For all the talk these days of generational differences, few things are more basic in life than the tendency for young people to want to change the way their parents did things. Each generation sees the flaws in the previous generation and seeks to correct—or overcorrect—these flaws. Sometimes young people become so disillusioned in their perception of prior generations that they seek to abolish the institutions their ancestors venerated, seeing their inconsistency in these institutions. Dorothy Day succinctly captured this phenomenon in reference to the Baby Boomer generation:
It is as though the adolescents had just discovered their parents were fallible and they are so shocked they want to throw out the institutions of the home and go in for “community.” *
This issue expresses itself whenever new generations evaluate the Church, and as they evaluate specific local churches. Churches that survive for decades earn the privilege of criticism from up-and-coming congregants and leaders who usually do not comprehend the reasons why their predecessors made the decisions they did. The passage of time is the most reliable mechanism to reverse, or at least mitigate, the overzealous judgment of the ascendants. Eventually one realizes that his parents weren’t crazy.
Throughout his Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus), Paul encourages an attitude of respect for that which has gone before. To be sure, this is centered on the deposit of eternal truth in the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:2), but it also involves respecting one’s elders (1 Timothy 5:1,2, 4) and the Church herself (1 Timothy 3:15). Church bodies that demonstrate this attitude may not move quite as quickly as a society with tendencies toward what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” Then again, most sustainable progress plods rather than explodes.
A degree of adaptation and change is appropriate as decades and generations come and go, but it seems wise to temper our passion for progress with humility as we look simultaneously to the past and the future. As one of those leading a long-standing church and contributing to her ongoing vitality, I owe a debt of gratitude to those who went before, and with this debt comes another: to extend to one’s Spirit-led predecessors the benefit of the doubt. By God’s grace, what results from this gratitude and humility will be neither stagnation nor overhaul, but ongoing life.
Beau Stanley and his wife, Stacey, both grew up in the Columbus area and have been part of Grace Polaris Church for most of their lives. Beau joined the Grace staff in 2007 after theology studies in the Chicago area and in Phoenix (Phoenix Seminary). Prior to that, he studied commerce (University of Virginia) and worked in the financial industry, including a role as an investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs in New York City. Beau is a fitness enthusiast and also enjoys music and learning about diverse topics. Beau and Stacey have two young boys.
* David Brooks, The Road to Character (New York: Random House, 2015), 102.