The Generation Map

November 2, 2015

Dr. Thom Rainer, after an unscientific Twitter poll, identified twelve of the most troublesome internal challenges pastors face in the leadership of their churches (see thomrainer.com, June 13, 2013). Among them was generational stress, that is, where the various generational cohorts fit into the mission of the church. Since then, there have been numerous articles about the places most suited for senior adults in fulfilling church mission.

As a bona fide 66 year old senior, this has been an interesting personal study over the past couple of years, especially as I anticipated and finally realized retirement from active pastoral ministry. To the point, this study has resulted in one clear role identification for us seniors: senior adults are responsible for the propagation of the gospel to the next generations. It’s a generation map.

One episode in the epoch of God’s people, recorded in Judges 2 is formative in clarifying this assignment:

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. – Judges 2:10, ESV

The generation that guided Israel through forty years of wilderness wandering did not tell their children about God or His hand in guiding the nation to the land of promise. The generation map was ignored. As a result, Israel faced times of spiritual hardship.

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. – Judges 21:25, ESV

And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. – 1 Samuel 3:1, ESV

A broad sweep of history reminds us of the importance of telling our children and their children about the faithfulness of God. Earlier, as Israel aimed for the Promised Land, God had commended them—

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. – Deuteronomy 4:9, ESV

Make them known to your children and your children’s children. – Deuteronomy 4:4, ESV

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. – Deuteronomy 6:7, ESV

Several years ago Harriet and I were convicted that we had not told Elizabeth and Brian the details about God’s hand in our lives, how He had guided us together, watched over us in the early years of our marriage, how He had called us to ministry, and the ways He had provided for us in our three previous pastorates. So, we made an appointment with them and spent three hours detailing His providential care over us through more than thirty years at the time. It was a thrilling morning of remembrance.

When I shared that meeting with our church family, seniors all over the building committed to similar times with their families. In that one day our senior adults became eager partners in our mission to reach the young generations in the vast suburban community around us. Our senior adults taught Life Connection groups, served as ushers and greeters, participated in our outreach to the community, and became the wise, experienced backbone of a growing contemporary church. They wanted their own children and grandchildren to know Christ and allowed that single heart desire to move the church toward the younger inhabitants of the world around us. They enabled the generation map.

How often we trivialize the older members of our churches by relegating them to the internal functions of their own senior adult ministry. In our situation, this overlooked their passion for their younger family members, and by extension, the younger people so evident in the local apartment saturated population around us.

Propagating the faith isn’t just something they can do. It is their biblical assignment. And, they are eager to do it.

Here’s how:

  1. Teach your church and seniors the history of Israel from Judges 2.
  2. Have a sit down with your own children. Tell them the story of your lives and show them God’s hand in guiding you.
  3. Relate your family time with the church and the seniors.
  4. Then challenge them to lead the mission to the next generations beginning with their own families.Here’s my prayer—

So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. – Psalm 71:18, ESV

It’s what I call the generation map. Activate it.

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