The Generational Exchange
By Bryan Jarrett
Following is an abridgment of a message that was delivered during the Friday evening combined adult and youth rally at the 51st General Council of the Assemblies of God in Denver, Colorado, August 5, 2005. View Bryan Jarrett's message from the 51st General Council.
I am a product of AG youth ministry. My mom, a single parent, attended a small Pentecostal church during my adolescence that offered no youth or children’s ministry. Intuitively sensing rebellion in my preteen years, she started looking for a Spirit-filled church that had a viable youth ministry. This led her to an Assemblies of God church in a small farm town in eastern Arkansas.
This church’s youth ministry introduced me to Assemblies of God youth camps where my passion was ignited for God. There I met a girl who has been my bride for more than 12 years and is the mother of our three children. My family has crisscrossed this nation pouring our lives back into the churches and camps that so powerfully impacted us.
In this church’s youth ministry I heard about Central Bible College. There my wife and I were given the foundations for Pentecostal ministry and developed countless lasting relationships.
Today I serve this Fellowship as a local pastor, continually drawing from the foundation given to me by AG youth ministry. I owe a great debt to this Fellowship and its youth ministry.
My assignment tonight is difficult: Build a bridge between the generations. My message, however, is simple.
Two unique Scripture passages speak to us. The first is Genesis 27:32–34: “Isaac his father said to him, ‘Who are you?’ And he said, ‘I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.’ Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, ‘Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.’ When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, ‘Bless me, even me also, O my father’.”1
The second passage is 2 Timothy 1:13,14: “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”
The first passage records a terrible tragedy; the second is a timeless challenge.
There is titanic distrust among the generations. Tonight, however, I will not speak of Builders, Boomers, Busters, and Bridgers. For simplicity’s sake, I will only refer to the young and the old.
On one hand is the older generation. Many of them have given their lives as missionaries, pastors, and hardworking laypeople to guard and further the full-gospel message. They have poured out their sweat and tears and spilled their blood to build this church. They do not want to die having kept their faith to themselves.
The older generation is looking for someone in whom they can deposit their faith, or as Paul puts it, they are looking for someone in whom they can deposit the trust of the full gospel (1 Timothy 1:11; 1 Timothy 6:20). However, they are reluctant to make that deposit for fear that their faith, their church, and the trust will be diluted, altered, or even forsaken.
On the other hand is the younger generation. They are as passionate as the pioneers of this Pentecostal church and have an amazing potential to expand the Kingdom in this world. But they have become weary with church as usual, with legalistic expectations, and with conditional blessings.
The younger generation needs the church to provide a consistent example in an ever-changing world. At the same time, they need the church to stop forcing cultural and geographical man-made convictions onto their faith and calling it gospel. In my lifetime, I have noticed that the church now readily accepts many things it once called sinful. Our students are confused.
Young people are not reluctant to take the faith, to guard the biblical trust, or to carry the Pentecostal message. In fact, some of them are waiting with their hands outstretched to receive the baton. Many would have already taken the baton if given opportunity.
Any reluctance to take the baton is usually due to the conditions we have attached to it. The younger generation is reluctant to take the man-made baggage associated with it. They are reluctant when forced to do it the way it has always been done. They are not afraid of the message. They are afraid of the baggage we have attached to it.
So, one generation is reluctant to give and the other is reluctant to receive. This titanic distrust between the generations has placed the future of this Pentecostal church in a vulnerable state. We may have some of the most talented young people in America, some of the greatest churches and preachers in the world, and the greatest missionary enterprise known to man; but if we do not properly exchange the baton between generations, the Assemblies of God could end as fast as it started.
Until 1996, the U.S. men’s Olympic 100-meter relay team had never failed to win the Gold. In 1996, they shocked the world with their first loss. The team did not lose because of untrained, out-of-shape athletes; they were the greatest athletes in the world. They lost because of a mishandled baton. Our Fellowship has enjoyed 91 glorious years, but we could cease to be all that God wants us to be if we botch this generational exchange. As our new youth ministry theme admonishes us, we have “One Chance.”
Ironically, I understand the reluctance of both generations. Because of family issues, my mom and I lived in my grandparents’ home during the greater part of my early teen years. The father figure and greatest male influence in my life has been my 83-year-old grandfather. He was a bivocational Pentecostal pastor of a small rural church.
