Being a Multi-Generational Church: Nine Lessons from the Pastoral Epistles

It’s a beautiful thing to see how God has grown Maranatha from its roots of being a baby churchplant started by a balding, middle-aged, uncultured family man and using him to lead a rag-tag group of much younger-aged men who wore jeans that were all too tight & skinny and listened to John Mayer and Coldplay all the day long.  

By God’s all-encompassing grace, fast-forward 5 years and there’s a bit more variety in style, coif, music, gender, and seasons of life at Maranatha.

The Scriptures aptly describe the church as God’s family made up of members who fulfill roles within this family. Vital for a family’s health is a proper understanding of mutual submission and authority and responsibility and accountability, with sacrificial love as the relational bond-thread that weaves through and joins people together as family.  

Such biblical principles are what provide the family with structure, order, and even an ethic. When the household of God actively repents of (turns from) the sins of selfish ambition and vain conceit and actively pursues love and care for one another cross-generationally, a beautiful gospel prism emerges that displays the broad and diverse spectrum of God’s people. This living, breathing amalgam of gender, class, generations, ethnicity, and affinities will not only reflect the unifying results of the gospel, it will also communicate the barrier-breaking power of the gospel.

Here are nine lessons in generational dynamics gleaned from the pastoral epistles:

1. GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES UNDENIABLY EXIST

Let’s face it, the normative makeup of God’s family is multi-generational. The seasons of life are undeniably discernible and important so they mustn’t be ignored. Rather, they are to be observed, appreciated, and approached in a manner similar to biological familial relationships.

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. (Titus 2:2-6 ESV)
Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2 ESV)

2. YOUNGER GENERATIONS SHOULD BE PREDISPOSED TO FOLLOW

Honor and respect flow out of following the examples and the lead of those who are godly, faithful, and even older than oneself. This is not an Eastern philosophy (Confucian) or Western construct. It flows from God’s design.

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, (2 Timothy 3:10 ESV & 1 Timothy 5:1-2 ESV)

3. OLDER GENERATIONS SHOULD LEAD HUMBLY THROUGHOUT THEIR LIVES

The older generation naturally holds the reigns of leadership over the the younger. Nevertheless, the posture taken by those who are older must not be laced with presumption; rather, all must be conscious of the great privilege of leadership lived out through word and deed, instruction and example. In light of the Apostle Paul’s transformation and his nearness to God, he could not imagine anyone being a “worse” sinner than he. Godly people regardless of age, with some self-knowledge, are prone to think of themselves in this way.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15 ESV)
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:12-15 ESV)

4. FAITH CAN BE PASSED FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION

Timothy’s faith was received in the sense that it was ‘passed on’ from his grandmother to his mom and then to Timothy. I know of so many brothers and sisters in Christ who had mothers and fathers praying on bended-knee at their bedside night after night, pleading for the salvation of their little ones by the mercies of God alone.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. (2 Timothy 1:5 ESV)

5. SPIRITUAL BIRTH TRANSCENDS BIOLOGICAL BIRTH

Was the Apostle Paul ever married and did he have kids? It is possible that he was at one time married, but the Bible is silent on this and doesn’t say either way. Nevertheless, he did have progeny...only they were spiritual sons and daughters (and grandchildren as well I’m sure).

The spiritual family of God transcends bloodlines. Blood is not thicker than the water of the Spirit. Hence, where biological gaps exist within families, spiritual family relationships can and should fill those gaps.

To Timothy, my true child in the faith:  Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:2 ESV and similarly in 2 Timothy 1:2 ESV)
To Titus, my true child in a common faith:  Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. (Titus 1:4 ESV)

6. THE YOUNGER SHOULD CARE FOR THE OLDER

The older start with leadership and care, but somewhere along the way, there will come a time when the direction of care-giving will need to go the other way.

We’re living in times where it is assumed that when our parents and grandparents (and the infirmed in general) are old and unable to care for themselves, we immediately ship them off to retirement homes, communities, and hospices. This should not be the default mode solution for Christians and churches.

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. (1 Timothy 5:4 ESV)

7. THE YOUNGER SHOULD NOT BE TIMID

Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’re necessarily called to be a servant-leader. On the flip-side, if you’re younger and you are gifted and called by the church to lead, don’t be timid. In other words, don’t mistake faithful assertiveness for arrogant foolishness.

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12 ESV)

8. REMEMBER THE GENERATIONS THAT PRECEDED YOU

Chronological snobbery is folly that we all engage in to some degree or other.  

We must view our spiritual heritage not just in relation to our own generation but in the rich train of tradition that spans the ages of generations that have gone before us. Paul was a pastor-theologian, churchplanter, and apostle par-excellence whose ministry signified a new era of redemptive history. Still, he rejoiced at the many points of continuity with his forebearers.

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. (2 Timothy 1:3 ESV)

9. ALWAYS THINK OF FUTURE GENERATIONS

We should not only think about receiving gospel and its benefits from the generation that has preceded us. We must prayerfully consider and keep in mind the coming generations. In fact, we must guard the good deposit of faith by passing it on to the next generations through faithful gospel ministry.

Our generation must cherish and communicate the gospel faithfully so that the next generation will not assume the gospel and make it ambiguous. If we’re not guarding the gospel, future generations may lose the life-giving gospel.

By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:14 ESV)
...and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

-Pastor Won

Note: These lessons are based on a list by David Matthis at DesiringGod.org. You can find his list and the accompanying article here.