1 Timothy 4:12-16

In most churches, and in many families, there are at least four generations. In my own family, there are my parents (thatís the first generation); my sister and brother and I (thatís the second generation); our children, who are my parentsí grandchildren (thatís the third generation); and now that my niece has a baby, there is a fourth generation in our family. Here in this church we could easily count four generations, maybe five. Each generation has its own core values and way of looking at life, based upon shared experiences. People who grew up during the Great Depression or the Second World War have a certain outlook on life. They are what newsman Tom Brokaw has labeled, "The Greatest Generation," because of what they endured and achieved. In a similar way, people who grew up during the Vietnam War have a certain outlook on life. All of us have been influenced by the events of September 11, 2001, especially those coming of age during these unsettling times. Certain historic eventsóthe assassination of President Kennedy, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights movement, the Watergate scandalóshape our values and the way we look at life.

A recent book titled Generations at Work (Ron Zemke, Claire Raines, Bob Filipczak, Performance Research Associates, Inc., 2000) defines four distinct generations in America today. The generations are labeled in the book as "The Veterans, The Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Generation Nexters." Each generation has a set of core values and distinctive beliefs.

First, there are "The Veterans," people born between 1922 and 1943. These are people whose early memories and experiences are associated with the cataclysmic events of the Great Depression and World War II. They are still largely in control of the financial assets of this country, although they are now giving way to the next generation, my generation, "The Baby Boomers." Among the core values of the Veterans are dedication, sacrifice, honor, hard work, conformity, law and order, respect for authority, adherence to rules, patience, duty before pleasure, and delayed reward. Not all the people born before the Second World War would ascribe to all of those values, but in general they apply to the Veterans generation.

The Veterans

Second, there are the "Baby Boomers," people born between 1943 and 1960. This is my generation. Our core values are optimism, team orientation, personal gratification, health and wellness, personal growth, work, and social involvement. Not all of us hold to these values, but they describe our generation in general. We were shaped by the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and landing a man on the moon.

The Baby Boomers

Third, there are the "Generation Xers," people born between 1960 and 1980. Their core values are diversity, thinking globally, balance, techno-literacy, fun, informality, self-reliance, and pragmatism. They have witnessed tremendous technological advances, the womenís liberation movement, and economic globalization.

Generation Xers

Fourth, there are the "Generation Nexters," born between 1980 and 2000. Their core values are optimism, civic duty, confidence, achievement, sociability, morality, street smarts, and diversity. They have seen the world revolutionized by the fall of Communism in Europe, the introduction of computers into almost every realm of life, and the proliferation of cell phones, the Internet, satellite television, and other means of immediate communication.

Generation Nexters

Just for the fun of it, letís compare the perspectives of Baby Boomers with Generation Xers in various aspects of daily life. With regard to their perspective on work, Boomers tend to think of work in terms of career, while Xers think of work as a job. Boomers tend to be more diplomatic in their style of communication, while Xers are more direct and blunt. Boomers tend to be impressed with authority, while Xers are unfazed by it. Boomers tend to seek approval, while Xers are indifferent toward it. Boomers see our natural resources as abundant, while Xers are aware of their scarcity. Boomers are protective of established policies and procedures, while Xers are mistrustful of them. Boomers are more team-oriented, while Xers are more self-reliant. Boomers have a more driven work ethic, while Xers are more balanced in their view of work. Boomers are more task-oriented in their focus, while Xers are more relationship-oriented. Boomers acquire technology, while Xers assimilate technology. Boomers see a better world in the future, while Xers are more concerned about survival in the future.

Seek validation
Work Ethic
A better world

All of this is to say that the generations look at life differently. Generational differences can be seen in the workplace, in the church, in the family, in the entertainment industry, and in society in general. Look at the programming on television, for example. You can calculate the intended audience for a given program by observing the kind of products that are advertised in the commercials. Linda and I were watching the network news one evening and we noticed that every commercial was for some medication or health-related product. Which generation do you think the advertisers were targeting with these commercials? My guess is that the commercials on MTV are of a different sort altogether. Generations are different.

There were generational differences in biblical times as well. In Roman and Greek and Jewish societies in the ancient world, social and political leadership was vested in the older generation, specifically senior men. In many Hellenic cities like Ephesus in the first century, there were bodies of elders called the Gerousia, from the Greek word meaning "old men," (from which we get our terms, "geriatrics" and "gerontology"). These councils of elders in the various Greek and Asian cities were respected for their wisdom and their leadership. Similar councils of elders played a key role in the early churches as well. Some churches called their elected leaders "elders." Some churches even today call their leaders "elders," regardless of their age. But in biblical times, the older generation assumed a natural leadership role.

The apostle Paul was a member of the older generation himself, but he recognized that these generational differences could pose a problem for younger church leaders like Timothy. Paul was aware that Timothy could find himself in an awkward position as a young minister seeking to lead people who were senior in age to him. There might be some resistance on the part of the older church members when it came to being taught by a younger leader. Thatís why Paul, in his advise to his younger colleague, wrote, "Let no one despise your youth." Of course, Paulís letters to Timothy were not intended for Timothy alone. They were to be read aloud in the church there in Ephesus where Timothy was serving as a young minister. Paul had a message for both Timothy and the church. To Timothy, Paul wrote, "let no one despise your youth;" instead, set an example for them in your speech and conduct and love and faith and purity. And to the church Paul said, accept this young man as a minister among you and follow his example of faithful Christian living.

Paul anticipated the possibility of generational conflict in the church, and he wrote this letter in part to seek to build bridges of understanding between the generations. Paul appealed to all of them to look beyond their generational differences to see the more important reality of their unity in Christ.

What this says to me is that every generation has an important part in the body of Christís church. Young and old and in-between are equally valuable in Christís service. The church needs the wisdom and the experience and the sacrifice of the older generation. The church needs the social involvement and the team orientation and the work ethic of the middle generation. The church needs the energy and the vitality and the enthusiasm of the younger generation. We need each other. We in the Veterans and Baby Boomer generations can offer encouragement and support to the Generation Xers and Nexters. They are the church, not just of the future, but of the present as well. And those in Generation X and Next and can look to their elders for wisdom and guidance. Of course there are differences between the generations, but more important than our differences is our unity in Christ.

This week we will send out three members of the younger generation to go on a mission trip to Detroit. They are all members of the Next Generation, and some might wonder if they are ready for such an endeavor. They will be working in a Day Camp in central Detroit, involved in leading some 150+ children in a week-long program. They will be sleeping on the floor in a church basement, and they will be responsible for their own transportation and meals. Some might wonder whether they have the necessary maturity and experience to go on such a mission trip. To these three young ladies (and to us) Paul would say, "Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity."

I was just eighteen years old when I went on a mission trip. It was the summer after my freshman year in college, and a friend and I packed up my Ford Mustang and drove Ďcross country from Fort Worth, Texas to Cheney, Washington, just outside of Spokane. We spent the summer doing various mission projectsóeverything from landscaping a church lawn to leading an outdoor Vacation Bible School in a town park. I even got to preach my first sermon that summer. Looking back on it, we were awfully young and inexperienced to spend a summer doing mission work. But God used a couple of green young college students to help some struggling churches, and God used that experience to begin to call me into full-time Christian service.

Who knows how God will use these three young ladies as they go to Detroit next week? Who knows what God will do in them as they devote themselves to his service? With pride and with prayers we send them forth. May God be with them, and with us all, as generation to generation we find our unity in Christ.

Bruce Salmon, Pastor, Village Baptist Church, Bowie, Maryland

July 11, 2004