From generation to generation

From Generation to Generation

Our local churches are wonderfully made up of people from different generations. How can we harness the potential that a truly intergenerational church family presents?

We have a wonderful older sister in our church family called Jean. Jean loves the Lord, his word, her church and other people. She had my family and I round for Sunday lunch recently. As we tucked into our cauliflower cheese and roast chicken I witnessed a truly precious moment.

It happened when it suddenly dawned on my 9-year-old daughter that Jean was her age when the Second World War started in 1939. Here was a major historical world event, one that she’d previously only ever read about in books, now embodied in a person in the same church family as her.

Responsibility and opportunity

As I watched the two of them get to know each other, two words came to my mind.

The first word was opportunity.

Isn’t the local church wonderful? That’s what I think every time I look out at my congregation on a Sunday. Sat in front of me are people of all different ages and stages. Here are people who are doing different jobs, who are born in different countries and who have different interests and personalities. What could possibly bring such a diverse group of people together?

It’s then that I’m reminded that only the living God could do this. This is what the gospel of Christ crucified does. Truly the local church, as the manifold wisdom of God, is the greatest show in town.

The second word was responsibility.

Here are two different individuals who represent, as it were, two completely different generations. It’s more than just surface level - Jean’s first thought when she hears the word ‘swift’ is a bird whereas my daughters first thought is a pop singer. These two individuals have and are growing up in two incredibly different worlds. Worlds with unique values, influences, issues and opportunities.

However, despite their many generational differences, my calling as their pastor remains the same. I am called to work and pray for their joy and progress in the faith (Philippians 1:25) and to equip them to live lives of joyful and confident faithfulness to Jesus in their generation.

And the two words are of course connected. The responsibility is the opportunity. Cultivating a culture of honour, affection, and discipleship across the generations in our local churches is a timely witness to the watching world of the unifying power of the grace of Jesus Christ.

Understanding the generations

Secular American psychologist Jean Twenge has spent many years researching generational differences, trends, and values. Her book Generations 1 is a treasure trove of statistics, research, and observations.

Although written by a non-believer and primarily from an American context, much of what she writes resonates with life in the UK. She notably suggests that when you were born has a larger effect on your personality and attitudes than the family who raised you does. 2 That’s quite a thought: that the prevailing culture might have more influence on your children than you will.

As she spotlights the impact that ever-developing technology has had on the rapid rise of individualism she draws two big conclusions. Firstly, the gap between different generations has never been greater. Secondly, the speed of change between generations has never been quicker. Combined, these factors come together as the perfect recipe for misunderstanding and harsh critique; one that is stirred by social media echo chambers.

Isn’t this what we see playing out in our world at this particular moment?

You have younger generations who are critical of older generations. “You guys are clogging the housing market!” or “You don’t talk about your feelings!” or how about: “You too easily accept the status quo!”

In turn, you have an older generation who are growing suspicious of a younger generation. “You’re too entitled! You don’t have any ethical moorings!” and “Don’t even get us started on cancel culture!” There appears to be an impassable chasm that keeps each age group away from the others.

So here’s an important question for us: how can we approach and appreciate each different generation in our churches?

Generations in the church

As Bruntsfield Evangelical Church, we dwelt deeply on this as we journeyed through the letter to Titus recently. We thought about the central theme of the letter: that God’s truth leads to godliness (Titus 1:2).

In particular, as we spent time in chapter 2, we were challenged about our intentionality when it comes to entering each other’s world in order to be each other’s greatest cheerleaders in godliness. We are called to help each other figure out what faithfulness to Jesus looks like in our different generations.

Think about the people in your church family who are in a different generation to the one you’re in. Here are some questions to think through:

  • Do you know the things that have most influenced and formed their attitudes over the years?
  • Do you know how they’ve seen God at work in their lifetime?
  • Do you know any of their current struggles and fears?
  • Do you know the unique pressures they face in standing for biblical truth?
  • Do you see the unique gospel opportunities that they have in front of them?

