Right out of college, in 1992 I lived with about seven or eight guys in a community house we rented in North Seattle. Many of us began to attended a church together. The first two times we attended as a group we arrived late to the service. My friend Mark, who had discovered the church a couple of miles from our house, made sure of it. He made sure that he and all those he invited would be late. He said the worship music (which was played during the front end of the service) was terrible, and that we should therefore, never be on time. We trusted him and just showed up late each week.
The preaching pastor was in his early 30s. Besides the fact that he seemed very knowledgeable of the bible, he communicated in a way that seemed to be very “authentic”, at least to me and my friends. Several of us would come on Sundays, where we would be encouraged, taught, and challenged. But, eventually we would all stop attending the church, because we wanted to invite unbelievers to any church we might be a part of.
One week when our friend Mark was out of town, a few of us made the fatal mistake of showing up to the church on time. It was a heavy blow to all of us. Before the preaching even started, we knew that despite the great teaching and friendly people, that we could never invite any of our unbelieving friends, because if they ever heard the music they would never return. We knew too, that our unbelieving friends may always associate us and Christianity with horrible music, despite the fact that the music was executed quite well.
So what was the problem? Why would a bunch of young guys who were searching for other believers and for good bible teaching flee from a church with good teaching and great musicianship? I believe that the problem was fairly simple. Differing values. Every generation that worships God, wants to associated good things, including good music with their God. The style of worship music at this particular church reflected the value system of the people who ran the church. And you couldn't blame them for having a value system that simply was not like ours.
As we all know, each American generation has common differing values, and those values make sense to that current generation. I used to feel a dialectical tension between guilt and joy when I thought about leaving that particular church. Guilt for leaving a bible based church, and for leaving loving brothers and sisters behind who had been very friendly. Joy, when I remembered that I would never have to be associated with the music of that church again, and when I remembered that I would be able to invite my peers to the next church I would attend. It may sound superficial of me or my friends, but every generation experiences something very similar to what my friends and I experienced.
I know that this whole generation thing is an old topic for many of us, but it is still misunderstood by many Christians. It is a common mistake for Christians to assume that another generation’s values are “un-biblical” or wrong. Often times we do this because we allow our own values to cloud our discernment of the previous or following generation’s choices or actions. For example, many times I have heard people from my generation (Generation X or The Buster Generation) accuse the previous generation (The Boomer Generation) of being selfish and cloistered.
Now, I do believe that regardless of our generation, all of us have a penchant for selfishness. It’s something that all of Adam’s descendants struggle with until death. But, I don’t believe that the generation before me is any more selfish than my peers or myself. Some of my peers look at the common Boomer value of “individualism” and struggle with it, because they allow their own values to get in the way of it’s expression. I've heard wise, spirit-filled peers of mine complain that Boomers want their “personal relationship with God” but don’t recognize the community of believers and the greater community around them. That they want to live in a cul de sac outside of town because they don’t care about the hurting folks downtown. That some of them are more interested in muscle cars and motorcycles than they are their neighbors. That Jesus is their friend more than He is a Sovereign and Holy Lord.
It may be safe to say (because I actually don’t know) that the Boomer generation, by framing the gospel in it’s own perspective has brought more American people to Christ than my generation, or any generation previous to theirs. Thousands of “Boomers” who naturally react to their parents’ generation of community over individualism (which was very important during war-time), are merely expressing what feels natural to them. Individualism, expressed in louder music, motorcycles, God as our friend, and cul de sacs are expressions of freedom and peace, not selfish ambition and a lack of love.
Sure, any of these things can become idols. But, I've also witnessed my own generation struggle with selfishness within our common values. Our values tend to be more like our grandparents’ values, (often the parents of Boomers). In young Gen X churches I've seen groups take spiritual pride in their expression of “Community”, without humility. I've seen fear and control in the form of “Theologically strong worship lyrics”, and heavily emphasized forms of God’s judgement that would leave many Boomers struggling to listen. But, my generation is merely reacting to the previous generation, through our own values.
Have you ever heard of the saying, that our greatest strengths, also tend to be our greatest weaknesses as well? Maybe that’s because sin can slip in anywhere, even settings like personal likes and value systems. Many churches attempt to blend values and styles from multiple generations, in order to draw or retain a larger group of people. The church that my friends and I fled from did not have this kind of “blended worship.” It was a church almost entirely made up of Boomers. Many of them probably did the same thing that my friends and I did. They fled a church that had a foreign value system, in order to express themselves freely in a place where they could invite their unbelieving friends.
I’m not claiming to have the answer regarding how churches can be attractive to multiple generations. I am saying that judging each other by our expressions of worship can be not only harmful to our brothers and sisters, but they can be harmful to the way we ourselves worship, and the way that we love the greater body.