CFC Lecture

Bryan Chapell: Bridging Generational Divides in the Church

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Is the church’s goal to seek cultural control or cultural credibility? Are believers called to halt sin or help sinners? Should we speak messages of compulsion or messages of compassion?

Your answers to these questions will vary depending on your generation, argues Bryan Chapell.

Chapell, Senior Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, IL, recently visited Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to present a lecture on “Preaching Across Generations” as part of the 2019 Ph.D. Colloquium Series.

He acknowledges the ongoing cultural difficulties churches face, including a loss of truth, a loss of youth and a loss of the mature (those who drift away from the church later in life). Then, he compares the generational difference in attitudes to these problems. “They will have very different perspectives about the church should be doing about the pressures that are coming,” he says. Ultimately, he steers us towards a solution to break down these generational divides.

Watch the full lecture above, or read key excerpts below (edited for clarity).


Depending on your age, you have very different solutions to the problem.

The loss of the nominals.

“When [Ed] Stetzer does his research, he says it this way: The number [or percentage] of those who self-identify as Bible-believing evangelical Christians in this culture… has largely not changed since World War II. Roughly 30% of United States population would say, ‘I’m a Bible-believing evangelical Christian in general.’ And that changes just a percentage point or two every year since World War II.

“What is changing hugely is of those who were not Bible-believing, evangelical Christians — the 60% of religiously affiliated but not Bible-believing evangelical — that ‘religiously affiliated’ is what’s changing so rapidly. So those are becoming ‘the nones.’ As that huge bubble in our culture counters against the unchanging 30%, the whole culture is changing in terms of morals, marriage, gender, vote, attitudes, and it’s weighing against our nominals when they go to college or they leave our traditional settings and make their decisions. The weight of the nones is so much moving the nominals in our culture right now.

“And the consequence is those who are already concerned about cultural erosion and loss of church influence are feeling it all the more. And depending on your age, you have very different solutions to the problem.”

Evangelicals 50 and older have a “theology of halt.”

“[For those 50 and above] and the cultural moment in which they were raised in the church, virtually all of them perceive themselves as evangelical, Bible-believing Christians, as those being raised and having voice in a majority Christian culture. When they were being raised, going to church, and saying what it meant to be married, and what your obligations were in the culture, they were basing that on a sense of … ‘We’re Christians. And the majority of people we know are Christians. And the majority of people in the culture are Christians.’ As a matter of fact, there were political movements that banked on the fact that the majority of people were believers and they just had to be mobilized…

“What was the mission? The mission was to mobilize the moral majority. And that meant you needed to take control. And the way that you would take control, and it became the obligation of the church… to win elections.”

Younger evangelicals’ goal is to make faith credible in an opposition culture.

Evangelicals 40 and under have a “theology of help.”

“This generation, never, in its entire life viewed itself as part of a Christian majority culture. Always they viewed themselves as a Christian minority in a pluralistic culture. From the time they were in first grade, they always viewed themselves as not having power, not having influence, being pushed out of the way, being a minority culture against greater forces that were taking over the culture and, in fact, already had ascendency.

“They viewed themselves as a minority in a pluralistic culture, which set a different agenda. If I’m a majority, then the goal of the church is to take control. If I’m a minority in a non-Christian culture, what does that mean the mission of the church is? The concern you have to recognize… your concern primarily is not Christian erosion. You presume Christian erosion as already occurring. Your concern is not Christian erosion; your concern is church impotence: no say and no influence.

“You are not presuming the mission of the church is to take control by winning elections; that’s not even your presumption nor your goal. Your goal is not to take control; your goal is to make your faith credible in an opposition culture. Not how do I win elections, but how do I win a hearing?”

Bridging generational divides.

“What this ultimately means… is [those 50 and above are] a group seeking control, and [those 40 and under] are the church seeking credibility. And when they don’t understand [each other] generationally — that doesn’t mean you have forsaken the gospel or found a new gospel, but you’re ministering in a very different culture to very different people — then the accusations grow so quickly that the church begins to divide, fracture and name-call instead of hearing one another.

“What I have done… in different groups in my own church, sometimes groups that are very angry at one another, is to try to say, what is common between these two lists? One of the things you’d have to say is common is that they both believe the Bible. These are biblical issues.”

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The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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