The longer I’ve been in ministry and studied ministry the more I’ve realized that just about every hot button conflict seems to boil down to one large issue.
From conflicts of music style, to teaching style, and even decorations, the heart of the problem seems to lie within the disagreement of generational preferences.
Should we throw out all of the traditional ways for the sake of reaching the current generation? Some say yes.
Should we keep everything relatively close to how it looked 30 years ago for the sake of not losing the older generation? Some say yes.
Or maybe we create multiple services and each one has a style tailored to a specific generation. Some have tried this.
But what’s the answer? How do we welcome one without ostracizing the other?
I can definitely tell you that I don’t have all the right answers. But what I do know is that the conflict of generations is heartbreaking and destroys the body of Christ. Jesus intended for the Church to function as a multigenerational family coming together to serve and worship the one who called each of us out of the ashes into new life.
As the Church, we have to get this right. And I fear that we often have not.
Here are four ways I think we can move a step closer to living out what Jesus desired for his Church. A multigenerational Church.
1. Remember what brings us together.
The Church is filled with different races, ethnicities, cultures, socio-economic status, genders, and generations. Diversity in the Church should be celebrated, because that’s what heaven will look like. We will be surrounded by people of every generation, nation, and tongue. And yet, among all of the diversity there is something, or rather someone, we all have in common. Jesus.
It’s because of Jesus that we can stand alongside someone completely different from us and call them family. Some of my best relationships are with people I would have never crossed paths with if it weren’t for our shared love for Jesus. In fact, some of these people know me more personally than my own blood.
We look at the world and our lives through the lens of Jesus. And there’s no greater bond than the bond we share in his death and resurrection.
As a body of believers, we must remember that what knits us together is far more powerful and important than what separates us. Our bond in Jesus should never be seen as secondary to our differences in preferences.
When it comes to the generational tensions most churches face, all of us must remember that our bond in Jesus needs to be stronger than our personal preferences.
We must view one another as unified. Not as enemies on the other side of a debate. If we don’t start with what we have in common, then we begin to war against one another and rally people for ‘our side’, which is never what Jesus wanted for his people.
2. Serve your fellow brothers and sisters.
Even when we’re knee deep in the battle of what style of worship our church should play on Sunday mornings, we can’t lose sight of what we are called to.
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:9-13)
we would wholeheartedly agree to most of the characteristics mentioned in these verses. But they are often forgettable when we’re in the moment of our church preferences not being carried out. Every generation in the church should aim to outdo one another in showing honor. And this attitude is driven by our love for one another.
Whether you’re on the young end of the dispute or the older end, your desire should be to honor one another. To contribute to the needs of the believer on the other side of the aisle. To show them hospitality.
Nothing is worse than going to church knowing a group of people no longer welcomes you because you disagree with their church preferences. Regardless of where we stand in the area of music style, preaching style, or what kinds of decorations should be in the worship center, we should show one another hospitality and honor.
We should be far more concerned and convicted to get this right than to have our preferences heard and understood.
3. Steer clear of bitterness.
The struggle of church preferences can become ugly and wicked rather quickly. I don’t think anyone intends to see their desire for modern songs or less drums become the foundation of a church split. In fact, that seems pretty ridiculous. But it happens.
What started as a desire for your voice to be heard turns into a campaign of bitterness if your preference is not put into motion. This is what we must steer clear of.
“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” (Hebrews 12:15)
Once we replace genuine intentions for bitterness, we begin to lose sight of the grace of God. We forget that the grace God gave to us is supposed to be extended to even those on the other side of your philosophy of ministry.
The young guy who likes topical sermons interspersed between verse-by-verse sermons is not the enemy. His preference might be different than yours, but that is no reason to take up a campaign of bitterness.
What’s difficult about these situations is that we become so emotionally and personally invested. We begin to see the difference of sides as a battle to be won. We want our voice heard. In all honesty, we want our preference to be the only way to operate the church.
When this becomes our mindset and we become determined that no other option outside of our own could be right, then it’s very likely bitterness has taken root in our hearts.
This is a bad place for you to be as a believer. It is a bad place for the Church to be. Bitterness can turn us into people we never wanted to be. It ruins relationships we never wanted to risk.
4. Remember that church is not all about you.
The purpose of the church is to glorify God by building up his people, both young and old alike, and to reach unbelievers for Christ. We can’t be consumed with one at the expense of the other.
Yes, the church is a place for you to be cared for, rebuked, loved, challenged, and encouraged. But it’s also for you to do the same to others. We are living in a time when the consumeristic culture of America creeps into the church. We want to go to church on Sunday to consume worship, a message, a community, and we want it all to be given to us just the way we like it.
That’s not church. That has never been what Jesus intended for the church to be. Church is not all about you and what you get out of it. We’re contributors in the church not simply consumers.
Our role in the Church is just as vital as the role of the pastor, the worship leader, and staff. We are partakers in the Church and part of what makes the Church everything God desires for it to be. And he desires for the community of believers to be multigenerational. We must learn to work together as different generations. Work against age groups being pitted against one another.
Will there be times when we don’t agree? Absolutely. Will you like every decision made by the leaders? Not likely. Are we allowed to share our opinions? Of course.
But when our opinions are simply related to matters of preference and not doctrinal issues, we should be very cautious. We must approach these situations with the whole body of Christ in mind and with the mission of the Church as our guide.
As individuals, you and I play pivotal roles in the Church and we should take that seriously. The Church is not all about us and we should never expect for it to be catered to us. Our desire and goal in sharing our suggestions with church leadership should always keep in mind that the Church is here to bring glory to God by edifying believers and reaching the lost. This is what’s most important.
Our preferences should never detract from or hinder the mission of the Church.