Are Intergenerational Relationships a Blind Spot in Today’s Church?
I must admit it — I have often tried several wrong roads before finding the right one. To put it a positive spin on it, I’d call myself a “trail blazer.” Despite how blessed I was to be surrounded by many godly family members and friends who sought to teach me the wise road to travel, I was often determined to discover the right road on my own terms, even if it meant a painful journey to get there.
By God’s grace, he’s used each of those painful roads (which were often a byproduct of my own stubbornness) for the purpose of molding me into his image through loving discipline. He has allowed the pain of my own choices to break my prideful will in order to redirect and use that God-given strong will to endure, press on, and fight for truth on the narrow and hard road of following Christ.
I’m confident that I am not alone in this, as I see more and more young people with a drive and willingness to live lives set apart from others. I believe that God is raising up a generation of believers and equipping them with strength and determination for the days that lay ahead.
However, as good as this is, there are dangers that come with a “trailblazing” attitude if we aren’t careful to keep our eyes on biblical truth. These subtle dangers can present themselves in a lack of teachability (“Who are you to tell me what to do?”), an attitude of prideful independence (“I don’t need others to hold me accountable”), or the temptation to separate ourselves from the body of Christ, which was put in place for our protection, growth, joy, encouragement, edification, and the ability to exercise our gifts (“My spiritual walk is between God and me; I don’t need the church”).
Over the years, as Christ has gently broken my prideful will, determination for independence, and self-confidence, I have grown to understand the value and blessing of the Titus 2 command for older godly men and women to teach and train younger men and women in wisdom and godliness. Although I once resisted it (and still do at times), I now see the necessity and blessing of walking alongside other redeemed sinners to encourage and equip each other to live lives that reflect the image of Christ to the world.
However, it seems, more often than not, that this God-designed system of having men and women of sound doctrine teach and train the next generation of believers, has lost much of its presence within the church. While I know that many are doing this beautifully, there is still great need for the older generation to step up and fulfill their God-given role. At the same time, God’s Word calls the younger generation to accept and seek the wisdom of those who have gone before them.
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the Word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. (Titus 2:1-8)
While there are so many truths and challenges to pull from these verses, I would like to encourage and challenge both the older and younger generation of believers to recognize some of the lies that we have bought, which may be preventing us from receiving the blessings of these commands.
To the Older Generation of Believers
1. You aren’t required to have life figured out, a ministry resume, or an unshakable faith in order to pass on wisdom and training to those younger than you.
The truth is, those behind you don’t need a perfect example because Christ is the one we are seeking to follow, not you. What we need is the example of someone who has lived more life than we have, experienced the ups and downs of the Christian walk, gained wisdom through consistent time in God’s Word, learned from past mistakes, gained perspective that only comes with maturity, and is seeking to live out the gospel in their everyday lives (as imperfectly as that may be).
Those who are younger can be strengthened and trained in their own Christian walk as they see the genuine faith of one who has experienced the painful consequences of sin, the redeeming power of a loving Savior, the hope of eternity when earthly hopes crumble, the grace to fall and get back up again, the joy in knowing Christ more deeply, and the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit from walking in the truth of God’s Word. The wisdom and maturity that comes from a lifetime of walking with Christ can have an incredible impact on generations to come.
2. Pray and step out in faith, trusting that God will equip you and use your life for his purposes in the lives of those he brings into your path.
Although you may feel unsure of how to relate to those younger than you, and some may seem uninterested in hearing your wisdom, many of us are hungry for the wisdom and guidance of those older than ourselves. Yes, you may sometimes feel out of touch in this fast-changing world, leaving you unsure of how to connect with a younger generation. However, the truth of God’s Word and the gospel are unchanging, and we need the wisdom of others to help us apply these truths as we make major life choices, seek to grow in godly character, navigate marriage and parenting, and live lives that are pleasing to God. Though the culture may change on the surface, the core problems and truths will always remain.
Although, at times, those of us who are younger may convince ourselves that we don’t need your wisdom and training, we do—whether we admit it or not. In fact, those of us who resist the wisdom of our elders are the very ones who need it the most.
So please don’t shrink away from your God-given role as teachers and trainers to those younger than you, believing the lie that you are invaluable, not needed, or ill-equipped. You may be surprised at how many of us crave the wisdom and guidance of those who are older and who are willing to walk alongside of us in the ups and downs of our Christian walk with honesty, truth, love, grace, and encouragement.
3. Make time to intentionally invest in those younger than you. Your example will teach us to do the same.
Whether or not you feel you have anything to give, I encourage you to pray that God will show you the younger believers he has placed around you. While this may feel like an investment of time you do not have, consider natural ways that you can begin building a relationship with someone younger than you. Yes, family is important, rest is important, and jobs are important, but there are many young believers who need godly role models to follow. As you walk by faith alongside of a younger believer, you will also be blessed!
