life with our brothers and sisters in Christ, His light shining through us exposes the dark areas in our lives.

That kind of sounds like mentoring. Two or three people pursuing Christ with the help of each other and in that relationship having the light of Christ show them where they need to grow and change to be like Jesus.

Applications

Here’s a couple of ideas to help us get started into harder conversation that could come from this:

  1. Make sure you have the relationship to do this. I’ve seen someone who doesn’t have deep relationship with someone come out of nowhere and say that someone is sinning because of x, y, and z. Generally, the response is not the accused becoming more like Jesus (even if the accusation has merit), in fact I’ve seen it backfire more often than not and the accusation does more damage than good. If you want to know, be proactive and have the conversation of, “if I saw something in your life that I thought was Biblically wrong, would you be willing to talk about?” before you start down this road. That conversation is the starting point.
  2. Come with a Bible. If there’s one thing I know about my generation is we’ll do the research if we don’t like what was said or we can’t follow the logical flow from point A to B. Information is at our fingertips and we’re very good at finding it. And an older generation is well versed in Scripture. So come with the Bible (in context) and let the Word of God “pierce to the division of soul and of spirit, of joint and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God’s Word carries more weight than ours.

Mentoring relationships aren’t just “let me give you advice on life.” They include hard conversations about sinners being sinners and how the light of Christ can and should change us.

Can We Talk About This?

I’ve found, in my relatively short life span, that the best way to carry on a conversation is to come to an understanding of terms. It keeps both parties honest in how they use them and they will come to a mutual understanding of each other’s statements. Matt and I have thrown this term around a few times and I’ve heard it come up in conversation as I’ve discussed our blog with people in the community around me and my church. The term I’m referring to is “open relationship.”

What does that mean? How can we have them in our churches if we can’t put a definition on the term? Here we go, let’s try to define a very trendy, but very important phrase in our churches.

Let’s start with a definition that I got from a medical journal article that a friend sent me.

“An ‘open’ relationship system is one in which an individual is free to communicate a high percentage of inner thoughts, feelings, and fantasies to another who can reciprocate.”1

To my knowledge the author of this article is not a Christian, but this doctor was able to capture in a sentence what I know many in our churches very desperately need and want.

We need relationships that will allow us to share our inner thoughts. What are the questions that are plaguing our minds at night? What are the “issues” that we are trying to come to an understanding of? The church is facing many cultural issues now that it didn’t have or didn’t talk about 20 years ago and we need to be able to have conversations about them. Like what do I do when my professor is flagrantly anti-Christian? How do I treat my sibling or close friend that just came out as gay or transgender? How can I feel like I live in a community, when I don’t understand what true community is because I’ve never seen it in my own family? How can I believe God is good, when my entire childhood is riddled with sexual abuse? Realities that need Bible answers.

We need relationships that let us ask Bible questions. The church was the center for learning theology at the beginning of Christianity. They didn’t have Christian colleges to send kids to in order for them to learn the fundamentals of their faith. Doctrine was taught in the church and by their members. The church needs relationships that let those in them ask the hard doctrine and Bible questions. They need to be able to ask what does it mean to “be all things to all men in order that I might win some” in our culture today? How was Jesus both completely God and completely man? How can what I read in my Bible and what read in my science textbook be so different? Which is right? If God were love, then how can He condemn someone to hell? How did we arrive at this standard on (insert standard here) Biblically? Where does the Bible say that?

We need relationships that let us share our feelings. That felt so weird typing that. I’m a guy that takes a while for me to be willing to share how I really feel about something, but once I know you a bit be prepared for an outpouring (my brother-in-law will attest to this). Our church members need someone to be able to share our sorrows, frustrations, joys, and victories. It’s only in these types of relationships that we can truly share our feelings and fulfill Romans 12 and “rejoice with those who rejoice, [and] weep with those who weep.”

We need relationships that allow us to dream both spiritually and personally. I know I’ve enjoyed a mentoring relationship that where my mentor supports me in my dreams both spiritually and professionally. He gives me guidance in my professional career, but also helps me grow in my spiritual walk as well. I have a close friend that knows where I want to be in the future spiritually and prays that I will someday be there if God directs and permits. Our churches need to be filled with relationships that will help push each other to our next goal and next step toward Jesus.

Doesn’t that sound amazing. Hopefully you can see the need for this type of relationship and maybe you’ve experienced it. How different would your spiritual walk be if you had that type of relationship? I know my walk with Jesus would have been much different than it was in college and high school if I had someone that I felt I could have been completely open with.

I want to give just three ideas that can help you start these types of relationships with someone in your church. These are ideas that I’ve come to cherish in a couple of my mentoring relationships.

Listen.

