All in the Family

“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”1John 2:12-14

The apostle John was writing to Believers of all ages who had experienced forgiveness through Jesus. The older men (fathers) were mature in the faith and had a long-standing relationship with Christ. The young men had struggled with Satan’s temptations and had won. The boys and girls had learned about Christ and were just beginning their spiritual journey. Each stage of life in the Christian journey builds upon the others. As children learn about Christ, they grow in their ability to win battles with temptation. As young move from victory to victory, they grow in their relationship with Christ. Older adults, having known Christ for years, have developed the wisdom needed to teach young people and start the cycle all over again.

One of the hardest things to do is to take a group of people from various backgrounds and life experiences and bring them into one cohesive unit all working in the same direction. Yet, this is exactly what God does through the gospel. He redeems persons from every generation, nation, socio-economic, ethnic and political persuasion. Jesus’ prayer is that we would all be one; even as He and the father are one (John 17:20-22). Jesus’ concern is that His people will experience the blessed unity that the Godhead knows in relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He wants us to know the joy of this gospel unity and for the watching world to see the reality of this gospel unity (John 17:23). This will ultimately bring glory to God.

Churches splinter and segregate over preferences. There is the occasional ecclesiastical or theological matter that causes a rift in a local church, but the majority of church problems center on personal preferences. Now, preferences are real. Preferences, in and of themselves, are not bad. Preferences become a problem when we put them above the mutual submission the apostle Paul commends in Ephesians 5:21, “and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” Scripture is silent on most of the preferences that splinter churches and mar the fame of Christ … suits and dresses or blue jeans and tennis shoes, pews or chairs, drums or organs, Sunday night service or not, paint and carpet colors, and on and on.

One of the growing challenges for churches, in relation to preferences, is the growing gap between the generations of persons who are in the church. For instance, in an established church, it is possible to have as many as 5 or even 6 generations represented. And with this comes multiple shades of personal preferences based on generational worldviews.

  • Builder Generation (Born between 1929-1945) – This generation is often referred to as America’s Greatest Generation because of the resolve to fight WWII, making the necessary sacrifices for the country and the American ideals. The worldview of this generation is that you should be grateful you have a job.
  • Boomer Generation (Born between 1946-1964) – This generation resulted from a nation of heroes and heroines coming home from war and the maternity wards becoming full again. This is the largest generation in American history with more than 70 million persons. This generation’s worldview can be summed up by the idea that “I deserve a better life than my parents.”
  • Generation X (Born between 1965-1982) – This generation grew up during the Vietnam War, segregation of American public schools and the economic recession of the early 1980’s. This generation is very pragmatic in its approach to life … Is it true? Does it work?
  • Generation Y (Born between 1983-2000) – This generation is often referred to as Millennials. This generation is described as life being a cafeteria where one gets to pick and choose what parts to take and what parts to pass over.
  • Generation Z (Born between 2001 – Present) – This generation is often referred to as the Homeland Generation because they are the first generation to come along since the advent of the Department of Homeland Security. They have known global & domestic terrorism as part of everyday life. This generation shows an increase in depression and coping & hoping. They are a very stressed generation.

Now, mix these all together and put them under one roof and you have the modern day experience of the local church. Most of the Boomers and Gen Xers were reared in church. These persons grew up with a backdrop of the expectations at church. Other generations do not necessarily share the same church framework, so their expectations are different. Each successive generation has also resisted elements of the previous generations. This does not make anyone bad, because we all have done it. The public culture adapts to successive generations and the marketplace makes room for new ideas, different approaches, technological advancements and different business paradigms. The same cannot always be said for the church. And we have seen a decrease in successive generations being faithful partners through the local church.

Each generation is unique. Each generation is different. Different does not mean bad; rather, it simply means different.

We’re just one handoff away to the next generation of losing it. In the Summer 2008 Olympics in Beijing a significant event happened in track and field. It was the men’s 4×100 relay. This was one of the best relay teams the United States had ever sent to an Olympic games. Four men who had trained for the previous four years to prepare for this one race. 

The starter’s gun was shot and off the runners flew, rounding the corner. Darvis Patton rounded the turn and began his set up to hand off the baton to Tyson Gay. But they dropped it. In one moment, in one failed handoff, all that work, four years of training, all that investment was disqualified because of one bad handoff.

We struggle with generational hand offs; especially in church. We are afraid the next generation won’t do things the way we do (like). We are afraid they don’t understand and appreciate the sacrifices that have been made. We are afraid they won’t maintain our traditions. Ultimately, we struggle with generational hand offs because we make it about us and what we think needs to happen (what? How?)

Generation Next is not about US or THEM but about HIM. God’s glory is at stake in how we serve the generations before and after us. The best way to engage any generation is to seek to understand them and discover ways to serve them with the love and gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the next post, we will look more closely at the specific challenges of being a multicultural church:

  • Trust
  • Communication
  • Managing Expectations

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