He was and still is as rough as sandpaper and as tough as steel. He preached on one of three subjects every Sunday: heaven, hell, or the Holy Ghost. He preached holiness so strongly and heaven so hard to reach that the only way to get through the narrow gate was to turn sideways and suck in.
I love my grandfather. I love his generation. I love their loyalty, dedication, discipline, steadfastness, conviction, spirit, fire, and their commitment to the full-gospel message. I am indebted to them and owe them much.
On the other hand, I was born into a different generation, and my generation is struggling with reaching our world without compromising the standards of our forefathers. We are struggling to find the balance between cultural relevance and ancient truth. We have a biblical mandate to reach our world, but realize the methods of our forefathers are no longer working. We are looking for ways to reach our friends and grow our churches while maintaining the integrity of the faith that has been handed down to us.
I feel caught in the middle — hearing both the valid complaints of the young and the valid concerns of the old. Maybe this is where I am supposed to be, in the middle, reaching one hand out to the young and the other out to the old, asking the young to give their respect and the old to give their blessing. If this baton is mishandled, our Fellowship could go the way of other revival movements in modern history that have fizzled in their passion and lost their conviction.
For this reason, students, I ask you to move from this titanic distrust and rise to the timeless challenge given to Timothy.
A Timeless Challenge
Students, you are a Timothy. Paul’s challenge to Timothy was to “retain the standard” and “guard the good deposit.”
The younger generation needs to understand that Assemblies of God churches and functions, such as youth ministries in particular, only exist because someone went before them. Today’s young people can stand tall only because they are standing on someone else’s shoulders.
Nearly 90 years ago, my great-grandmother attended a brush arbor revival on the banks of an eastern Arkansas river. There she heard the Pentecostal message for the first time. She witnessed the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lost saved, and believers baptized in the Holy Spirit. She and others were ridiculed, had things thrown at them, and eventually were kicked out of their churches because of their new Pentecostal experience.
She deposited her faith in her son, who deposited his faith in his daughter, who deposited her faith in me. There is too much at stake for us to fail to guard the trust. Do not take for granted the faith that has been deposited in you. We must guard the trust.
I love the younger generation, and I am for them. But if the older generation seems somewhat reluctant to give them their blessing, it may be because they have reason to be.
Most of the younger generation do not make decisions based on conviction, but on convenience. They have made “me” as the center of their universe, and when things — relationships, ministry, and even the church — cease to benefit “me,” they walk out on them.
In a recent article, Jay Mooney, our national youth director, quotes the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on the Family, which states that the loss rate of evangelical students within 1 year of high school graduation is now as high as 88 percent. This means nearly 9 out of 10 young adults are not in church only 1 year after high school graduation. Instead of guarding the trust, many of the younger generation are trading the trust or walking away from the trust.
Compared with teenagers in the past, today’s teens are 2 times more likely to hurt someone physically, 2 times more likely to get drunk, 2 times more likely to become involved in pornography, 2 1/4 times more likely to steal, 3 times more likely to use drugs, and 6 times more likely to attempt suicide.
People might say, “But those are unchurched kids.” Do not be so sure. Sadly, George Barna’s research has proven there is little difference in these numbers for churched kids and unchurched kids. The older generation has reason to be reluctant.
Books have been written on the biblical illiteracy of the American culture, especially the youth culture. Some say the young generation is the most biblically illiterate generation in American history. No one denies their passion, and few people would question their spiritual hunger, but many people question their substance.
Our elders do not think young people can give an answer for the faith they have. They can tell how it feels, but can they explain where it is found? The younger generation is a “feeling” generation. They want a God they can feel.
The church has attempted to create an environment that will keep the younger generation coming back to church, and in the process has made doctrine a dirty word. The church has created the misconception in its youth that doctrine is boring at best and divisive at worst.
A few decades ago doctrine was the main subject of church sermons and songs. There was so much emphasis on doctrine that application and practicality were neglected. Instead of finding balance, we have swung the pendulum so far to the practical side that the younger generation knows little about doctrine.
But Jesus is doctrine. He is the Alpha, Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Bread of Life, the Bright and Morning Star, the Counselor, the Chief Cornerstone, the Door, the Deliverer, Elect, Emmanuel, Everlasting Father, the Hope of Glory, I Am, I Was, I Will Be, the Light of the World, Master, Messiah, Mighty God, Prophet, Propitiation, Rabbi, Rock, Rose of Sharon, Root of Jesse, the Way, Wonderful, the Word of God. There is nothing more exciting to talk about than the truths of the Word of God.
