Monday, March 27, 2017

Reaching Across Generations

Malachi 4:5-6 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…

If you’re not already familiar with the term millennial, this is “the name given to the generation born between 1982 and 2004…  The last generation to be born in the 20th Century.

Reportedly, millennials currently outnumber the “Baby Boomer” generation, making them the (currently) largest age-demographic in the United States.

However - despite their large numbers - millennials are generally characterized in various media as being “misunderstood” and there is a lot of research that goes into characterizing the “typical” millennial as an – apparently – atypical generation with their own strengths and weaknesses.

A Snapshot of Millennials, According to their Press:

Millennials grew up in an electronics-filled and increasingly online and socially-networked world. They are the generation that has received the most marketing attention. As the most ethnically diverse generation, Millennials tend to be tolerant of difference. Having been raised under the mantra "follow your dreams" and being told they were special, they tend to be confident. While largely a positive trait, the Millennial generation’s confidence has been argued to spill over into the realms of entitlement and narcissism.  

There’s hardly a day that goes by in which I don’t come across some article trying to figure out millennials:

Companies worry about appealing to millennials with their products and advertising.  Business owners fret over creating a workplace that accommodates the unique needs of millennials.

Even churches seem to be unsure of how to reach out to millennials, leading to many congregations scrambling to re-brand themselves so as to attract this younger demographic.

It’s All Been Done Before:  The Generation Gap

Before we go any further I’d like to point out what you have probably already realized…
Basically, what we have here is an older generation not fully understanding the up-and-coming generation and vice-versa.  But hasn’t this always been the case?  And won’t it continue to be long into the future?

There will always be a divide between the younger and older generations…  The younger generation will inevitably feel that the older generation is “out of touch” while the older generation will usually claim that the younger generation is disrespectful at best, flat-out rebellious at worst.  The older generation may feel threatened by new approaches and ideas while the younger generation thinks conventional wisdom is antiquated and useless.

In other words:  This isn’t a new problem.

Ecclesiastes 1:9  That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.

All of this isn't to say that this is a problem we should ignore.  Indeed, we ought to be concerned about the spiritual well-being of all, but I wonder if some approach this issue in the wrong way...

Attempts to Appeal to the Younger Generation

In an attempt to bridge the generation gap, various churches use a variety of strategies in an attempt to appeal to younger generations.  They may try:

Making Worship More Exciting – Churches sometimes will attempt to appeal to younger generations by creating worship “experiences”.  In these churches, the “traditional” is replaced in favor of the “alternative”.  Sitting in a stuffy pew singing hymns is replaced by a concert-like atmosphere where everyone is engaged and caught up in the emotion of the music and ambience.

Offering Social Activities – Another strategy churches will employ is creating recreational community centers.  They build huge complexes to offer organized sports and other programs to appeal to those seeking “fellowship”.

Altering the Message – Sometimes churches will go as far as to soften their stance on issues to appeal to younger generations.  Preachers may take on the role of motivational speakers whose lessons primarily consist of anecdotes, occasionally peppered with the more “uplifting” verses from the Bible.  Maybe they won’t preach about Hell because they want to play up the positive.  Perhaps they will avoid discussing God’s disapproval of homosexuality because it doesn’t sound “tolerant”.

The problem with all these approaches is three-fold:

First, most people – young or old – are wise to nearly every trick of this kind.  They can see right through the bait-and-switch and may even come away insulted by the shallow effort.

For example, I'm reminded of an awkward situation years ago during the my Freshman year of college:  An older gentleman came to address the student body during a convocation, bringing what started out as a decent message on resisting the pressures of the world.  But then, in an attempt to convince us that he was "hip" he proceeded to put on a baseball cap…  Only to make a point of turning it backwards.  And then he began to rap.  Yes, a sixty-something man rapped to an audience of college students about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  I’m pretty sure it was an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.

Nobody appreciated being pandered to, this technique usually turns away the ones to which its mean to appeal to and alienates everybody else in the process.

A second problem is if these tactics do work then what what’s the true motivation for those attending such churches?  What happens when the music is no longer appealing or another organization offers a better sports program?  What’s really the focus of a church if it’s comprised of people who come merely for the entertainment, free food, etc.?  It’s unlikely that in such congregations that God is being glorified.

Third – and most important – these methods deviate from Scripture.  While such churches try to promote the Gospel, they actually stray from God’s Word in doing so!

Worship in Spirit and Truth – Worship may appeal to the emotions, but that should be a happy byproduct, not the primary focus.  God is meant to be at the center of worship, not us.  Additionally, we know that God has given specific instructions for worship.

