I was wonderfully surprised and grateful for the overwhelming positive response to Thursday’s post about Millennials. I believe understanding these generalizations is critical to benefiting from godly relationships and growing in effective ministry in our day. Thank you for your kind responses and encouragement! I was surprised that what I wrote resonated so intensely, and was deeply grateful that it did.
Now, onward to the follow up…
Spiritual leaders of all ages are my dearest friends, mentors, and counselors. There’s nothing in my last post or this post that wasn’t TAUGHT TO ME by godly men older than me. I simply pass along biblical insight that I ultimately owe to their gracious efforts in my life.
Quick story: Just over 20 months ago, God was wrenching my life with a new call—one I didn’t ask for, didn’t understand, and frankly didn’t want. Looking back, I’m grateful I obeyed, but I probably wouldn’t have if it weren’t for godly older men who gave me incredible encouragement, love, and counsel! More than 15 men between 55 and 85 years of age personally, privately, biblically, and compassionately counseled me over a three month period. I owe them. They were like a personal cabinet of spiritual warriors who listened, prayed with me, and advised me with rich wisdom. Words cannot describe how I love and respect these men! I esteem them highly.
Good-spirited leaders can be found in every generation. I decided a long time ago to befriend wise men and to avoid angry men. (Prov. 13:20, 22:24, 29:22) That’s my deliberate choice. The older men that I know remind me of Jesus—full of grace and truth. Their spirit is contagious. They are optimistic, encouraging, and profoundly wise. They inspire and strengthen me. I thank God for their spirit!
So let’s turn the discussion around and look through the a different lens. When wise, older spiritual leaders look at younger spiritual leaders, what concerns them? I have a short list of 11 things, and some critical closing thoughts (please don’t miss those.)
1. Doctrinal Compromise. This is HUGE, and for good reason. We live in a bizarre day of theological madness. The emergent church doesn’t know what it is or what it believes. Some use the word to apply to anything different than themselves. But the term “emergent” actually refers to the abandonment of Christianity’s core doctrines. To be truly emergent, theologically, is to deny the biblical gospel, hell, sin, the deity of Jesus, and a lot more.
Christian leaders are concerned that younger men deeply ground themselves in pure doctrine and not get drawn away on vital doctrinal issues. They are concerned that hip trends and captivating celebrity-pastors will lead younger men astray into false teaching. Their concerns are valid—many are choosing wrong doctrinal paths. We’re not talking about cosmetic differences, but core differences—ecclesiology, soteriology, eschatology, etc.
It’s discouraging to these leaders to see younger men walk away from solid Bible teaching. Millennial friend, be a student of the Word. Give yourself to understanding the differences of various theological positions and the risks of compromise. Put your arm around an older leader and say, “Thank you for giving me good doctrine.”
Older leaders, would some of you start writing and give us an alternative to mainstream reform authors? One younger man wrote to me asking if I knew of any conservative Baptists who are writing on theological subjects? Sadly, I don’t right now. I hope there will be some.
Most older leaders define compromise NOT by internal culture, but by doctrinal teaching and belief. (By culture, I’m not referring so sinful elements of secular culture, I’m talking about internal, localized culture.)
2. Emergent Church Trends—While I think we often over-play the “slippery slope” card, I also understand why it’s played. Older leaders have watched several generations who were not doctrinally grounded become enamored with pop-culture trends and end up down a road of theological compromise. Those compromises were caused by heart and discernment issues, not screens or decor or cultural differences.
This is my 24th year in ministry. Twenty-four years ago, people like George Barna and Bill Hybels were just coming onto the scene with a radical “seeker-friendly” reinvention of the church. While these men were probably well-intentioned, they essentially led the evangelical movement into a twenty-year experiment. Their version of church was entertainment driven, psychology-friendly, and intentionally “Bible-light.”
More biblically centered leaders of the day sounded cautions and warnings. For the most part the warnings were ignored. Fast-forward twenty years, and both Hybels and Barna basically said, “OOPS!” Barna now writes that Christians should leave the church (the one he invented) because it no longer works. He tells them to join home-churches which are essentially just as unbiblical as his first re-invention. Hybels wrote simply admitting that their movement failed to produce committed, rooted, grounded disciples of Jesus Christ. Regret.
Here’s the point. Older leaders have seen the “reinvent-the-church” cycle. They’ve heard and read the “time-to-rethink-it” seminars and books. “Been there and done that.” They don’t want the millennial generation to fall into the same trap of experimentation.
