For several years I have been observing how those who are older and those who are younger operate in the Kingdom of God. I am no longer young (unless you happen to be older) nor am I old yet (unless you happen to be younger). Being forty-five years old places me in between these two different groups of saints, and I believe it affords me a unique perspective. Here is a little of what I am seeing in the last handful of years:
- Younger people are hungry for Kingdom authenticity, and wholly disinterested in religious pretense or the traditional sacred cows of previous generations.
- Older people are wisely skeptical of passing fads or current trends in ministry philosophy and local church strategies. They have seen so many come and go and recognize that, in the end, Jesus Christ is the focus and the Word of God is the primary tool for Kingdom advance.
- Younger people desire to contribute in their local churches. They want to ask questions. They will listen to instruction but will not hang out long if they recognize that it is a one-way communication process. They believe they have something to offer and are looking for a place to voice what God is doing in their lives.
- Older people know that the younger people need to benefit from their theology, their practical wisdom and their experience in the Kingdom. They are unsure, however, that the younger Christians really wish to listen to them.
- Younger Christians desire to be creative in how they minister. The Arts – music, drama, film, dance – are viewed as valid means to communicate the Gospel by those who are younger.
- Older Christians are not as eager to embrace new modes of Gospel communication. They know that the disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, sharing the faith and church attendance have a proven value over many centuries.
- Younger Christians wisely recognize that there is a clear shift in the culture in the days since their parents were young. They are frustrated at times by older Christians’ resistance to change. Because of this resistance, younger people have left mainline denominations in search for liberated churches which are free from cumbersome tradition as they seek to live biblical expression of their commitments in Christ.
- Older Christians wisely recognize that the shift in our culture presents many potential pitfalls as churches seek to remain relevant to a new generation. Concerns about the world influencing the Church more than the Church influencing the world are valid.
- Older Christians enjoy thinking theologically, concluding precisely and then preserving what is good and right concerning the faith. They often see the resistance to tradition from younger people as irreverence or rebellion. Younger Christians want their own faith to be lived out in active purpose and cause. They desire to do their Christianity. The older are willing to learn more, even if they do not ever get to practically put it into use. The younger are willing to learn less so that they may go ahead and begin to use what they already know. The positive effects of this are that the older will be more grounded in truth, and the younger will be more zealous to action. The negative potential is that the older may live in a perpetual bible study but not engage in mission, while the younger might be constantly moving in Gospel causes but not growing in their comprehension of sound theology and who God is as revealed in His word.
- Arrogance is the danger for those who are younger. Fear is the pitfall for those who are older. Both of these are generational landmines which send can relational shrapnel into the church. We must walk wisely with one another.
- Both older and younger Christians desire the same thing: that Jesus Christ would be known intimately, that unbelievers would eventually become full disciples of Christ, and that the Kingdom of God would continue to be advanced in their own generation. This is the most important thing, and it is very good that this is shared by these two generations of Christians.
There are scores of other things which we might highlight as similarities and differences between these two generations. The most important thing to be remembered is that our Father is God Himself, and that we are all His children if we have received Jesus Christ, His Son. God has no grandchildren. There is no Holy Spirit Jr. for younger believers and there is no outdated, faded Holy Spirit for older believers. Each generation has the assignment to invest in the generation coming behind them. God does not intend for successive generations of believers to remain rigid, inflexible and unchanging as they pass the baton to those who come behind them. I cannot find anywhere in Scripture wherein God is revealed as being obligated to bless today the methods that He blessed yesterday. The Church has never stopped changing because it is an organic entity – we are living stones (1 Peter 2:5)! None of us are worshiping in the same manner that the first century Christians did…or the fourth century or the sixteenth century. Those generations of believers would have little clue what we are doing in our churches today if they could teleport from their day unto now. Yet they would understand the message of the Gospel that we preach. They would be deeply pleased that the message of the Jesus Christ and His Apostles remains the same 2,000 years later. My guess is that they would be bewildered at our buildings, our songs, our orders of service and our tendency to be self-focused or generationally proud. Remember with me that we have a responsibility to preserve the purity of the Gospel message while, at the same time, intentionally learning how the next generations learns and lives. We do not prioritize our impulse to pass the next generation our traditions and peripheral ways of stewarding the Gospel message. We pass them the Gospel message, model Christ for them as we live out our faith, and then welcome them to take the core, central truth of Christ and communicate it to their generation and those coming behind them. Younger Christians must recognize that there is a treasure trove of wisdom and experience in the lives of those who are older. Youthful arrogance cuts off scores of young believers from their older brothers and sisters. Again, I am middle aged and I would estimate that somewhere around 85-90% of what is important to me as a believer came through the influence of Christians quite a bit older than me. It is tough to hear, young people, but there are very few who are truly wise that are still in their 20’s & 30’s. You have to become wise, and if that is going to happen in your life, you need to intentionally seek out those older than you to listen and receive guidance. The younger need the older, and those who embrace this (and pursue it!) will be greatly benefitted.
The bottom line is that I need those who are older than me and those who are younger. I must learn from both generations…and I do. We need each other. God has structured His Kingdom this way, that a parent’s generation so pours into their children’s generation, that the younger are empowered for the future rather than imprisoned to the past. Let us all intentionally humble ourselves and seek to both receive from and impart to each other. No more generational hostage taking! Handle it well, but hold it loosely.
“He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.” – Psalm 78:5-7
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