John 4:24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

True Fellowship – Fellowship is more than just merely hanging out with other Christians.  The term actually refers to a very deep spiritual relationship between brothers and sisters in Christ.  Christian fellowship should involve confessing sin to one another (James 5:16), edifying and encouraging each other (Romans 15:2), and bearing each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).

God’s Changeless Word – The Bible remains just as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.  Jesus Himself is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8).  Therefore God’s Word does not change with any new societal norms or popular man-made doctrines.  If we alter Scripture in any way we allow ourselves to become false teachers.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

What does the Church Really Have to Offer?

The young, old, black, white, male, female, whoever, whatever the demographic…  They’re all souls in need of a Savior.

Whether they realize it or not, they’re all looking for fulfillment.

People from all walks of life turn to the various religions of the world looking for answers.  Others turn to self-help books, exercise, or diets to help them find value in themselves.  Many others rely on their career and pursuit of status.  Fame, money, drugs, sex – isn’t ironic that the people who seem to have the most in life often seem to be the most miserable?

It’s as if everyone is born with a God-shaped void in their heart and they keep looking for the square peg to put into the round hole.

When churches resort to gimmicks to advertise and draw people in, they’re announcing to the world that they have nothing truly different to offer…

I think such churches forget the single most valuable asset they have to offer:  access to Jesus Christ Himself!

The world is dying for fulfillment and we can lead them to Him!

Matthew 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.

John 4:13-14 Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

What sets the church apart from everything else in the world is our relationship with Christ, our devotion to God’s Word, our emulation of Jesus through the loving of all.  If this isn’t what the world sees when they see Christians, we need to work to change that!

The Obligations of the Younger Generation

I think in some ways the younger generation feels that they deserve to be pandered to.  However, Scripture reveals that young people have obligations when it comes to serving God...  Some more difficult than others to accept!

The “come as you are” approach is prevalent among many churches today who tweak Scripture to attract socially-conscious youth.   Indeed, God does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11) and accepts any and all regardless of gender, social status, etc. (Galatians 3:28).

However, the Bible teaches us that God doesn’t want us to remain as we are.  Unfortunately, this seems to be the message that many preach today, the idea that we don’t need to change to have a closer relationship with God.

Acts 17:30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent…

We must understand that God seeks to transform us and therefore repentance should be taught as a central theme of the Bible (Isaiah 30:15, Matthew 3:8, Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 5:17).  If anyone tells you any different, they are misleading you!

So perhaps sometimes it isn’t the church making changes isn’t the problem…  I’ll be bold enough to suggest that maybe the younger generation needs to make some changes if they truly desire to have a relationship with Christ!

Young people:  If a relationship with Christ is indeed what you desire, submit to God’s will instead of your own.

Direct your passion and zeal toward Godly pursuits!

Ecclesiastes 12:1  Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”

1 Timothy 4:12 Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

And - finally - don’t reject the teachings of older Christians who have your best interests at heart!

Deuteronomy 32:7  Remember the days of old, Consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will show you; Your elders, and they will tell you…

Don't forget:  We will all - if God so blesses us - become the older generation at some point!

The Obligations of the Older Generation

The older generation doesn't get a pass - They too have responsibilities!

Indeed, anyone – young or old – should seek to submit to God’s will…  And not attempt to alter it in some misguided attempt to play a numbers game as we discussed earlier.

Likewise, some criticisms directed at the older generation are justified.  Perhaps the older generation could learn something from the younger!

For example, older generations tend to get in the mindset that the way things have always been done are the only way.  Obviously, we ought to submit to God’s unchanging Word, but we must also re-examine from time to time to make sure we aren’t caught up in traditions we ourselves have created (Matthew 23:4, Mark 7:8-9, 1 Timothy 4:3)!

Matthew 15:3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition..?”

Sometimes we impose dress codes, or refuse to change the time of services, or otherwise seek to impose rules with no Scriptural basis but rather based on habit or "the way we’ve always done things."  Not all change is bad and some is actually necessary, therefore the older generation should not be so resistance to making such changes!

Obviously, the older generation is obligated to train up the younger, passing on their knowledge of God’s Word through instruction and example.

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the some of the older generation fell short in this duty.  Perhaps this is why many young people have either left the church or never even joined to begin with!

It's certainly a great responsibility to bear, but God is with us and through His strength the older generation has the opportunity to have a profound impact on the younger generation!

Psalm 71:18  Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.

Psalm 145:4 One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts.

Each generation should build upon the foundation put down by the other!

Generational Unity in Christ

We know that Christ unifies us regardless of our nationality, social status, and gender…

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

But recall that God also unifies us into a single generation!

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…

As we can see, every generation has an obligation not only to God, but also to each other.

Let us look beyond our differences and reach across generations to build each other up, always respect one another in Godly love, and seek to forge genuine relationships with the goal of encouraging and edifying one another.