I’m all for innovation, but the “church-growth” movement is ADD. It needs consumer income, so it must completely reinvent the church, rewrite the books, and rebrand the seminars every fifteen years or so (from consumer perspective). It’s a mixed bag that treats the church with a sort of flippant opportunism that imposes a marketing mindset on God’s eternal work. Younger leader, be careful—you’ll find some helpful things at times, but you could see the same cycle unfold by the time you’re in your forties. Innovation is great, but be careful not to become a part of the “eventual oops” crowd.
3. Fear of a Nation Falling Apart—Older men often express to me their fear over a rapidly changing America. This is not the country we all once knew. And that fear drives a lot of the reactions we have towards “different.” Our changing world has brought with it challenges that every generation is grappling with in different ways. That’s why we need each other. Our enemy has created a lot of fog and confusion, and good men of all ages get caught in crossfire from friendly forces.
We know God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear. We know the church and the gospel are ultimately in the protective hands of the Holy Spirit. We know that the end times predict a one-world government, which would naturally mean a decline in Americanism. And we know that in the last days men will be increasingly more godless. None of these things should surprise or scare us, as much as they should unite and mobilize us—rally us around the battles that really are worth fighting—namely the clear and powerful gospel.
Older leaders are grieving the changes in the nation. Millennials are growing up in a post-modern America. This makes the dialogue between the two very much like speaking different languages. It’s discouraging, if for no other reason than it’s confusing.
4. Lack of or Diminishing Biblical Separation—Separation from the world is a vital biblical teaching. If we are no different from the world, we have nothing to offer. I teach and practice personal separation.
Any honest discussion of separation would consent that this is a doctrine that is unchanging in truth, but highly adaptive in every generation and geographical culture. And in many aspects, it is personal to each believer according to the leading of God’s Spirit.
To elaborate—separation is a work of the Holy Spirit, and God did not create or appoint any governing body to mandate, legislate, or moderate exact global laws of separation for every believer. Individual believer-priests have been given liberty by God Himself to determine things like modest dress and other lifestyle choices according to their own conscience and culture. In other words, I have no authority to micromanage your personal or ministry standards of separation, nor to measure or evaluate you by mine. That would be a direct violation of Romans 14 and James 4:10-12. This is the Holy Spirit’s job.
God holds me accountable to Him alone for my personal separation, and for the example which I display through my life. The goal is simply this, a lifestyle becoming of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:27.)
The fact that God desires us to be distinct is clearly biblical. Older Christians see a discouraging trend of Christians who are no different from the lost world. They fear that the salt has lost its savor. This is, as one evangelical author called it, grace gone wild.
Thankfully God calls us to love and cooperate together in spite of the fact that our expression of separation will vary. Those variances don’t make one Christian’s conscience more or less spiritual or valid than another. Comparison is always our enemy. And in a life and death struggle, those differences become microscopically small in contrast to the true, eternal gospel.
5. Sarcastic Attitudes and Arrogance—There are leaders of every age that have an “in your face” attitude of carnality. They are restless, wild, and flaunting it toward someone else. They are doing things, “because they can” with little thought to the long-term consequences or “if they really should.” Some would even take a general post like mine and use it to jab at someone they despise—which is a misappropriation of my content and intent. To be sure, where there was bitterness or anger in response to my last post—I’m certain the post didn’t create it, but merely exposed it.
This “in your face” attitude is never justified, and it is always dishonoring the Jesus and those He loves. When a person arrogantly flaunts liberty through anger, it’s definitely not a result of a work of grace.
6. Growing Older—Younger leaders, here’s something that’s going to catch you by surprise. There’s a part of you that never ages. Your soul/spirit lives on forever. It matures, but it doesn’t age. Therefore, when you’re older, you’re going to feel emotionally, relationally, and spiritually exactly like you feel now. (Great evidence against natural selection, by the way!) Because I worked with young adults, my age REALLY snuck up on me. To this day, I see a reflection of myself and my first response is, “who’s that old guy!?”
I’d love to be “young and cool” but the fact is, I’m not. I enjoy fellowship with men ahead of me who have chosen to age with grace and optimism. Most do. The point is, age itself can sneak up on you, and depending on your heart, can turn you bitter and cynical.
The take aways? Be gracious and patient toward someone who is feeling young but facing age. It will happen to you too. Be honoring to those who have laid the foundation for you to build upon—even though you disagree in some peripheral areas. And be sure you build your identity in Christ alone, not your perceived ministry success or personal accomplishment.
7. Change They Don’t Understand—Culture changes. Communication tools have changed. The ways that secular minds learn and process information has shifted. The American demographic has morphed. What looked like a church 100 years ago, looked different 40 years ago, and looks different today. For the most part I’m talking about cosmetic change, but for those who have staked their life on “never changing”, this change brings immediate pause and caution. Is this a step down the wrong road? Some define ANY change as a step toward compromise. Others define compromise in doctrinal terms, not styles or non-sinful cultural elements.
