February 2, 2015Missiology

3 Ways to Encourage Peace Between Generations in Denominations

Your denomination is not defined by a style. So don’t let style become a point of contention.
3 Ways to Encourage Peace Between Generations in Denominations
Image: David DeJong / Wikipedia

It takes work to have a harmonious family.

That's true of your biological family and your church family.

It's also true of your denominational family.

The fact is, each member within a family has a tendency to find their own style and way in life. But as each individual develops their own unique identity, they should not develop a spirit of pride over the others in the family.

That's a key to peace and unity in denominations.

Denominations should recognize that their uniqueness is part of a healthy diversity that can serve the family well. There should be a complementary understanding of uniqueness. Each generation can idolize its own ways to the point of conflict. (We call this “the teenage years" at home.)

But maturity and unity takes effort and understanding... and it can and does come to denominations that will pursue it.

The Challenge

Often in denominations, those with experience who are trying to encourage stability are seen as out of touch. Sometimes they are out of touch, but by my experience is that they often just have a different view.

Those who are pushing the envelope to make an immediate impact are seen as aggressive.

But often the two groups are just talking (or shouting) past each other.

Maintaining Unity

So, unity takes work in the church. However, I am thinking right now about the way churches interact at the district, regional, or national denominational level. This could be a group of several to dozens of churches in a given area that share doctrine, but have unique approaches to ministry.

There are traditional-styled churches, contemporary, incarnational, non-traditional, or whatever else. Each feels like it is obeying God and serving their communities on mission, but they are doing it differently.

It's often the same doctrine but a different church culture.

So how do you maintain peace in this area? How to we keep the enemy from using their generational differences to disrupt unity.

My view is simple: peace is not a one-sided endeavor. It takes a deal of commitment from both sides to truly have unity.

Paul wrote, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3).

I'd like to suggest three things that can help keep the peace:

1. Refrain From Arrogant Attitudes

This means that young pastors have no business sending out mailers saying, “This ain’t your grandma’s church. Are you tired of boring, dead (Pentecostal/Baptist/Methodist/etc.) churches? Ours is smoking.”

You cannot run down those that came before you and expect to have peace with them. Chances are, grandma paid for your church building, prayed for you to know Christ, sponsored your youth camps and mission trips, and told you your sermons were good when they really weren’t.

You cannot run down those that came before you and expect to have peace with them.

There are traditional churches in your network who are reaching the lost you aren’t. You don’t get any extra points in heaven for being the hippest church in your denomination.

But there also has to be a sense among the traditional churches that they have a confidence in their kids and their grandkids—that they may be doing things differently, but they’re doing those things for Jesus.

For those in traditional churches, you should brag on the younger generations who are doing different things for Jesus. Celebrate them. I know they aren’t as wise and perfect in ministry as you were when you were a young person, but cut ‘em some slack.

Your traditional church functioned pretty well in its context. That’s how you survived long enough to see other churches planted… like the one on the other side of town that is going to reach the people you aren’t.

If we are honest about it, our predecessors weren’t always excited about how we did new things. But they invested in us and trusted God was doing something new.

When both sides refrain from insensitive and off-putting statements, peace has a better chance to grow.

In my own denomination, I've heard it from both sides. I'm not a young leader now, but I've been a long-term defender of them. Sometimes they say dumb and thoughtless things, not realizing that there are other people who just may have thought through some things before they came along.

Yet, I've spent most of my time helping older leaders love, value and appreciate the next generation.

I want both to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit."

2. Respect God’s Varied Ministry Callings

I was in an elevator once with two pastors, Darrin Patrick and Adrian Rogers. (For those of you who don't know those names, they are well-known pastors from very different worlds.)

The denomination is not a battlefield for issues of style.

Darrin was young and cool and on his way to growing an impacting church called The Journey in St. Louis. Dr. Rogers was… well he was Dr. Rogers. I didn’t call him Adrian. So, I said, “Dr. Rogers, could I introduce you to Darrin Patrick?”

Darrin was like a kid in a candy store, meeting one of the most famous preachers in America.

He didn’t feel the need to say, “Our church is contemporary and yours is traditional, so mine is good and yours is bad.” He didn’t point out their differences and try to convince the veteran that he needed to “get with it.” He valued his elder for who he was and what God had helped him accomplish.

But respect went both ways. Dr. Rogers didn’t say, “Young man, put on a tie.” He treated Darrin (who was wearing jeans with holes in them) like he would treat a friend and a colleague.

See, they both are in very different places serving the same Lord. And, both seemed to be genuinely thankful for one another (and I was thankful for both).

If you are going to have such divisions in your local church, that’s your business. But the denomination is not a battlefield for issues of style. Do not divide the family at that level over such things—and wise leaders in wise denominations know such things.

It is a beautiful thing when you have a mutual respect for God’s ministry calling across the generations. It is a sign of wisdom than when a young leader recognizes and appreciates God’s work that came before. Nothing reflects wisdom more than for an elder leader to affirm God’s work that is yet to come.

3. Reinforce A Culture Of Peace

Peace is not achieved with silence.

If you want a culture of peace between generations, it will need to be communicated clearly and often. Unstated goals are just wishes.

Creating a culture of unity and peace is about understanding what encourages and discourages peace, and then empowering those in high risk areas to make the right choices for the health and success of the movement.

Peace is not achieved with silence.

Sometimes this is achieved with positive reinforcement after a good interaction. Other times, it takes a proactive approach before something bad happens.

Here is an example from personal experience in my own denomination. Several years ago, a wonderful pastor friend organized our national pastors conference. He instructed each of the speakers, “No drive-bys on your fellow pastors in our denomination.”

That struck me, so I told him how much I appreciated that, but then I said, “I just look forward to the day when you don’t have to tell them.”

You might find it interesting that the organizers of our those conferences don't have to give that same talk today.

Depending on your situation, that kind of proactive approach may still be needed. You shouldn’t have to tell a pastor or church leader to present themselves and their position in a way that engenders a peace-building conversation, but sometimes you do.

And in many denominations is essential. I've been in Lutheran, Pentecostal, Anglican, Baptist, and other settings in the last year and this still remains a major issue—so let's be proactive to address it.

Until you have established a culture of peace, communicate it whenever, wherever, and however it is necessary.

Substance Over Style

In the end, it is important to remember that substance is more valuable than style. We can and should be aggressive when it comes to issues of substance. There are things you cannot be and still be considered within the boundaries of your theological tribe—it isn’t a free-for-all.

If you are going to be in a family, value what the family values.

If you are going to be in a family, value what the family values.

But we should be generous when it comes to style. There is more space for variations. When it comes to flexible issues that will change according to context, intentionally work in and toward peace.

Denominations and networks must have common beliefs with diverse applications across ethnicity, languages, and cultures. That's a given. What is harder for some is to see that diversity across generations.

Do you think peace across generations prevails in your own denomination? If so, why? Are there other things that can be done to encourage peace between generations in a denomination?

Support our work. Subscribe to CT and get one year free.

More from The Exchange

Christianity Today
3 Ways to Encourage Peace Between Generations in Denominations