The Generation Game

What do we pass on to the next generation? I remember sitting in a group where a grandma, mother and daughter were present as we shared testimonies. Grandma told us how she had grown up finding church boring and legalistic as a child and into her early teens. Then God miraculously saved her. Mum gave pretty much an identical testimony and then guess what, daughter told her testimony and it was the same. It was lovely that all three had been saved but we were also left wondering if there wasn’t a cycle that could do with stopping.

I remember another person I met they seemed constantly to be fighting for position, power and attention in the church. It started to come out that their dad had been powerful in the church, they never felt recognised by him, rather they were simply useful to his agenda. The problem is you then got to see them using their own children in their agenda as they sought prominence and recognition.

God says:

“I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.”[1]

This verse has been misused by some to create a superstitious fear of “generational curses”. People are told that if there are problems in their family, if they are unsuccessful at work, if they are not wealthy or if their health fails that it isn’t simply part of living in a fallen world, nor the consequences of their own foolish decisions, rather, there must be an ancestor somewhere who brought a curse on the family because of something they said or did. Now, that’s quite obviously a way of exercising spiritual control and even financial exploitation on vulnerable people because obviously it is only the special pastor who can lift the curse.

However, what we do and how we live has consequences. Our children are affected by our decisions. Our children observe how we live, what we do, what we say, what we prioritise. The affects of an unwise or sinful decision may carry on for generations, just as the benefits of a wise decision may be reflected many years later.

This is true not just in our physical families but in the church. For better or for worse, your local church today is being affected by decisions made by previous generations. A decision to invest in land and provide a good building or a failure to acquire land or to keep a building in good repair has practical consequences. A healthy Sunday school or welcoming toddlers group 20 -30 years ago may lead to a good reputation in the community today. However, a scandal or split may mean that people still regard the church with suspicion. It may mean that there’s a whole generation missing from the church because young families left at a certain time.

Your church will have a culture and a theology and children and young people will observe and hear. If it’s orthodox theology and a healthy culture then they will carry that through life. If the theology is wrong then it will stick, they will remember quotes and soundbites and they’ll repeat them -even if they are wrong.  It will take a lot of heavy lifting in good Bible teaching to shift things. If the culture is welcoming, sacrificially, outward focused, gospel intentional, then you will have future generations of hospitable, sacrificial gospel intentional disciples. If the culture is cynical, ashamed of the Gospel, then guess what ….

We reap what we sow.

What are we passing on to the next generation and beyond?

[1] Exodus 20:5