By Ron Hunter Jr., Ph.D.
Let’s listen in on a conversation between God and Moses from Exodus chapter three. The bush on fire is nowhere nearly as amazing as the burning message God delivers to his servant and…well, all of us. God is speaking, and if I am allowed to summarize, He says, “I AM THAT I AM.” If that weren’t enough, He points out the obvious: He is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He does not stop with these patriarchs but says He wants to be the God of all generations. All generations. People who watched Jacob grow up thought surely God would want nothing to do with this guy. He acted nothing like his dad, and his grandfather would certainly roll over in his tomb if he only knew.
Notice in Exodus 3, Abraham is the grandfather, but soon Isaac would be the grandfather. Each generation prepares for the one coming after them. This preparation is not sequential but concurrent as it simultaneously happens. Generations have strong preferences and each approaches life from various perspectives.
Enter any church, walk through the classrooms, and you will note the obvious difference in learning styles. One class may lecture, others discuss, some use technology while a white board still works for many. Which is right? We should rather ask, which is wrong? None are wrong if they dig out truth from God’s Word. My grandparents listened to music by playing large black vinyl discs (turntables have recently made a comeback), my parents had 8 tracks (you may have to google that one), and my generation moved through cassettes and CDs. But today’s younger generation listens to Spotify, Pandora, or other similar streaming platforms. Each generation’s method of teaching may be different but music was the common thread. In church, we still have preferences but Christ is our bond. “All generations” are to be taught a relationship with God, and we learn from each other.
So how do we span generations with the truth? Respect. It begins with valuing those who see things from a different perspective. Because we each learn truth differently, we respect various methods as long as the truth is taught. We are all at different places. My generation has a profound respect for those who came before us, but often we fail to show it. We occasionally change everything they did, unintentionally attacking their legacy.
While I have made my dad proud at times, there are a number of times he wishes I would do things differently. A deep respect creates a bond where he makes me stronger and I in return contribute to his strength. I still remember the first day my dad asked my advice. That validation resulted in a stronger bond as I asked for his advice even more. One thing I have learned about the twenty-something crowd is probably true of most every generation–they expect those older to criticize them rather than see the value they can bring. Respect can encourage generational connections. Leaders make the first step rather than waiting for the other to do so.
This lack of respect has isolated our generations within the Body of Christ. Without respect, there can be no relationship. Without relationship, there can be no discipleship. No wonder we struggle to understand why are we losing our teens from church. Other questions fit under the generational disconnect problem. Why is gray the predominant hair color of those who attend our conventions and meetings? Why are parents asking the church to do it all? How many people really spend time in God’s Word every day? How many parents want another chance with their kids? These heart-wrenching questions lead us to the cornerstone of family ministry or generational discipleship.
While each generation is different, we are also more alike than we will admit. Stop and count all the ways you are like your mom or dad. Having trouble? If you are married, ask your spouse if you can handle the long list. The point is that our values are shaped by those closest to us, and parents provide the greatest influence during the developmental years of our lives. Who we are often comes from the values of our homes, such as our view of money, authority, race, politics, opposite genders, and yes how we view our Heavenly Father. Your view of the Heavenly Father is often a reflection of how you view your earthly father.
Because not all families are healthy, family ministry is messy and hard. It is easy to neglect what may require too much effort. No wonder so few speak or teach from such passages when the results take a long time to measure, they take generations. In Deuteronomy 6, we are commanded to love God, love His Word, and teach our kids to do the same. God desires this love to be impressed, imprinted, and permanently etched on our hearts, so we can teach our kids diligently what we practice. Correcting the recent years of disconnected generations will take both church and home working together to find value in one another. Psalm 78:4-6 calls us to help all the current generations discover a relationship with God, even the generations yet to be born. Church works with home, parents with kids, and we connect the ways Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 help us in daily routines.
You may still prefer your turntable, while our kids or grandkids listen through earbuds. Only time will tell what methods we will use in 20 years, but like music, church families need to recognize the common bond is Christ. Are our churches, seminaries, colleges, and staff members helping to connect generations? God is still the God of grandfathers, fathers and sons as well as grandmothers, mothers and daughters.
A book that dives deeper on this topic is Recalibrate: A New Measure for Family Ministry.
Dr. Ron Hunter is Executive Director & CEO of Randall House and D6 Ministries. Dr. Hunter is the Director and Co-Founder of D6 Conference. Dr. Hunter will teach on the campus of FLBCS as part of our J-Term and Midwinter Bible Conference, January 6-11, 2020. For more information please see flbc.edu/j-term-2020/