Feature

Generational Transference

It’s a two-way street

By

The role of Envision Culture in the C&MA is to mobilize the next generation for Kingdom change. Members of the Millennial Generation—those who are 18–30 years old (or who just think they are!)—desire very much to see change. Whereas Baby Boomers are motivated under the mantra of “serve the world,” the Millennials’ mantra is “change the world.”

This presents the Church with an opportunity that is dangerous, not only if we ignore the mindset, vision and dreams of the next generation but also if we focus too much on these aspirations. Ultimately, what needs to happen is transference—our denomination being handed from one generation to the next in a biblical manner.

We want this to happen in the way that Moses transferred leadership to Joshua. In that process, the younger man understood that for any generation’s vision to be fulfilled, its members must first get behind the vision of the generation before it. In other words, younger people who are fighting for change must also understand what the older generation wanted to accomplish. Too often, younger people say, “Well, the older folks did it that way, so we’re going to do it this way.” If Joshua had done that, he never could have inherited leadership from Moses.

After Joshua and the elders after him had died, “another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). In other words, the older generation did not transfer to their children their experience of the Lord or His mighty works on their behalf. As a result, the next generation worshiped Baal, the god of the neighboring nations.

In U.S. churches in general, not just in The Alliance, the majority of leadership is from the Baby Boomer generation. Many of these leaders wonder why young adults aren’t coming to church. Some sources report that as many as 80 percent of children from our youth ministry do not continue attending church. Why? I find the main reason in John 9.

In this chapter is the story of a rare healing, that of a man born blind. Often, Jesus healed people of ailments that they had received during their life, but never anyone who had an infirmity from birth. The disciples asked, “Who sinned that this man was born blind, his parents or himself?” Their question arose from the prevalent interpretation of Jewish law, namely, that the punishment for sin is passed from one generation to another, explaining why some people might be born certain ways.

In answer, Jesus throws His disciples a paradigm shift regarding their understanding of healing and sin: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so the work of God can be displayed in his life.”

After his encounter with Jesus, the young man went home with new vision, but when he got there, something very interesting happened. Nobody recognized him.

As I look at our next generation, I view them as this man. They have a new vision that has been given in such a way that it may confound their community. When young adults come back from college or an Envision Culture trip with risky ideas about changing the world, the church often reacts by saying, “We’ve never done that before.” I wonder how many ideas for nonprofit organizations were first taken to the church.

I believe that members of the Millennial Generation can see further and do more—quantitatively and qualitatively—than any other in Christendom before them. The advancement of technology, urbanization, the Internet and plane travel have given them the ability to look further than, say, my parents ever could in this world. Jesus said, “There will be those who come after me who will be able to do greater things than I have ever been able to do.” I used to wonder, We’ll be able to do greater healings or more miraculous things? But now I look at it in terms of quantity. The upcoming generation has the highest potential for output that our church has ever seen.

But the next generation is on a razor’s edge. Either its members are going to go for it—or they’re not. Some people decry today’s youth, saying they’re lazy, they live too long with their parents, they just want to be on Facebook and play video games. Maybe. But as anyone with children knows, their distraction comes from boredom and not being valued or given a voice.

So it is with the young man in John 9. He wakes up one day, is given vision—and he’s not recognized. He is summoned before the Pharisees, who deny the miracle that has occurred. “All I know is this,” he bravely proclaims. “Once I was blind, but now I see. You tell me what to do.” The Pharisees, who could not explain how Jesus healed him, decide that, yes, the youth is steeped in sin—and they kick him out of community. Community at that time was where you received your safety, your security, your relationships, everything. What they did was pretty unfair.

But it’s similar to what many young adults experience today. They are bringing to churches new vision, challenges, ideas and efforts and are being told, “That’s confusing. It doesn’t make sense to what we’ve been called to do.” And slowly but surely, over time, the church will kick them out. The church would never do it up front; it would never say it out loud. It will just push their vision to the margins for so long and so often that eventually they will leave.

There is ownership on both ends, but we in the generation currently in control need to make sure we are not being Pharisaical. We can say instead, “We don’t understand how that happened, but at large, we will get behind your vision. We will help you refine it.”

The interesting thing about vision and generations is this: the older and younger generations must complete one another, especially in light of our biblical heritage. I think we in youth ministry have done a great disservice to the church by consistently segregating our youth from the church at large. Instead, we must find ways to bring their dreams and visions to the whole church and to make sure that there is intergenerational transference.

I’ve been encouraged by the way Envision Culture fits in as The Alliance broadens its method of sending people to minister in this world. Envision Culture is getting behind the dreams and visions of the older generation in a way that gives voice, credence and awareness to those of the newest generation.

But we need to be very cautious. Our endeavors to change this world must not be driven by the situations of this world. Millennials have aspirations and energy that will allow them to effect change, but it must be founded in the person of Jesus Christ, not in the vision itself. The irony for everyone, no matter our age, is that if God gives us a vision, we will never accomplish it by focusing only on that vision. We will only accomplish it by focusing on the One who gave it to us.

Go back to the question the disciples asked in John 9 and insert instead “Why are there social injustices?” “Why is there human trafficking?” “Why can’t kids receive medicine that will allow them to live beyond the age of 10?” And the answer is the same: “So that the work of God may be on display.”

As engaging and as powerful as some nonprofit organizations are, they are often a mile wide with their engagement but an inch deep with their delivery and desire for real change. The reason? They are not connected to the church; they have been created in a room independent of the Bride of Christ. Human trafficking exists so that people will know about God. But if the Church is not the one going in to stop it, who is going to get the credit? Anderson Cooper? I’m not saying that Christians need to put on bullet-proof vests and risk their lives, but if justice doesn’t come through the Church, who gets the credit?

The scene at the end of John 9 is beautiful. Jesus finds this man, who recognizes His voice from the beginning of that long day. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” this voice says. And the young man asks, “Who is He, sir? Tell me, so that I can believe.” Then Jesus, in an answer similar to the one He gave the woman at the well, proclaims, “You have now seen Him. In fact, He is the one speaking with you.”

And the young man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.

That’s what the next generation has to do—that’s what we all have to do. The older generation must come alongside, encourage and be there for Millennials, because I don’t think there’s ever been a generation growing up in Christian history that has tried so hard to live this Christian life outside of a proper understanding of the Word of God. They don’t read the Bible. They don’t know the Bible. But—they’re trying.

This is my challenge. At some point, the older generation—the Moseses, if you will—are responsible to be on the hill with their arms raised because God has asked them to. And as they do that, the battle will be won by the younger ones in the valley. If, as a member of the older generation, you’re wondering what your role is in the church, it is to put your hands up and be something the next generation will want to get behind. And if you’re in the next generation, your goal is to worship Jesus Christ, to be not as concerned about the vision as you are with the One who gives the vision.

The poor we will always have with us. The reason for action must always be to connect with the heart of God.

Past Alliance Life Issues

Share

Get Involved...

Pray.

We cannot “Live the Call Together” unless prayer is central to all we do.
Pray with us »

Serve.

Is God calling you to service? We’re here to help you connect your passion with God’s purpose.
Serve with The Alliance »

Give.

Help build Christ’s Church by supporting the ministry and workers of The Alliance.
Give today »