Rivalries seem to attract people’s attention. Sports fans are glued to their television sets for some of the best ones. Examples include the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox, Ohio State and Michigan, Duke and North Carolina, and the Lakers against the Celtics.
Rivalries also extend outside of the world of athletics. Who hasn’t heard of the Hatfield’s versus the McCoy’s, or Marvel versus DC comics?
Human conflict and hostility are prone to arise in the church as well. The Bible includes accounts of tension and discord in the churches in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:3), Galatia (Galatians 5:19-21), and on the island of Crete (Titus 3:9-11).
Sometimes church conflicts arose over doctrinal differences (see Acts 15:1-29, 1 Timothy 1:3-7, and 1 Timothy 1:18-20). On other occasions, disputes occurred over areas of personal preferences and conflicting opinions. Examples include Paul’s disagreement with Barnabas over John Mark in Acts 15:36-41 and Paul’s confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2:11-21.
Addressing the Generation Gap
Perhaps one of the most significant rivalries, however, throughout the chronicles of church history has been the validity of a “generation gap.”
According to one writer, “The term ‘generation gap’ was coined by an editor at Look magazine named John Poppy…His point was that there was a substantive divide in politics, tastes, mores and virtually everything else between the young and the old—with the ‘old’ including everyone over 30.”
It seems as if the Bible notes the existence of a generation gap as well. Various generations were identified in the Scriptures because of their differences. Notable examples include the Apostle Paul’s instruction for older generations to mentor younger people in Titus 2:1-5, and in one of John’s letters as well. (See 1 John 1:12-14.) These references point to the presence of a separation of the generations all the way back to the first century following the life of Christ.
Current Generational Rivalry in the Church
Some observers believe that generational rivalries are currently at a peak in today’s church. They look at areas of church ministry such as differing musical tastes, the way people dress to attend church, and church attendance patterns and scheduling as some points of contention and disagreement.
A recent Google search for the word “rivalry” revealed this basic definition, “competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.”
The truth of this definition may be particularly evident in the church with the seemingly widening gap in the way churches function and operate between members of the baby boomer generation and millennials—the two largest generations in American history.
This country’s best-known generational experts, William Strauss and Neil Howe, define boomers as those people who were born between 1943 and 1960, and who number now about 70 million people. These authors also describe millennials as those who were born between 1982 and 2003, who now number about 70 million people. (See Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, published by William Morrow and Company, 1991.)
Both generational cohorts have been characterized as seeking superiority or control in the way churches function. Boomers are prone to want churches to operate the way they used to when they were young, while millennials would like to see significant changes made to give members of their generation more acceptance and influence.
There is a human tendency for each generation to act like the church exists just for them. And historically many churches have developed functions and ministries to target specific generations with age-appropriate programming. These programs may have helped members of specific generations grow in their own faith journeys, but now many churches are seeing the importance of connecting the generations for the common benefit of all generations.
Building Generational Connections
It may be more important than ever for churches to establish ways of practically connecting these two generations. Instead of concentrating on church programs that segregate the various generations, perhaps it is time to develop ways to link the generations in biblically-based strategies and functions.
For example, the two generations can pray together like the inter-generational prayer meeting that is described in Acts 12:12-13. The generations can gather like the early church was instructed to do in Hebrews 10:25. They can serve the Lord together like what was described in Romans 12:6, and they can study the Word of God together as the church did in Acts 12:26. Other biblical examples of ways God’s people can connect abound.
Helping boomers and millennials get together will prove to be essential for the future of church programming. Not being intentional about this process only leads to a wider generation gap of mixed generational goals and a lack of inter-generational communication.