Jews for Jesus is often perceived as a youth movement of mostly single, college-age men and women with a few married couples to round out the mix. It is easy to understand why people see us that way. One of the most enduring images of our ministry is that of young people handing out tracts on the streets—particularly during our Summer Witnessing Campaigns. We usually have quite a few college-age volunteers join our campaigns. Plus, counter-missionaries from the Jewish community often portray us as confused or rebellious kids in order to explain our defection” and erode our credibility.
Nevertheless, much as some of us might wish to deny it, many of the Jews for Jesus staff are starting to get “up there” in years. This month marks our 27th anniversary as an organization. Many of those young, college-age kids from the early days now have the gray hairs and wrinkles to prove they’ve spent nearly three decades serving the Lord in Jewish evangelism. In fact, quite a few now have kids of their own in college.
But even if Jews for Jesus is no longer a movement of mostly young people, I certainly hope and pray that we remain a youthful movement. While the senior leadership of Jews for Jesus may be aging, God seems to be raising up a new generation of younger leaders to carry the work into the new millennium. He has blessed us with a growing number of “20- and 30-something” Jewish believers in Jesus who are creative, courageous and committed to bringing the gospel to our people. God willing, they will become the pace-setters and future leaders of Jews for Jesus. This presents quite a challenge for our senior staff. We need to encourage and mentor these younger leaders—and to step back and provide opportunities for the younger ones to lead and innovate. With God’s help, this is happening.
The challenge—and privilege—of helping to train the next generation of Jewish believers in Jesus begins long before college. Our Camp Gilgal summer camps allow us to reach kids ages 8 through 15 and our Halutzim (“Pioneer”) program is for 16- to 18-year-olds. We also have full-time youth workers in Israel and New York City conducting Bible clubs for Jewish children. Our Jews for Jesus policy requires that we have parental consent to minister to any minor and many of these youth are children of Jewish believers. They need nurturing; need to meet other Jewish kids their own age who are willing to stand up for the gospel. Jewish believers, like any other young people, need help to withstand the temptations and pitfalls of peer pressure. We have already begun to see some of these campers grow up and begin taking advantage of short-term ministry with Jews for Jesus.
But youthfulness is not just a factor of age; it is a mindset. Some who are young in years are already old because they have stopped learning, they have stopped growing. One thing that can make people age prematurely is constant qvetching or complaining. People who derive satisfaction in finding fault with others are what we might call “crotchety” and one can be crotchety at any age! On the other hand, youthful people, regardless of age, find joy in life’s discoveries. They are not blind to the faults of others, but are able to put them in proper perspective. I know some people who may be up there in years but who are still very young at heart because they are always learning, always curious to know more, to understand more, to become more for God. Isn’t that the kind of person you and I should want to be for God?
The Apostle Paul was like that. Even at the very end of his life, while imprisoned for his faith, he was studying and learning and so he asked Timothy to, “bring the…books, especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). He encouraged his young protTgT Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul set an example for Timothy as he himself never stopped studying. That is an example that our founder, Moishe Rosen, also set for us in Jews for Jesus.
I want that commitment to learning to continue as an important part of our ministry mindset. I still have much to learn about leading this mission. Each one of our staff has much more to discover about how best to serve the Lord. There is a natural tension in wanting to be the best possible stewards of our time and resources and yet wanting to keep on learning. Learning usually entails making mistakes and we need to know when it’s best to risk or not risk such mistakes. There is also a tension between wanting to keep all that we do at the highest quality level we can and venturing into new areas where we don’t have much expertise. Pray for wisdom as we tackle these challenges. Pray that we will be able to hold fast to what is good and find ways to grow and improve. If we allow ourselves to become fearful of learning and growing, we will miss important evangelistic opportunities.
This month, many young people are either beginning or returning to university. Many are more open than they have been, perhaps more open than they will ever be, to consider life-changing questions—questions about spiritual issues. Twenty-seven years ago, God used just such people to form Jews for Jesus. Moishe Rosen was able to reach them and lead them because he was eager to learn as well as teach. How will we reach this generation for the Lord unless we maintain a commitment to remain youthful, a commitment to learn, to study and to show ourselves approved unto God?
I still believe that the best methods of outreach have yet to be discovered, the best literature has yet to be developed, the best songs have yet to be composed, the best books have yet to be written. Does God have a destiny for us? I believe that He does. I think we have been fulfilling it, sometimes in spite of ourselves! But if we are to attain the fullness of that destiny we need to press on, to stretch and endure everything that goes along with growing and learning: sometimes pain, sometimes frustration, sometimes fear, sometimes tedium. May God grant all of us the grace to keep learning and to remain youthful no matter what our age, that we might be all that He wants us to be for His greater glory.