Generational tensions have plagued local churches for as long as I have been in the ministry. This pattern seems to repeat itself with the rise and identification of each new generation whether they are boomers, busters, Xers or millennials. The emergent generation, or emerging generation as some would prefer to call it, must come to realize this pattern, and its challenges, or it will repeat the same mistakes my generation, and many others, made.
A new generation wants new music, new styles, and bold new leaders. An older generation feels betrayed and rejected by the new. Younger people think older people are out of touch with “the real world” and older people think the younger people have rejected the great traditions of the past. The result is very often a new church division, resulting in radically different congregations that cannot live together in peace.
A friend has noted that “the church landscape is littered with such experiments, single generational congregations that died out either literally, as only the old were left, or young congregations that wouldn’t change when their first members moved from single to family life.”
Emergent leaders need to think long and hard about this cyclical pattern and how they plan to try to deal with it. I am very sympathetic to the missional emphasis that I see in the emerging generation. I am also concerned that the young thinkers and leaders in this generation have little or no concern for the unity of the whole church within a more diverse culture, or even within a church community itself where older generations do not understand what they do. One of the evidences of the Holy Spirit’s work is that both the young and the old will dream dreams and have visions together. Where do we make room for this to happen and where do we see young and old seriously working together for this to happen? Most of us are too impatient to even try.
I honestly wonder if this concern that I express is on the agenda of many emergent discussions these days. Generational meetings, held in order to listen the concerns of each generation, would go a long way in helping church leaders understand the dynamic of social shifts that impact their people. Each generation has some unique longings and spiritual expressions to give. These are not good or bad in themselves. What is bad is when we will not listen or deeply care about such longings. The church is not to exist for only one generation. When it tries to become such a community it seems to me that it fails the biblical vision given to the church in the New Testament.
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This hits home.
My father basically started his own church in the late 70’s that began as a home bible study. It was vibrant for a while, consisting mostly of boomers and their young families. They have always thought of themselves as getting back to the New Testament church and getting things right.
When I started my own family, I realized I didn’t want to continue this cycle of wheel reinvention. I became Catholic.
But for those that don’t feel called to a similar path, and are interested in Emerging, this is definitely something they need to address.