Don’t listen to answer. Listen to hear what’s really being said. Let them vent. Let them talk, and eventually they’ll really say what’s on their heart. You’ll be amazed at what someone can work out on their own if someone were to just listen in silence. Listen to hear and understand, not to answer.

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Prov. 18:13)

Share Bible. Not preference.

If there is one thing I’ve had the privilege of having is a mentor that shares more Bible than opinion. I’m pretty sure this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote “but as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” to Timothy. After you’ve listened to hear and understand within the next minute whatever you say should have SCRIPTURE in it, not your opinions on the matter. God’s Word will not return void, I can’t say the same about our opinions.

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly.” (Col. 3:16)

Point to Jesus.

When Paul addressed the church at Corinth he could have made his knowledge of Scripture known. Instead he pointed to Jesus. He preached Jesus to them, and let the Spirit do the rest.

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (I Cor. 2:2)

 

I hope that I’m a person that can have an open relationship with those in my congregation. I want to be able to talk about the hard things and point to Scripture and Christ. I pray the Church can start having more open relationships and conversations and grow closer together by asking the hard questions.

 

1 Bowen, Murray. “Family Reaction to Death.” 335–336. Print.

You Really Get Me

black-and-white-restaurant-eating-sitting

“That’s so heavy.”

“That’s on fleek.”

“My darling sweetie…”

“Hey bae…”

“You catch my drift?”

“You really get me.”

The generations are very different from each other. We think differently, we dress differently (hopefully), we relax differently – we even talk differently, as demonstrated above.

Sometimes it’s like we’re speaking different languages.

But don’t let that discourage you! There are a lot of differences – and that’s okay! Because the beauty of the church is that we’re a bunch of different people all united by Christ. It doesn’t bring God any glory if we’re all the same. Any manufacturer can build a bunch of robots who all get along and move in sync, with no differences at all.

But when the world looks at the church and sees such crazy differences among its members – older people and younger people, millennials and boomers – and yet still sees unity, that brings God glory. Because only God could do that.

How do we achieve that unity between generations in our church? I think the best way is simply to have intergenerational conversations. Yes, we could achieve some level of “unity” if we just ignore each other – if millennials only hang out with millennials at church, and Xers only with Xers. But that isn’t real unity – that’s building a clique, not a church.

No, the way to achieve true unity is to have honest, open, intergenerational conversations. For a seventy-something to take a twenty-something out for coffee. For a young married man to talk to a father of teens about life’s many problems. For a single to hang out with a middle-aged man and share life together.

Here are some tips for those conversations, with some help from my Gen X father.

Millennials:

  1. Be on time to whatever meeting you set up with an older person. This communicates respect.
  2. Offer to pay if you’re having a conversation at a restaurant or coffee shop – another sign of respect.
  3. Be extremely grateful. In a society where thank-you-notes can be sent at any moment by text, there’s no excuse.

Older people (sorry, I can’t come up with a better name!):

  1. Specify what you want the millennial to call you. Nothing is more awkward than trying to figure out whether to call someone “Mr. Smith” or “Joe.” Be up front with them. I’d suggest just telling them to address you by your first name.
  2. Step out of your past and your culture. Don’t be stuck in your ways. Be willing to abandon any view that is traditional but not biblical.
  3. Listen – don’t preach. Don’t come in with both guns blazing. Gently guide them away from sin and toward the Savior. The best way to build respect with them is to simply listen to their story. My Dad says, “Mankind’s greatest need (after salvation) is to be listened to. It reaches to the deepest part of their being. More respect is earned by listening than speaking.”

Both generations:

  1. Ask questions. Dad says, “People always like to talk about themselves more than anything else. If you look at Christ’s life, He had the ability to ask the right question without accusing somebody of something. Asking clarifying questions – not yes-no questions – is the best way to get people to open up.”
  2. Don’t rush to judgment. Always tell yourself: “Everyone has a story.” We millennials tend to rush to judge all old people as hypocritical and legalistic. Older people tend to rush to judge millennials as unwise and rebellious. Both may be true – but not for everyone! Seek to get to know the person at a deep level.
  3. Be persistent. “Life’s busy. Having time to reach out to one another should be a priority. Sometimes being persistent means saying no to a bigger ministry in front of people so you can have time for a smaller ministry with one person at a coffee shop.”

“I used to think of millennials as just kids that have a lot to learn. Yet now, by spending time with them, I’ve realized that I’m the one who has a lot to learn. And yet I have experiences and life lessons that can help them on their path to be the greatest generation to reach this world for Christ.”

And that all starts with simple, honest conversations. That’s not my opinion. Or my Dad’s. It’s the Bible’s.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” -Heb. 10:24-25

How are you going to “stir up” someone outside your generation this week? How are you going to encourage a millennial or meet together with a boomer?

The unity of the church depends on it.