From generation to generation

There are a couple of interesting and oddly aligned dates in my family. The first: there are thirty years in age between me and my dad, and thirty years between me and my first son, Seth Gregory. Each generation is evenly spaced, like mile-markers on a road. The second: this month we celebrated three consecutive birthdays of Seth (12th June), dad (13th June), and our newest addition, Knox (14th June). Obviously, this was not planned.

In some strange way, coincidences have brought home to me the very important biblical theme of generations. In the Bible, there is much emphasis on lineage, since blessings, curses, promises, grace, craft, calling, and much else flow from one generation to another.  

Living in London distorts our view of this inter-generational flow. For many of us, we live in a single-generation millennial island, cut off from any meaningful interaction with grey-headed wisdom and the joy of little people. We walk, work, and worship with people born within a narrow date range.

There are two great skills we may lose if we don’t see ourselves as living in an unbroken thread that runs from deep history into the unknown future.  

1. There is the skill of learning well from those mature in faith and those who have gone before you. While I love being part of a church with so many young people, there is a much greater danger of pooling ignorance when you don’t have age and wisdom to bring godly influence. In other words, if the only role-models you look to are your own peers, this can lead to spiritual stagnancy and what the Bible calls ‘folly’. How do we remedy this? Long term, we need our church to better reflect the multi-generational beauty of the family of God. But there are workarounds. (i) You can be deliberate about getting discipled by someone further on in faith. If you feel you’re not growing spiritually, this can be a real remedy. (ii) You can turn dead guys into mentors by pillaging the phenomenal wealth of our Christian heritage in good books. Don’t just read the latest releases; rather, go to the old wells and drink in the best of what previous generations have left us. This is the best way of getting outside of the distortions and bizarre obsessions of our cultural moment, and gaining perspective and wisdom on what really matters. C. S. Lewis used to counsel that you read two old books for every new book, and that seems a laudable aim.

2. There is the skill of passing on what you know. There are only a few sets of parents in our church, but spiritual parenting – the art of making disciples – is a universal call among Christians. The aim is to become fruitful, which is a word typically associated with reproduction. You may look at yourself as too young or too immature to disciple someone else, but the truth is, there is always someone who knows less than you. If only God’s people took this calling more seriously; I believe we’d see much greater spiritual health in the life of the church family if we were better at helping one another grow.