Three Reasons to Think Generationally
That’s the number of age groups active in today’s church. Five generations spanning nearly 100 years of life experience and faith on this planet.
This wealth of generational diversity offers the church a tremendous opportunity. Extraordinary unity among our various life stages could compel a fractured world to take a second-look at following Jesus. Together we can build a lasting legacy of faith, hope, and love. That’s a highly achievable vision of our best days as a dynamic multi-generational church.
Generational Thinking: Is it Biblical?
You may have heard that all this generational talk is just the latest gimmick for labeling people. While unfair stereotypes certainly do exist, grouping people generationally is nothing new. In fact, God himself started it. God views human beings not only individually, but also collectively, through a wider and bigger multi-generational lens.
A quick Bible word search produces more than 150 references to the word “generation”. Additionally, genealogies track generation after generation by name and fill many pages of the Bible. For example, Matthew begins chapter one of his Gospel with a Messianic bloodline that includes three sets of 14 generations that take us from Abraham to Jesus.
What is a Generation?
A generation describes people within a specific population who experience the same significant events within a given period of time. Below is a glance at the five primary generations in our world today. Please note: The shared history of a generation could significantly differ depending on geography and other factors. This is not an exact science.
Dave Pocta, an expert youth minister, first introduced me to a similar chart ten years ago and I’ve been fascinated with the topic ever since. I was a Generation X youth minister at the time. Dave taught on generational unity and how the message of Jesus uniquely speaks to each generation, a concept I had never even considered before.
His lesson helped me better understand, value, and love the teen parents (Baby Boomers) and teenagers (Millennials) inside and outside the church. Many of those parents and teens are some of my best friends today. For more, please see “Why I Love Millennials”. This generational focus increased our unity and produced an incredible spirit of teamwork.
With five living generations in the church, we have an enormous opportunity to strengthen our unity in greater ways. Given this vast potential, here are…
Three Reasons to Think Generationally
1. The implications of many pivotal moments in the Bible are generational.
The Flood: God contrasts Noah with the current generation and calls him blameless and righteous (Genesis 6:9; 7:1).
The Rainbow: After the flood, God makes the ‘rainbow covenant’ with Noah and all generations to come (Genesis 9:12-13).
Circumcision: God makes the covenant of circumcision with Abraham and the generations that follow him (Genesis 17).
The Burning Bush: God recalls his relationship with past generations and commands future generations to always remember his name (Exodus 3:15).
God’s Holy Name: You can’t spell YAHWEH without generations. Well, technically you can…but notice how God spells out his perfect character when he explains the true meaning of his name (Exodus 34:6-7).
The LORD intimately reveals himself in a generational context! In other words, to better understand the true essence of God, it helps to know him with a larger generational picture in mind. This wide-angle vantage point of God is especially beneficial in comprehending the universal depth of his love, forgiveness, and his dealings with sin.
Consider for a moment the generational ‘grace ratio’ we find here in God’s Holy Name: The LORD’s boundless love endures for a thousand generations while the effects of sin last for no more than four generations. That’s good news! This ‘grace ratio’ speaks loudly to the fact that God’s generational love is exponentially greater than the generational consequences of sin! (For more study, see Romans 5:20; 1 Peter 4:8.)
What’s in a name? For Yahweh, the essence of his Holy Name is faithful and forgiving love to thousands of generations, including us.
Pivotal Generational Moments (cont.)
The Unfaithful Generation, Part I: Sadly, an unfaithful generation dies in the wilderness, never making it to the Promised Land (Numbers 32:13; Hebrews 3:10).
The Unfaithful Generation(s), Part II: The narrative of Judges depicts the failure to pass on faith from one generation to the next (Judges 2:10).
Purim: Jewish holiday established and commanded to be celebrated in every generation to remember how God saved his people from annihilation (Esther 9:28).
Mary’s Song: In “The Magnificat”, Mary sings praises for the generational blessing of her divine pregnancy that brings the Messiah into the world (Luke 1:46-50).
The Church: Peter preaches the first sermon of the new church with a passionate generational emphasis to highlight the Gospel’s core doctrines (Acts 2:17-18, 38-41).
2. Jesus speaks in generational terms.
Like Father like Son. Jesus often speaks while looking through a generational lens. Similar to the prophets before him, Jesus sternly warns all of his generation for its lack of faith and evil deeds rather than simply focusing on the individual.
In the following quotes from Jesus, you can easily sense his frustration. He knows his audience is fickle and faithless.
Matthew 11:16 NIV - “To what can I compare this generation?”
Mark 9:19 NIV - “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”
Luke 17:24–25 NIV - 24 “For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation."
You may want to sit down for the next one. Jesus gives us an alarming sneak preview of the final judgment. He reveals that repentant people throughout history will stand and condemn ungodly generations on Judgment Day.
Matthew 12:39–42 NIV - 39…“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it… 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.”
This is a difficult passage to interpret. God’s Word plainly teaches that each one of us will be judged individually (2 Corinthians 5:10), but Jesus says here there will be a broader element of generational judgment, too. Maybe Jesus is referring only to his audience in Matthew 12:39-42, a ‘generation’ of unbelieving scribes and Pharisees. Then again, maybe not. In any case, the ‘generational judgment’ Jesus speaks about in these verses is scary and certainly worthy of our attention.
3. God’s Word speaks generationally of our best days.
Twenty-five of the Psalms directly reference generations, while numerous others underscore this theme. The Psalms beautifully portray God’s confidence of what we can become when we pass our faith to the next generation:
Psalm 102:18 NIV - 18 Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD.
Psalm 103:17 NIV - 17 …from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’S love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— 18 with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.
“The Spirit moves our generation, shed your tears, and fill the stream…Men Who Dream!”
These are visionary words from the song, “Men Who Dream”. The family of churches I’m a part of often sings this inspiring song, a 30-year-old song rooted in Psalm 126. No matter your age, when you sing those lyrics, it’s a generational declaration. It’s a confident declaration of the Holy Spirit’s power to build your own generation into a generation of dreamers for God.
Psalms 145 and 78 sing of our responsibility to tell the next generation why our God truly is an awesome God.
Psalm 145:3, 6 NIV - 3 One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts… 6 they will tell of the power of your awesome works.”
Psalm 78:4–6, 8 NIV - 4 …we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. 5 …he established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children… 8 They would not be like their forefathers— a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.
Even during cycles of generational drift (Psalm 78:8), God’s dream remains unshaken for what we can become at our very best. God’s love brightly shines in the darkness with glorious generational promises to future generations. These powerful promises also permeate the exilic-themed writings of men such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Ezra. For further study of this in Jeremiah 32, please see “Hope Makes You Sick” or the podcast, “While We Wait”.
The Multi-Generational Alliance
God gives us a ‘License to Dream’…for all generations!
God invites us to partner with him as he does infinitely more than we could ever conceive of on our own. You and I are not limited to our individual hopes and dreams, as exciting as those may be. We also can share a glorious vision with God for what the church can accomplish for seemingly endless generations — long after you and I depart from this earth.
Let’s seize the opportunity. Our multi-generational alliance could compel the world to take a second-look at following Jesus. Together, our best days as Christians are right in front of us!
For more on generational unity, please see “Why I Love Millennials”.