Millennial, you’re culture will shift too, just give it thirty years. Your kids will introduce unfamiliar change that will at first give you pause to discern. And they will need your discernment like you need that of your predecessors.
To Illustrate: Twenty-four years ago, when I began serving the Lord with Pastor Chappell in 1990, we started doing some things in that decade that were unfamiliar to the older leaders of that day. The message, the doctrine, the substance never changed. But the decor of the buildings, the tools of communication, the style of the outreach materials did. And I’ll never forget the hurtfulness that Pastor Chappell received. It was vicious! I’m talking about national newsletters being mailed with cartoon caricatures of him. Men who were completely disconnected from his ministry were finding it needful to write and preach against him—from hundreds and even thousands of miles away. They equated changes in “tradition” (like no steeple) to changes in doctrine. And they tore him apart for it. He wasn’t even thirty yet.
Twenty-five years flew by pretty quickly. He held his peace, preached the gospel, avoided compromise, and saw God do a miracle. Those who hurtfully predicted that he was on a slippery slope 25 years ago were just wrong, and time has proven this. A statement Pastor Chappell often said, “When you’re work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.” He made some great decisions in those days. He obeyed God and followed Him, he didn’t compromise doctrine, he didn’t engage the attackers, and he surrounded himself with older men who loved and encouraged him.
8. Ministry Style that is Unfamiliar—This parallels the last, but we tend to venerate what we are comfortable with—familiar but biblically-neutral traditions. Christianity adapts to various geographical cultures (non-sinful elements of ethnic cultures) more fluidly than any other world belief system. It’s the only religious system that has migrated globally with great success. Missionaries understand this, and also understand the need to immerse into a culture to engage and reach it. (I’m not talking about embracing sin—as in “a missionary practicing polygamy in Papua New Guinea.” I’m talking about being “all things to all men” as the Apostle Paul instructed in1 Corinthians 9.) Cultural adaptation in areas of biblical neutrality is not sinful. Christianity always changes a culture toward righteousness, but it also adapts easily to that same culture, which is why missionaries can have success, not matter where they go! Every Bible-believing church in America has, in countless ways, adapted to American culture in biblically neutral ways.
Today, American Christianity is incredibly culturally diverse. In recent days I’ve preached in New England, in the Mid-West, in the South, and on the West Coast—and Christianity is VERY different in all of these places. If I tried to implement or impose the culture of Mid-West or Deep-South Christianity upon my local body of New England believers, the results would be catastrophic! It wouldn’t work. I don’t have space to unpack all the nuances of this, but the cultural differences (not doctrinal) are significant!
Illustration: In 1997, when the worship center at LBC was under construction, people really got upset from a distance. It had a sloped floor. It had screens. It had a more modern decor. It was called a “worship center.” My friend called me, “Hey, you guys are trying to be like a movie theatre!” I said to him, “Have you ever stopped to think about why a theatre has a sloped floor?” “No.” “Well, it’s so people can see better…” The conversation stopped there. The unfamiliar was concerning to him. It wasn’t a Bible issue. It was a cultural insecurity. The same could be said for the term “worship center.” Worship is a biblical word. Preaching is worship. Singing is worship. Prayer is worship. Giving is worship. That room is the center of WORSHIP on campus. To us it was very biblical. To others it was unfamiliar, therefore concerning.
I suspect, the older a man becomes, and the longer he enjoys a particular church culture, the more apt he is to define his culture as “the right culture.” We all tend to do this, it’s human nature. Therefore, anything outside of your culture or beyond your familiar comfort zone will be concerning or possibly discouraging. Stack onto this the fact that many American “Christian cultures” are comparative, and the culture itself is valued as highly as the doctrine, and you have a recipe for tribal warfare and clan feuds between cultures. In other words, “I’m better than you because…” The only cure for this is humility and grace—a product of the Holy Spirit working within. And we all know, there’s plenty of room for growth in humility and grace in all of us.
Younger leader, don’t think your new, youthful culture is any more valuable or durable than the culture of forty years ago. That culture was new and trendy at one time as well. Don’t fault an older generation for valuing their culture. Don’t despise them for appreciating their methods. Work hard to resist comparison that makes you think you’re better. And buckle up, because soon enough, your grandkids will be laughing at your “once cool” culture, and you will laugh with them!
The bottom line is, TRUTH is timeless for all generations, doctrine transcends all cultural nuances. Good doctrine is what drives us forward and holds us together. Indeed, uniting around JESUS and HIS PURE GOSPEL is the ONLY way to find unity with any other Bible-believing Christians who value a culture that is different than yours.
