This article originally appeared in Deacon Magazine.
When I was growing up, my mom took my brother and me to church. At the time, she was the spiritual leader of the family. My dad was a great father and provided well for us. He just didn't go to church. She prayed for 20-plus years that he would take her to church, and eventually he did.
My brother and I, grown and out of the house, were so excited when that day came. My mom's prayers were answered. I believe the main reason my dad started going to church was due to a stroke he had at the age of 49. God was getting his attention.
When I was a kid, I remember two deacons who regularly visited my father for more than 10 years, talking to him about faith and the importance of going to church. This effort made a big impact on my life — especially now looking back and seeing their faithfulness to consistently visit one person for such a long time.
It didn't really click with me how special these deacons were until I saw them visiting with my dad in the hospital a few days after his stroke. They were there. They cared. I wasn't surprised in the least. Their commitment to our family over the years was such a blessing in that moment of my life.
God was really moving in my life at that time. I had been married less than a year, and Christine and I were figuring out our relationship with each other as newlyweds. We were also asking what it meant to be in relationship with God. Not knowing what God had in store for us, we decided to get serious about church, which eventually led to me serving as a deacon.
We were still going to the church I grew up in. Looking back, I was probably too young to have that kind of honor given to me. All I knew was that I loved to serve the church, and deacons serve, so I accepted it with arms wide open.
On the night of my ordination service, I had the privilege of having those two deacons pray over me. During my time as a deacon, it was an amazing experience to have those two men show me what it meant to serve the church. I am forever grateful for their ministry to me and my family.
Deacon means "servant." If Rocky and Ken showed me anything as a young kid, and later on as a young adult deacon, it was service. The connection between a deacon and a young adult is service. It's a biblical mandate for the deacon (Acts 6:3-4; 1 Tim. 3:8-10), and young adults love, love, love to serve.
I learned so much from those men. They didn't read a book, blog, or go to a conference to learn how to minister to a young adult who needed some serious direction. They just said, "Here's what we do. Watch and learn. Have any questions? Now it's your turn." This wasn't in a classroom but out in the real world. We went to visit the sick, elderly, and shut ins; did home and car repairs; built ramps for wheelchair access in homes; and mowed lawns. We did everything.
I would get a call from one of the guys, "What are you doing right now?" I would say, "Nothing." The response would be, "Get your shoes on; you're coming with me." It felt like an adventure every time. I didn't know what I was getting into, but I was ready. I knew those deacons were pouring their lives into me. They cared about me. And they showed me how to care for others.
I never knew how to truly listen to someone who was hurting, pray over someone who'd lost a spouse, or help someone who had drug problems. These guys showed me. The beauty of it all was that they let me participate. They were emptying their cups, and I was taking it all in.
How deacons can lead and mentor young adults
Below are ten key points based on my experience with two older deacons who invested in me. I believe these points are relevant for you as a deacon and leader today.
1. Lead each young adult uniquely. When reaching out to young adults, get to know them. find out what they're passionate about in life. Customize your approach with each one based on what you learn.
2. Give young adults responsibilities and opportunities. They don't want to wait their turn. They want to make a difference now and will find an outlet for influence and responsibility somewhere else if you don't give it to them. Empower them early and often.
3. Value your age and wisdom, but ... young adults are less likely to be excited if you always start with "When I was your age ..." In fact, avoid reminding them how young they appear.
4. Mentor young adults. Many older leaders think young adults aren't interested in gleaning the wisdom of older adults. Not true at all. Younger leaders are hungry for mentoring. Build it into your plan.
5. Coach and encourage young adults. They want to gain wisdom through experience. Come alongside them. Don't just tell them what to do.
6. Create opportunities for quality time. They want to be led by example and not just by words.
7. Hold them accountable. They want to be held accountable by those who are living it out. Measure them and give them regular feedback.
8. Provide a system that creates stability.
9. Give them a cause. Causes and opportunities to give back are important to this generation.
10. Be authentic and honest. Young adults are usually cynical at their core and don't trust someone just because they're in charge. Your integrity and authenticity make it easier for them to serve alongside you.
Throughout the Bible, we see cross-generational ministry taking place. Moses mentored Joshua. Jesus was intentional about relating to people outside His age group. There were no age requirements for the disciples. The leaders in Acts were all across the age spectrum. Since this is a way that God worked among His people, then we should embrace opportunities to invest in young adults.
The church's normal response is to isolate the older and younger generations into separate areas of church life. If you isolate the groups, you will miss out on developing life-changing relationships, and the impact of the church on young adults will decrease greatly.
It will take boldness to begin linking two generations together, but several studies reveal that cross-generational ministry can be one of the greatest assets you have for strengthening the growth of your church.
Don't view young adults as the church of tomorrow. See them as the church of today. Take the time and invest in a young adult. Be an intentional leader and promote cross-generational relationships in your church. Who are you passing your baton to? Let's leave the church in better shape than we found it!