Written By: Ryan and Amy Linkous
The mega-church pastor stood close by, ready to share secrets for multi-generational ministry. I was a young pastor taking mental notes. “You have to sing hymns to keep the old people happy because they’re the ones with all the money.” Duly noted. I heard him loud and clear – do whatever you have to do to appease the people with money. I caught his humor that day, but I also caught the blunt reality. His words left me with questions – Really? Is the end of my job to be as stylish as possible for younger people while making sure I do just enough to keep the older benefactors happy? Dear God, I hope not.
Years later, I’m wiser concerning his words. Granted, most Boomers I know have money, and most Millennials have a five-dollar macchiato in hand and no money. Those are cultural realities; however, manipulation is a poor way to touch generations. As churches set out to reflect the Kingdom of Christ, we need the Holy Spirit to reveal our blind spots regarding the heart of God for the generations around us. I hear Him calling us out of three dangerous camps: the Cult of Cool, the Cult of Comfort, and the Cult of Me.
THE CULT OF COOL –
In the Cult of Cool, style is enthroned. We try to perfect looks, marketing techniques, and target audiences. Then we deem generations who don’t serve our style worthless. Form wins over obedience. We span from the ultra-modern concepts with the bearded, skinny-jeans pastor with coordinating lights and guitars, to the conservative service with suited ministers and accompanying hymns or liturgy. At either end of the spectrum, we create packages, and people love the people who make their packages attractive. However, we contrive religious reasons to reject the people and generations who fail to align with our packages.
When “cool” rules, God’s Kingdom is thwarted. In Luke 18, the disciples were keen to the religious style, and some of the greatest and brightest were beginning to pay attention. So, when people approached Jesus with kids in tow, the disciples protested. There was no way they were going to let runny-nosed toddlers mess up their super cool ministry vibe. Jesus himself spoke to this. He brought the children to Himself. Forever reminding us if we are too religious to bring the kids along, we are missing the Kingdom of God.
THE CULT OF COMFORT –
Personal pleasure is adored in The Cult of Comfort. Humanity craves comfort. It is possible to become collectively deceived that we deserve to be completely satisfied. Other generations lose value when they challenge our levels of personal comfort and the overall church experience we envision.
The story of the good Samaritan shows a pattern of how we treat those of other generations who cause us to feel uncomfortable. The younger generation walks quickly down the road, headphones in place, acting like they don’t hear the needs of the older generation. Because it will require a pause, some stretching, and other uncomfortable adjustments. And the older generation, exhibiting pride masquerading as maturity, refuses to hear the cries of the younger crowd because they will have to grow, hurt, and sweat. At the end of our lives, if we have chased comfort, we only earn personal pleasure, not His Kingdom. Not Jesus.
THE CULT OF ME –
When our desires and way of thinking are the objects of our devotion, the Cult of Me is present. People love themselves and want to recreate themselves in the coming generation. In the Cult of Me, self is absolute. At some point, our hearts decayed, no longer looking for the reflection of Christ in ourselves or others, we start looking for our own reflection. Like Narcissus, we love our reflection and love to see our image in other generations. Other generations are only valuable if they affirm us. If they don’t bear our image, they don’t deserve our time.
I remember well the Sunday night service over a decade ago. The young, loud worship band was invited to minister, and there was a passion for Jesus evidenced. There was a big problem, though. They were untidy, and they didn’t take the “how to please the older generation – 101” class. They played, they sang, and they lifted up Jesus, but it was unclear how the older crowd in the little church would react. However, I would soon learn a serious generational lesson. I watched as one of the stalwarts of the older generation made his way to the leader of the band at the end of service. The general of the Baby Boomers began, “Your music is not my style, and your music is louder than I would like.” I braced for the uncomfortable comments and prepared to swoop in to protect the young worshippers, but what I heard was different. “But I see Jesus in your ministry, and I love Jesus. I am for Jesus, and because you are lifting up Jesus then I am for you. You did a great job.” This strong man, looking for Jesus, reached beyond his generation, and exalted Christ. And, in one fell swoop, the Cult of Me crumbled as two generations rallied around the Name of Jesus.
I’m tired of our image. And, I’m tired of looking for ourselves in others. Narcissus died looking at his own reflection, and we will die if that’s what we do. Let’s look for Christ and the glory of His image in the generations around us. When we meet a person who doesn’t look like us, look for Jesus. And, when we see Jesus, let’s celebrate. Christ in the older, aging faces will bring rejoicing in the Camp; Christ in the younger hearts, will bring dancing in our midst. Let’s chase the image of Christ in every generation we encounter.