9. Feeling Marginalized, Disrespected, or Dishonored—It’s one thing to innovate your methods. It’s another to mock, scorn, or vilify the methods of another culture, generation, or context. Romans 14 clearly teaches we are not to despise each other in these matters. Titus clearly teaches we are not to strive over laws. (Titus 3:9) (i.e.: personal standards)
Whoever you are, I encourage you to respond with grace and honor regardless. It’s never Christ-like to scorn, mock, or despise hearts that Jesus died for, loves, and redeemed. Be careful, your eternal mansion might be right next door to one you now despise.
10. Wisdom That Won’t Be Heard or Considered—Every long-time Christian leader has fought hard battles, made mistakes, endured trials, born hardship, and WON! These men are RELEVANT to your battles today. Who wouldn’t want to tap into this vast wealth of wisdom and knowledge? Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by a cabinet of godly insight? This is like a SECRET WEAPON of life survival! These leaders are icons of Christian faithfulness.
God’s Word teaches that a wise man will “draw out” counsel (Prov. 20:5)—that means, a younger man will seek out older men, dig into their hearts, and draw out wisdom and advice. We all know that Rehoboam’s lifetime mistake (in his forties) was to listen to his young friends and ignore the older men. (See 1 Kings 12) Likewise, it would be easy for millennials to listen only to their age group—the guys who don’t have the experiential knowledge base, and who may be driven by personal agenda or motive. Mature counsel is SAFE counsel. This is wise counsel. And surrounding your life with men who will speak kindly but truthfully to you is HUGE!
The wisdom of seasoned soldiers can bring brilliance to millennials who will avail themselves of it.
Don’t be in a hurry. In every major ministry decision, let balanced, godly men help you examine that decision from more angles than you can see. A multitude of counselors equals a multitude of perspectives, experiences, and considerations. Next to God’s Word itself, the wisdom of older men could become your greatest ally.
11. Being Lumped in with the Failures of Others. This one is BIG! We all know of more than a few stories of moral, ethical, or doctrinal failures in the generations gone before us. There are entire subsets of Christians who live in those stories everyday and have allowed those events and failures to define and drive them with anger. Healing and recovery will not happen until they choose grace over bitterness. (Hebrews 12)
I could share my own exposure to these failures. They are sickening. In spite of them, there are still scores of good men who are serving faithfully and finishing well. It’s discouraging to be lumped in with the bad—no matter what your age.
CRITICAL CLOSING THOUGHTS (PLEASE READ CAREFULLY):
Tension, is often very good and very healthy.
INNOVATORS desire to push forward with fresh vision for methods, while GUARDIANS hold the line on doctrine and theology. This is good, healthy tension. It doesn’t need to be destructive.
But it does need to BE.
Christianity needs GUARDIANS. Christianity needs INNOVATORS. Christianity needs people leaning into INNOVATION and people leaning into GUARDIANSHIP, all on the same rope, counterbalancing each other. Christianity needs guardians and innovators who collaborate and cooperate. (This is what God’s Holy Spirit will always ensure.)
What does this look like? It looks like Apple Computer needing both a programming expert (Woz) and a packaging expert (Jobs). It looks like two guys rock climbing that are both anchored by the same rope, holding tension and counter-balancing each other, so neither one falls off the cliff. It looks like Phillippe Petit setting up many counter-balancing ropes and cables so that he could walk on one single tight rope between the twin towers.
The tension between guardians and innovators is vital. And the difference doesn’t have to be age-based. I know older innovators and younger guardians! God is raising up many young guardians. God is using any older innovators.
And there’s nothing wrong with being BOTH a GUARDIAN and an INNOVATOR simultaneously. It’s rare, but not impossible. I would love to be both—GUARDIAN ad INNOVATOR. I care passionately about Bible truth. I care passionately about heart connection. Both are vital if we are to reach people.
If the guardian despises the innovator—we’re in deep trouble. (He will become irrelevant.) If the innovator despises the guardian—we’re in deep trouble. (He will become irrelevant.) In both cases, we fall off the cliff. Gospel relevance is dependent upon BOTH 100%. Truth must be protected, truth must be connected.
We must have both, on the same line, holding tension—good, healthy, Spirit-led tenson.
To Men Older than Me: Thank you for giving us good doctrine, and a steadfast example. Thank you for letting the rest of us “stand on your shoulders.” The success and fruitfulness of those coming behind you is “fruit that abounds to your account!”
To Leaders Younger than Me: Thank you for loving the gospel and for committing to it. Thank you for having a passion to guard and to innovate. Thank you for loving and encouraging those ahead of you. Press on for Jesus!
We need GUARDIANS and INNOVATORS—those who will guard the doctrine and innovate the methods. And we need both to love, help, and bless each other.
I believe God is raising up that interconnected, collaborating, grace-led group of leaders right now!
Thanks for letting me ramble!