Generational Reaction in the Church
By Garald Pugh
About twenty-five years ago four pastors sat at a table in a Perkins Restaurant and exchanged ministry talk. The four of us had attended the last Saturday night of General Camp and had gone out for refreshments and fellowship. We were hungrier for the conversation than the food. That night we spent significant time sermonizing and theorizing, and our emotions rose as we considered how we could be used to help build the kingdom of God. We were four pastors in our early thirties, exuding energy, overflowing with risk-taking faith, and sharing vision for the future. We were so very certain that something awesome would surely happening our lives, in our churches and in our general movement.
Part of my conversational contribution had to do with what I now call “Generational Reaction in the Church. It is my simple theory about the impact each generation makes on the next in the church and how this reaction could be either a curse or a blessing.
Many congregations and denominations go through about a five generation rotation. Being fully aware of this process can assist leaders in identifying where their organization is and what is happening.
Most vibrant organizations, churches and movements can point back to a generation that was filled with passion, zeal, and fresh vision. The leaders who became such catalysts for aggressively advancing the work of God were the Generation of Fire.
Generation of Fire
The Generation of Fire is typically characterized by a risk-taking faith. They are visionaries who see with clarity the abounding ministry opportunities before them. They are passionate about being agents of chance and are deeply motivated to begin new ministries. They form a renewal and revival generation. As they combine faith and fearlessness, they possess a certain recklessness as they pursue the fresh mandate of the Holy Spirit.
Many can recall the names of certain individuals who were a part of a Generation of Fire and how they established Bible schools, and Bible colleges, churches, and missions. They are those we have know or heard of who burned for God. They were pioneers and innovators who would have suffocated under the status quo mentality. They were known by their love for the Word, their pursuit of God, and a lifestyle of power and holiness.
Generation of Form
Usually within the next one or two generations there will be a slow loss of the passion and fire. The principal leadership of this time is the Generation of Form. Form but no fire will be the scene. This generation will try to copycat the Generation of Fire without paying the price for genuine renewal and revival. They will be quiet content to be keepers of the past without any new touch of fire. Rather than thriving on change they will resist it. They will desperately clutch the container of ashes from yesterday’s fire. Their hard work to preserve a certain image will leave them as hopeless traditionalists. Their extreme reverence for the great leaders of the past, in some strange way, causes them to reject the very things that made yesterday’s leaders great. Under their watch very little true progress will take place and a spiritual decline will be evident. They will spend much time speaking fervently about ht e past but little time pursuing the fire of God. There will be very few fresh victories to report on their watch, and they will be the lukewarm church.
As passivity, traditionalism, and lukewarmness become increasingly visible, a new generation will be birthed. It will be a generation that will cry desperately for change, for something more. The problem is this generation was mentored by the Generation of Form and has very little exposure to the fire of God. They have little knowledge of how to advance the kingdom of God, yet they are deeply convinced that the status quo can no longer be the order of the day. They have neither permission from existing leadership nor the perception to see clearly how to become agents of change. They are the Generation of Frustration.
Generation of Frustration
The Generation of Frustration is consumed by these questions: how, why, or why not? Their questions are seldom answered either biblically or experientially. They typically demonstrate more tenacity than tact and more desire than diplomacy; they run the risk of being labeled the Rebel Generation. They cry out for more; they plead for the authentic. They desire vision, progress, action, and change, yet all the while they may be guilty of excessive zeal. They feel suffocated by the empty form, which their spirits cry out for the true fire of God. They are a siren of warning.
The Generation of Frustration acts and reacts in one of several ways. First, they may leave for another church. Second, they may op0t to stay and risk becoming divisive. Third, they may elect to negate their dreams and visions and simply try to blend in. Fourth, they may absolutely turn their backs on what they’ve been taught.
As one generation reacts to the previous generation, a rotation is produced. The church or organization will eventually stand at the crossroads of decision. It will be at this juncture that they will either give the leadership to the Generation of Failure or the Generation of Fresh Fire.
Generation of Failure
The Generation of Failure produces a “just hold on until Jesus comes back” attitude without any passionate agenda to advance the cause of God. In all likelihood the Generation of Failure will maintain a caretaker position and quietly guide the church or organization to its burial ground.
Generation of Fresh Fire
Yes a church or organization can refuse to accept this death. The people can rise up in faith for God to bring into existence a Generation of Fresh Fire. Under the leadership of the Fresh Fire Generation, the church or organization will again prosper. The ministry philosophy will be different, the systems will be different, the forms will be different, and the priorities will be more biblical. The good news is the church will again be alive. There will be a dramatic return to the things that mattered most to that initial Generation of Fire – passion, purity, vision , ministry, evangelism, revival, and a radical pursuit of God and His glory.
Well, quarter of a century has flown by since I first shared this concept with three pastor friends. The generational rotation has continued to spin as one generation has reacted to what they have seen from the preceding generation. It is strange that, after so many years, these thought=s are on my mind again. Now after all these years I would love to have some wonderful time sort of rubbing shoulders with the Generation of Fresh Fire.
Originally published in “The Church Herald and Holiness Banner,” January 2013, pp. 8, 9 under the title “Something to Think About as We Begin a New Year in Kingdom Work.”