We see this theme run through scripture too. The Old Testament tracks the life and times of the nation of Israel through its generations – from Abraham to David to Jesus. Through many moments of tragedy, and some of triumph, we see the story of God’s grace told through the generations. We learn through these stories that each generation significantly impacts the next…every time. Take Moses’ generation – because of their doubt and lack of faith their children are born into a legacy of wilderness and wondering. For better or worse, there’s always a generational impact.
Let’s zoom in on Deuteronomy six, where the majority of Israel’s ‘wonderer generation’ have died and we find a very old Moses speaking to the next generation of Israelites: a generation finally about to enter the promised land that was withheld from their parents. You can feel the weight of this moment; Moses is about to hand the baton over to a new generation, a generation that will finally receive what has been promised and carry Israel’s message of the one true God into the future. Moses knows that his generation have not left a legacy of faithfulness for this next generation, but he knows it’s vital that the next generation get it right – they must leave a better legacy for their children than their parents left for them. This is how the message of Yahweh will continue. In verse four onwards Moses instructs Israel:
“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.[a] And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NLT)
Moses’ instruction is clear: for the message to live on, they must teach it to their children. Another translation says, “impress it upon your children”. In the original Hebrew language, the word used is ‘shanan’, which means to ‘sharpen or prepare’ and is most often used in the context of sharpening a sword. How cool is that?! He’s not talking about teaching the kids some cute songs and stories, Moses instructs Israel to sharpen and prepare their children to carry their message into the future.
I think Moses has nailed next generation ministry. The baton will get passed on one day, whether we’re ready or not. And whether we are aware of it or not, we are creating a legacy of faith that the next generation will carry with them.
What kind of legacy are we creating? Are we setting them up well to carry this message of hope onwards? What kind of faith will tomorrow’s leaders and decision-makers inherit from us? According to Moses, it is the responsibility of each generation to prepare the next generation to carry the baton of faith onwards. As a church family in covenant relationship with one another, this is a responsibility we simply cannot ignore. It’s not enough to place this responsibility on the shoulders of a few people who put their hands up to help out in a Sunday morning program either. Preparing the next generation is the responsibility of the whole church. That’s the way God designed it.
We must take seriously Moses’ words to prepare the next generation, that they too may pass the baton on well someday. Not only did Moses teach this, he modelled it. As the book of Deuteronomy finishes, we are witness to the end of Moses’ time on earth, and we see the baton handed over to Joshua, a new young leader who fears God and who Moses has sharpened and prepared well. And it is Joshua who God uses to lead the next generation of Israel into the promised land and into glorious Victory at Jericho.
I’m excited for what will happen when we all take this responsibility to prepare and sharpen the next generation seriously. I’m excited for the generation of Joshua’s that will come out of Riverlife in the coming years – strong young men and women who take up the baton of faith and continue to push forward, taking new ground as they stand upon the incredible legacy of faithfulness that’s been left for them. By God’s grace, may it be so.