As we went with the grain of Paul’s ‘Older-Younger’ mindset in Titus 2:2-8, here was how the Lord challenged us.

To brothers and sisters in an older generation

As you think about a younger generation, do you appreciate that they are facing challenges that you probably never had to face, let alone worry about, in your lifetime?

Mounting student debt; the thought of never owning their own home - which exacerbates that lack of rootedness and belonging; gender-critical and sex-saturated places of work; the cultural and often hostile pressures to concede on the right to choose when life begins and ends; online school learning and mental health worries.

Are you willing to pray for and invest in a younger generation in a way that communicates to them that you don’t want them to simply keep up the momentum of what you’ve started? That you long that they would accomplish so much more fruit for the Kingdom of God than you ever saw in your lifetime?

To brothers and sisters in a younger generation

Do you think to yourself, deep down, that you have nothing to learn from those in an older generation? Do you understand that they have so much Christian life experience to share with you?

You probably have people in your church family who have been married for longer than you’ve been alive; people who know what is to suffer bereavement and grief; who know how scary unemployment and redundancy is; who know how tiring being a parent can often be; who know what it is to run a business and do so with Christian integrity; who have experienced life as a missionary in a foreign country.

In so many ways you are standing on the shoulders of spiritual giants.

The Lamb that unites

There’s a recent advert from Australia that pokes fun at the generational stereotypes. In the advert each generation has become the worst version of themselves.

You have an older generation, clutching their newspapers and wearing 90’s jogging apparel, and a younger generation, scrolling down their tablets, wearing headphones asking if each other if all their time on social media is affecting their social skills. And there they are shouting back and forth at each other.

The literal and metaphorical chasm increases with every heckle. That is until someone lights the ‘barbie’. As the smell wafts across the divides people are suddenly reminded that a love of barbecued lamb is one thing that is common to all generations.

Never one to miss an evangelistic opportunity, Australian Evangelist Glen Scrivener was quick to tweet:

‘But you know, guys, there IS a Lamb who unites the peoples. Please turn in your Bibles to…’

Bravo sir.

He’s right isn’t he? There is a Lamb that unites us. One who is worth worshipping, following and commending to every generation.

That’s what I love about Jean. She is a living example of the great commendation that we read about in Psalm 145:4: people who commend the mighty works of God to the next generation. People whose lives testify to the fact that Jesus is still worth following well into your 80s; people who say that whatever you uniquely face in your generation, and however much the world tries to conform you to its mould, the word of God is totally trustworthy.

Cultures change, people come and go like the grass of the field, but Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

1 Twenge, J., Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents―and What They Mean for America's Future, Atria Books (8 Jun. 2023).

2 Twenge, p.2.

Discussion questions

For church leaders

To help you think through the opportunity of generations in your church, here are some questions you could discuss with other leaders.

  • What are the unique challenges that people are facing in the different generations/life stages of your church family?
  • What are the greatest cultural pressures facing different generations?
  • What unique contributions can each generation make to the life of the church?
  • What opportunities are you seeking to create for intergenerational relationships to develop & flourish in your church family?

For church members

To help answer some of these questions about your own church, you could survey your members. Here are some questions you could ask to help:

  • What generation do you belong to?
  • What is the biggest challenge that you're facing at your stage of life?
  • What is the biggest cultural pressure facing your generation of the church?
  • What's been the greatest change that you've witnessed in the church in your lifetime?
  • What is the greatest way that you’ve seen the Lord at work in your lifetime?
  • What mistakes/regrets do you think your generation have?
  • What are the greatest opportunities for witnessing for Christ at your stage of life?
  • What's been the most impactful cultural event that you've witnessed in your lifetime?
  • What's the been the biggest cultural change that you've witnessed in your lifetime?
  • What one piece of wisdom would you want to pass on to the generation behind you?

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