For all the talk about the so-called Millennial generation, I’ve never met it. For that matter, I have never been introduced to the Baby Boomer generation, nor Generation X or Z. I haven’t ever talked with a “generation”.
Lest you think that I live in a bubble (or maybe a prison, although Paul wrote some good stuff while under arrest), I have met countless people whose year of birth would qualify them to fit into these categories. Not only do I have friends in these various groups, but I have the privilege of working with people born in a wide range of recent decades, and the congregation I worship with has a full complement of babies, senior saints, and everyone in between. My point is, not one of these people was a stereotype, and I’ve not met anyone who can speak on behalf of an entire generation of human beings. I have only met individuals.
From the Creation, God chose to make people distinct from each other. The first two people weren’t the same. While they shared important characteristics (not the least of which was being created in the image of God), the differences between men and women are profound, positive, and – in God’s original creation – perfect.
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27 NLT
(Note that Jesus quoted this principle; see Matthew 19:4.)
If Adam was meant to find his sole relationships in spending time with other guys, God could have created more men, and figured out some other way to propagate the human race. God knew, though, that creating people with differences would provide countless illustrations and examples of greater spiritual principles throughout history.
In another verse, the apostle Paul talks about distinct roles that individual believers in the body of Christ have:
Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
Romans 12:4-5 NLT
I wouldn’t be surprised if there were several generations represented in the church at Rome (just as there are in many congregations today). No matter its demographic makeup, each person in that fellowship had a part to play in the overall community of faith.
I don’t see Paul saying that one generation was called to this ministry because they were [fill-in-the-blank with a positive stereotype], while another generation was too [fill-in-the-blank with a negative stereotype] to serve in some other ministry. Can you imagine what Paul could have written if he bought into today’s attempts to put everyone into a box? He might have said that those born between 40 B.C. and 1 A.D. were too old to lead the singing. Or, he might have said that those born between 30-60 A.D. were too young to teach others what they had learned from God.
Thanks be to God that – through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – Paul wrote the truth, and didn’t put people into arbitrary groups based on when they were born!
To be fair, there are some things that church leaders (and individuals) can learn from trends in a society. Understanding the cultural environments (in which some percentage of a given generation grew up) can help us to empathize with others, and to speak the good news about Jesus in a way that they can connect with.
However, we can never know the true story of a person unless we sit down and listen to them share from their heart. We must never put someone in a box and expect that a canned message will relate to them, just because of their age. Finding our own role in the church isn’t (unfortunately) as easy as just looking up when we were born on a chart (that’s astrology, not Christianity).
So, appreciate the uniqueness of each generation. Appreciate their opportunities and their hurts. But don’t lump everyone together. Reach out to individual people, share the message of Jesus that applies to all of us, and bring them – one at a time – to meet their Savior. Your mission is defined by God’s plan for you, not by a sociologist’s characterization of your peers.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.