For the first time in the history of our country, four generations are living and working together. There are the Traditionalists (born 1925–1945), the Baby Boomers (1946–1964), Generation X (1965–1980), and the next demographic explosion, the Millennials (1981–1999). Each of these generations has been uniquely influenced by the world in which they were raised.
The Traditionalists lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. Baby Boomers were introduced to the television during their birth years. Generation X was influenced by the arrival of twenty-four-hour cable news, where they witnessed the harsh effects of life in a fallen world at all hours of the day and night. The Millennials are growing up in a “virtual world” of social media, online classes, and technologies that seem to update by the hour.
With such generational diversity and all the challenges that come with reaching each demographic, how can the church effectively disciple each of these groups in a way that honors Christ?
Our tendency is to want and shape ministries that address each demographic differently. But the human condition is the same no matter when we were born. The wages of sin do not vary according to age.
Therefore, whatever may be the particular challenges of presenting the gospel to each generation, they are overshadowed by the factors held in common with every generation.
Donald Gray Barnhouse said:
Man is the same today that he has always been. He is a rebel against God. He may, in some generations, hide his rebellion a little more carefully than at other times, but there is no change in his heart. The men who built the city against God back in the days of Babylon had the same hatred as that which possessed the men who nailed the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross.
So the task of the church is the same, regardless of age or generational differences, and that task was given to the Apostles by Our Lord Jesus:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:19–20)
Discipleship is the process whereby we seek to teach others the Word of God. Notice that the Great Commission is not only to teach people God’s commands, but to teach them to “observe” or “obey” all that He commanded. There is a world of difference between teaching someone everything the Lord commanded and teaching them to obey everything He commanded. One is through words, the other through a way of life. Teaching someone to obey God’s commands requires intentionality in the context of relationship throughout the span of a lifetime.
Even though the word discipleship is never used in the Bible, Jesus embodied discipleship in all He said and did when He came and dwelt among us. He was, literally, the Word made flesh (John 1:14). As we study how Jesus interacted with others in this fallen world, we learn what discipleship looks like.
The disciples were taught to obey God’s Word by what they heard Jesus teach, but just as important, by what they saw Jesus do. The Master Discipler never instructed His disciples to do anything He had not done first. The one who told His disciples to “go” (Matt. 28:19) was the one who went from His Father “into the world” (John 16:28). The one who said “the first shall be last” (Matt. 20:16) was the very one who washed the feet of His disciples (Luke 13:1–17). And the one who through Paul told them to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3) was the one who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (v. 8).
Our call to discipleship is a call to follow our Lord’s example before others. As we seek to live obediently by God’s grace, we teach others. Even our struggles demonstrate to those around us that truly it is by grace alone through faith alone that we are saved.
Our sojourn in this fallen world is from cradle to grave. The lessons we learn at every stage are the very lessons we pass on to others (2 Tim. 2:2). Therefore, children need parents who seek to embody the gospel in their homes daily through loving relationships and family devotions. Teenagers need parents and older church members to share how they have experienced the great doctrines of the Bible. College students who have come from broken homes must learn from spiritually mature men and women how to be godly husbands and wives, fathers, and mothers. Young families look to every church member to fulfill their baptismal vow of assisting in the Christian nurture of their child by teaching Sunday school and working in the nursery. Discipleship is for all stages of life.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, may we endeavor to effectively disciple every age with the unchanging Word of God.