Lastly, by shepherding the younger generation, you will leave an example and teach us the importance of fulfilling our own role in doing the same for the generation to follow.
Therefore, please don’t believe that you aren’t wise enough, that we don’t need or want your wisdom, or that you don’t have enough time. The Word of God does the training, and you are simply a vessel through whom he wants to speak into the generations after you. As Psalm 78:4 commands us to “tell…the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”
From my generation to yours—we need you.
To the Younger Generation of Believers
1. Pray and ask God to reveal if hardness of heart or pride is causing you to resist wisdom and guidance from those who are older than you.
If you don’t struggle in this area, praise God for his grace in your life! If you do struggle, ask him to open your eyes to truth, confess pride, and pray for a softness and humility to grow within you. He is faithful to answer such prayers.
Millennials have been raised in a culture that is often driven by feelings, resists authority, and is taught to be confident in ourselves. We are used to getting what we want at the touch of a button, having been taught that all truth is relative, while carrying unrealistic expectations of what we deserve. While these are, by no means, equally true of everyone, to some extent, we are all affected in one way or another. Problems arise when these cultural influences subtly weave themselves into our Christian walk and leave us vulnerable to seeing and admitting our weaknesses and sin. This can create resistance to advice and wisdom, causing us to see life primarily through the lens of our own experience, rather than God’s truth.
Proverbs 3:7 says, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.” For this reason, we need be on guard against our tendency towards confidence in our own feelings, “wisdom,” and experience. We need to remember that it’s a gift to have older brothers and sisters in Christ who have walked longer with the Lord, experienced more of life, can warn us from dangers we’re blind to, and can spur us on with the perspective, hope, and wisdom that comes with maturity.
2. Be aware of the tendency towards giving too much weight to your feelings in the name of being “vulnerable and honest.”
Many Millennials have grown up in a culture saturated with “follow your heart,” “be true to your feelings,” and “be real,” sometimes at the cost of discernment, forbearance, and humility. I have seen this in my own heart at times as well.
While it’s good to address our emotions and not stuff our feelings just for the sake of keeping peace, we need to be careful that we don’t let our feelings drive us as if they have ultimate authority. For example:
- When we are lovingly confronted about sin, do we immediately dismiss it because we feel judged and hurt?
- When someone older offers advice, wisdom, or an opinion, do we resist it and take offense, or do we humbly listen through the gospel-lens of grace and truth?
- Do we only seek out relationships with our peers and those who agree with us because that is what is most comfortable?
- Are we so concerned with keeping “boundaries” and our own independence, that we forget that God calls us to live intergenerationally and interdependently for the purpose of growing us in godliness?
This doesn’t mean that we follow all advice given or have no healthy boundaries, but it does remind us that our feelings can easily drive us to the other extreme as well. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15).
As I have had to learn, our feelings can’t be trusted as a baseline for truth. In the name of “being real” and independent, we can resist those God has put in our path to teach, train, and help us grow in godliness. Let’s bring our feelings under the truth of God’s Word, rather than letting them rule our words, decisions, and relationships.
3. Christ will use passionate, bold “trail blazers” to powerfully advance his gospel when they lead with humility and teachable spirits that are dependent on him.
As the darkness of evil continues to grow within our world and persecution intensifies, there is a great need for the younger generation of believers to be trained for leadership and strengthened for the hard road that lies ahead. Part of our preparation includes recognizing our own frailty and utter dependence on Christ. The facade of our own wisdom will quickly give way under the weight of taking up the cross of Christ. But humility and God-dependence will train us to seek wisdom from those who have gone before us with lives marked by the gospel.
No one is born with the wisdom, self-control, and marks of godliness that come from years of walking with Christ and being refined through the blessed fires of sanctification. Therefore, not only should we not resist the wisdom and guidance of older believers, but we should seek it out as a vital part of our own growth. Those who are teachable and have a desire to grow in godly wisdom, paired with a God-given, trail-blazing spirit, can be powerful vessels in the advancement of gospel.
A Unified Goal
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
These commands, given to both older and younger generations, unite us towards the same goal of glorifying Jesus Christ. This should leave no room for pride, competition, self-righteousness, shame, or judgment in our pursuit of God-honoring relationships. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can bear witness to the glory and power of his name as we travel this road together as the body of believers.
This is our unified purpose. So let’s lay aside whatever hinders us from investing in one another’s lives and open ourselves up in humility and obedience to receive every blessing that God has designed to give us through the beauty of intergenerational living.