A Terrible Tragedy
Adults, hear the cry of Esau in Genesis 27:34: “Bless me, even me also, O my father!”
Do you hear his heartache? Do you hear his desire? He was crying for a blessing he had once taken for granted. He was crying for a blessing that rightly belonged to him. The cry of Esau is the cry of the younger generation: “Please, bless me too.”
According to Josh McDowell, more of the children and teens from the younger generation live without their fathers than any previous generation in American history. Many whose father is physically in the home do not have his interactive presence in their lives.
McDowell’s research also reveals that the younger generation will be the first generation in American history to have little chance of exceeding their parents’ standard of living.
The younger generation knows what the stats say about them. They know they have been called the ugly duckling generation. They know there is not much going for them, according to the numbers.
From talking to young people, I know they wonder if the church is for them. We have told them throughout their lives what they have done wrong. Most of these kids can tell you everything the church is against, but can name few things the church is for. They need to know that the church is for them, and regardless of what the numbers say, believes in them.
People might ask, “But Pastor, how could we give them our blessing? How can we pass them the baton? How can we give them the trust, if what you said earlier is true?”
The older generation needs to know that there is no Mayflower full of old-timers who are going to land on Plymouth Rock before the next General Council and save this Movement. The younger generation is all you have. Take a risk. Bless them. The older generation can withhold their blessing and watch this Fellowship die with them, or they can take a risk and deposit the trust in a generation that many people have written off.
The younger generation knows they are the underdog but remember, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). God has a history of using what has been voted the least likely to succeed, and He will use this generation to usher in another great awakening in the Assemblies of God in America.
The Millennials represent the largest generation since the Baby Boomers, totaling 71 million. Of this group, 33 million are currently teenagers. In whatever direction the Millennials choose to go, the future of our society and the future of the Assemblies of God will go. Such a critical moment in history requires action from both the young and the old. Church, this is our wakeup call.
Some say the youth are rebellious; I say they are revolutionaries. There is a reformatory anointing on this generation. They are the reformation generation. They do not want to be normal. They want to be abnormal. They do not want to be natural; they want to be supernatural.
Nearly 90 years ago, my great-grandmother left her mainstream church to be a part of something distinctive, something different. This Fellowship was planting churches across America — in barns, tents, and storefronts. They believed they were a continuation of the New Testament church. They believed through the power of the Spirit that they were to be a naturally supernatural church. My great-grandmother left what was normal for what was different.
Over the years, the Assemblies of God has moved from barns, tents, and storefronts to better facilities, more educated pastors, and more respectable budgets. Thank God for His blessing. But God forbid that, as we become more accepted in church culture, we make less room for the demonstration of the Spirit’s power. God forbid we lose our distinctives. God forbid we become mainstream — normal.
Former General Superintendent Thomas F. Zimmerman said, “Though we have grown in number, it would be foolish for us to assume that ‘having begun in the spirit’ we could ever substitute mass strength for the power and presence of God in our lives. Our strength is not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”
I love my evangelical brothers. I read their books, attend their conferences, and learn from their models. I am in debt to them for their contribution to the kingdom of God, but we do not need to lose our Pentecostal identity while learning from them. I am evangelical, but I am not just evangelical; I am Pentecostal. We are “people of the Spirit.”
The irony of this is that the evangelical community is attempting to make their services more experiential. To stop young people from leaving their churches, leaders have been told to make their worship more passionate and provide room in their service for people to experience God because this is an experiential generation.
The DNA of this youth culture matches the DNA of this Fellowship. All we need to be is what God called us to be 91 years ago — a church of the Spirit.
The youth in this generation do not want normal. They want what is supernatural. This generation has railroad spikes through their tongues and piercings over the rest of their bodies. Someone speaking in tongues will not scare them away. They will probably say, “Cool. Finally, this is not a normal church.”
In a recent nationwide survey pastors were asked to identify three books that had been most helpful to them as ministry leaders. George Barna made a unique discovery about younger pastors: “One of the most interesting outcomes is the different taste of younger pastors. … They lean toward books and authors that extol adventure, shared experiences, visionary leadership, supernatural guidance, and relational connections. … They seem less obsessed with church size and more interested in an encounter with the living God.”
