TWO young men had vainly searched for days to find some straying livestock. Weary with the futility of their search, one of them as a last resort made the following proposition: "Behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honourable man; all that he saith cometh surely to pass: now let us go thither; peradventure he can shew us our wav that we should go" (1 Sam. 9:6).
Saul's response to this suggestion is contained in verse 10. "Then said Saul to his servant, . . . come, let us go. So they went unto the city where the man of God was." The following narrative tells how these young men came to the well where maidens were watering the flocks. They asked the girls where the seer could be found. It is interesting to observe how accurately the young women gave the information concerning the "man of God." This human-interest story reveals how much they knew about the activity of their spiritual leader. Youth today may know more about the preacher than he thinks.
Significantly, the day these young men met Samuel was the turning point in their lives. This godly man directed them to go before him "unto the high place." He counseled them, allayed their fears, prayed with and for them, and cordially gave them of the hospitality of his home; then as the crowning act of his ministry he anointed Saul king. He who came to Samuel as a herdsman went out from his presence "captain over his inheritance." How momentous the destiny of a bewildered young man who was led to linger a few brief hours in the presence of one who understood. There are several aspects of this moving narrative that we preachers may profitably ponder. What was it that drew the wandering and discouraged youth to the man of God? What are the conditions in our day that will cause our wayward and confused young people to come to us for help? There must be a way to span the barrier that too often exists between the pastor and the youthful members of his flock. Following are a few suggestions:
1. The character of the minister. Samuel was a godly man. His entire conduct was honorable. He kept his word. He could be relied upon. Children and youth are quick to detect any disparity between the spiritual profession and the possession of their leaders. Any insincerity or hypocrisy is apparent to them. We must be men worthy of the implicit trust of our children and youth.
2. The interest of the minister. Samuel was accessible. He had time in his busy program to fellowship with the youth of his congregation. He was alert to their problems and he had a personal concern to find a solution for them. He did not let advancing years destroy his youthful perspective.
3. The hospitality of the minister. The home of this patriarch was open to his parishioners. He welcomed the young people to the material comforts of his home. They found there the peace, happiness, and security that are the essence of Christian living. Those who sought asylum with him were not made to feel that they were strangers. He took them to his heart, for he saw in his youthful visitors potential men of God, leaders of tomorrow in Israel.
4. The confidence of the minister. When young people came to Samuel's house they knew they could open their hearts to a wise and true friend. He respected the ethics of his office, and they trusted him implicitly. He pointed them to high horizons and encouraged them to live up to their best ideals. They went out to face the world with the assurance that their pastor believed in them, resolved that they would not disappoint the trust reposed in them.
The church of tomorrow will be comprised largely of the children who are in our congregations today. Obviously, that church will be a larger, stronger, and more effective force in the world if half of the children we are now losing could be held for Christ.
The wise minister will foster among his adult members a planned and continuing interest in the children and youth. This is the essence of our Master Guide and Pathfinder programs, but to be truly effective it must go beyond the outlines of these organized efforts. Some of the finest adult-youth relationships are wholly spontaneous. If we can induce our older members to become specifically interested in a certain child or youth, not as an appointed officer or as an elected member of a committee, but because of an intrinsic loving concern that flows from a converted heart, then we shall see a larger number of our young people secured for the church. The minister's personal burden for the young in his congregation will mean much in inspiring other adults to share in this vital kind of evangelism.
"To train the young to become true soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ is the most noble work ever given to man."—Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 166.
Perhaps we have been too much disposed to divide our congregations into chronological categories. We segregate the various age groups, and for good psychological reasons. Obviously the approach to different age levels must often be made in a variety of ways. Is it not possible that we may sometimes forget that each age grouping is incomplete in itself, and that all ages must find their symmetry and completeness in mutual and reciprocal relationships? Society in the church as well as elsewhere is a composite of old age with its dignity, experience, and wisdom; middle age with its strength, drive, and productivity; youth filled with imagination, daring, and curiosity; childhood with its questions, self-interest, and growth; babyhood—sweet, pure, and innocent. The church cannot be complete with any of these age segments missing. A growing church, meeting the challenge of its being, must contain a comingling of all the characteristics of the various age patterns. Old age is beautified by beholding the radiant innocence of babyhood. Youth needs the firm hand of middle-aged guidance. Seniority balances the rashness and impetuosity of the young, while the young impel their elders to a more youthful perspective, and keep their aging minds and bodies supple by the sheer inspiration they derive from the junior side of their association.
We all need to be men and women of God, whether we be preachers or laymen, for the sake of our own children, and in a broader sense for the sake of all the children and youth of the church. I think of a dear woman in her sixties whom I visited when she was confined to her bed with a broken leg. When I asked her the cause of her accident, she blushed and hesitatingly admitted that she had been out skating with a group of young people. Her spirit was young, and her heart was dedicated. We cannot stay the deteriorating effects of old age on our bodies, but we can by God's grace keep age from destroying our spirits if we are occupied as was Samuel with the blessed service of showing youth the way to "the high place."