Written by Victor Stanley Jr.
Multigenerational ministry seems to be more relevant of an issue in our modern times than in the past, I have no hard evidence for this, but, my general knowledge of Church History suggests it is true. Why is this such an issue? There are many theories: the advent of postmodernity, the battle between traditional and contemporary services, out of touch old people, syncretistic young people and so on. I would contend that one of the major issues—at least for the American Church—is the institutionalization of Church within the mainstream society and culture.
Institutions, while probably necessary for a society to function, tend to kill things, or at least render them ineffective at best or harmful at worst. The Church was never meant to be an institution, rather it was meant to be a community, a family, of believers who not only share a common faith, but are also related to each other by blood. The church is made up of saints, that is those who are sacred, set apart, holy. Thus it is not meant to be an organization with members, but rather a village, if you will of people who live life together outside of the mainstream of culture and society. Society being the organized social structures, and culture being the values, morals, and ideologies that inform said structures. In all honesty, the Church is meant to be a society unto itself informed by biblical Christian culture (I could explain that term, but I don’t have the time, and it is not that hard to figure out).
So what is the problem? The problem is that when the Church loses its main purpose and becomes institutionalized two things happen: 1) The Church becomes bureaucratic and stagnant because it is more concerned with operating according to societal standards rather than biblical ones, and 2) It only serves to produce cultural Christians whose identity is more tied to their status within mainstream or Christian society, with Jesus serving as an accessory and self-help guru to either bolster their status or help them achieve and maintain said status.
The institutionalization of the Church has historically produced similar results in each of its iterations from the Roman Empire to America. After Constantine the Church becomes an institution of the state which ultimately results in its complete corruption and causes the Great Schism between East and West. The Church then becomes the ruler of the European monarchies which again results in corruption and the Reformation. I would argue that both the Great Schism and the Reformation are bad things that produced some good results. Now, in America the Church has become a political machine, a social justice warrior, a Ponzi scheme. American Protestantism has split into Mainline Protestants aligned with the liberal left and social justice causes, and Conservative Evangelicals aligned with the conservative right and nationalism. And both sides teach a syncretistic gospel that seems more concerned with achieving the American Dream through Christianity instead of serving the Kingdom of God through the pursuit of holiness and submission to the will of the Lord Christ.
So again, what is the problem? The problem is a lack of sincerity and authenticity. For many young people church has become, or is becoming, a relic of a dying society that wants to make America great again, or it is a circus where the ringmaster, I mean pastor, is more concerned with entertaining those in the congregation for the sake of progress and “reaching the culture.” People are looking for community. Ironically, a casual reading of the first few chapters of Acts reveals that the Church was and is meant to be just that, a community. Not like the “communities” we live in where no one knows their neighbors and everyone keeps to themselves. No, it is meant to be a real community, a village, a tribe that is united and stands in stark contrast to the culture rather than trying to “redeem” the culture. Our mission is not to renovate a society that was built and still stands on a godless foundation. No, our mission is to call people into this Kingdom that has been built upon the cornerstone, namely Christ Jesus.
We need to increase biblical literacy and stop over-contextualizing the gospel. We have to step away from cultural Christianity as well as empty ritualistic Christianity. We have to purge feel-good, self-help, therapeutic Christianity from our churches and instead teach a true, life-giving, transformational Christianity that places God supremely above all, Christ as Lord, and the Christian as humble servant to his/her creator. There is no program or methodology to appeal to young people or cater to old people. Give them both the authentic and sincere truths of scripture while fostering a genuine and love-filled church, and allow the Spirit of God to draw them in to a true communion of the saints.