It’s not uncommon for us in the United States to have arguments about generational differences. Baby Boomers are stubborn and selfish, the Gen X crowd is cynical and rebellious, and Millennials are whiny and entitled. That’s just the tip of the iceberg in the generational blame game. It’s no wonder we fixate on our differences given the disconnect between us. There are no longer shared values among the generations as society has shifted focus from the family to the individual, a shift that took place long before millennials (my generation). Instead of a communal, multi-generational environment where the older crowd invests themselves into the younger generations and children desire to imitate their parents and other elders, most of us have been raised in a culture that teaches us to value peer attachments over familial ones. Nowhere has this become more evident than in the deterioration of the American church.
Contrary to biblical directives (Titus 2:3-6; 1 Peter 5:5; 1 Timothy 5:1-25, etc.), there is very little in the way of intermingling between the age groups within the modern American church. It starts with the youngest children being whisked away to Sunday school so as not to distract the adults. There’s therefore no need for parents to teach self-control or have their children practice the discipline required for attentive listening of God’s Word. From there, kids graduate to youth group where a barely older, hip youth “pastor” will prove just how cool Jesus can be if you just give him a chance (oh, and there will be pizza!). By the time these kids become adults and join the larger body in worship their theology is at best little more than a collection of Bible stories and foundationless moral oughts and ought nots—that is if they haven’t already been shipped off to college where, among the influence of their pagan peers, they are statistically likely to abandon church (and the faith) altogether.
When were these children ever under the preaching of the Word? When were they in fellowship with mature believers? You’d hope they’d have at least received some instruction at home, but family worship is even less common than corporate worship in modern life, a time when even the desired work-life “balance” is hopelessly skewed away from the responsibilities of family. Simply put, parents are not catechizing their children.
It shouldn’t surprise us that theology has taken a backseat to convenience when even the sermons the adults are hearing are often as deep as bath water. Church has become more a weekly motivational pick-me-up than a time for scriptural exposition. There’s no emphasis on the family or on the communal body of Christ. Instead, many American “Christians” go to church to either a) fulfill the pursuit of some generic self-improvement or b) engage with their friends, as if church were nothing more than a social club. In an individualistic society, we care only about ourselves and our own “enlightenment”. How can church serve our interests? Forget ministering to one another.
The irony is that this pursuit of self-fulfillment creates an environment where adults don’t know enough sound theology to teach their children, nor do they seem to think discipleship a worthy pursuit, let alone a high priority. Couple this with a culture that promotes the idea that true belonging can only be found among one’s peer group and you have a recipe for stunted spiritual growth.
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.Proverbs 13:20, ESV
We should desire that our younger brothers and sisters be present in the body whereby they can imitate mature believers who are in turn seeking to imitate Christ. Instead, under the age-segregated ministry of the modern church, children and young adults are likely to take advice from their peers who offer the path of least resistance. (It’s easy to listen to the buddy who condones your sin.) Without multi-generational engagement under the authority of strong elder leadership, the church runs rampant with antinomianism being the norm.
Consider the Book of Proverbs whereby a father is teaching his son what it means to be wise and how the law should be practically applied in the day-to-day. We often hear the word discipline and think punishment. Yet discipline is quite literally about making disciples of your children, teaching them Scripture and its applications. When parents or other mature believers are absent, young people become followers of one another, proud and immune to correction. Older believers likewise suffer in not being challenged to be spiritually mature enough to pass on wisdom to younger members. Thus age segregation cements us in the cultural brainwashing of our respective generations. Instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to sanctify us as we pursue Christ in unity, peer orientation segments the Body. No physical body could survive such violent dismemberment. Gruesome though the metaphor may be, it’s a vivid picture of what happens to a church divided.