This finding is in line with the passion and deep spiritual hunger of the youth culture. Those my age and younger are moving away from 21 laws of leadership, 7 ways to break the 1,000 barrier, 10 steps to this, and 45 steps to that. Today’s youth want someone who will lead them into an experience with the God of the Book of Acts.
Churches need to maintain excellence: the yard needs to be manicured; the orchestra needs to be in tune; our sermon needs to be well prepared; and the service needs to be well organized. But if God does not show up and breathe on us, all we have done is put on a nice show.
Like Esau, the younger generation longs for the blessing they have once taken for granted. Many young people in the Assemblies of God are starting to realize that they are part of something much bigger than themselves. They want to look up from the battlefields of their school campuses and home environments and know someone in the “great cloud of witnesses” is blessing them and believing in them.
The church is good at giving blessings with addendums. “I will bless you if. …” Take sway the if. Take away the conditions. Just bless them and release them.
I am not suggesting we remove accountability structures. I am not suggesting we allow the younger generation to live and minister outside the perimeters of biblical revelation. But, if it is not sin, and it is within the framework of Scripture, the older generation needs to encourage the younger generation to go and build this church and expand God’s kingdom. Encourage them to use the creative ideas and unique gifts God has given them to do what has never been done and to try what no one else has ever tried.
Take a risk, young people. You have one life, one chance.
People often have such a success-driven mindset that dreams often go undiscovered, and destinies are stillborn because of the fear of failure. There are churches that have never been planted, and missionaries that have never surrendered to the call because of the fear of failure. We celebrate those who succeed and silence those who do not.
The older generation must give the younger generation a blessing that says: “Go. If you fail, at least you got out of the boat. You have one life, one chance; do not live the status quo. Attempt something great for God.”
If the younger generation is reaching an unreached people in their unique culture, let them dress like the natives of their culture as long as it is modest. If they want to take an acoustic guitar and plant a church in a downtown coffee shop, let them. Do not withdraw financial and moral support when they do not have service on Sunday night. Stop the conditional blessings.
Adults are reluctant to give their blessing, and youth are reluctant to take their blessing. So, do we just sit in this arena and stare at each other while the pulse of our Movement gets weaker and weaker? Someone needs to make the first move, and I believe that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the older generation.
Part of the tragedy is that the older generation is looking for the God of their past and are reminiscing about the good old days, while the younger generation is looking for the God of their future. Both will miss Him because He is not only the I Was for the older generation or the I Will Be for the younger generation; He is the I Am for everyone. He is here. He wants these generations to come together and call on the I Am to fill this church now.
We need a Book of Acts experience, but we need to realize that the God of right now may blow into a coffeehouse this time, not a brush arbor. He may not show up at the altars of our well-organized churches. He may come into a Saturday night service, while 15 20-year-olds sing praises to Jesus accompanied by acoustic guitar in the back of a Barnes and Noble. Understand me, I do not care where He comes. I do not care if He comes on Thursday night or Sunday night. It does not matter if He comes to Starbucks or First Assembly; I just want Him to touch my generation.
If the blessing is withheld, the blessing will die with the older generation in the next 20 or 30 years, and the Assemblies of God will never be what it was before. The younger generation will reform our Movement, or they will leave it and start another one like our forefathers did four generations ago.
While still an evangelist, I preached a revival in a little town on the Arkansas-Missouri line. In my message that night I challenged the people to seek God for another great awakening in America. After the altar service an older man in his late 80s or early 90s walked briskly up to me. It was obvious he was weeping.
He passionately grabbed me by the lapel of my jacket and said, “Son, listen to this old man. I am a retired Methodist pastor. I came into the Methodist church when it was a revival movement. We were called the shouting Methodists. Over time, the Assemblies of God came along, stole the fire out of our stove, and left us with a cold, black stove. What happened to my church is happening to yours. If revival does not come to your church, when you are an old man, you will grab some young man by the collar just like this and weep the same bitter tears this old man weeps tonight.”
I have learned much over the years from cold, black stoves. My grandfather, whom I mentioned earlier, holds the philosophy, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So, we ate food prepared on a wood-burning cookstove until I was 16 years old. Every night in the wintertime my grandfather would clean out the ashes and start a fire before he went to bed. My grandmother would get up early in the morning and make breakfast on that stove.
My bedroom joined the area next to the stove. One morning my grandmother got up and opened the stove door startling me awake. I went to the door and looked at her. I remember seeing her like it was yesterday. She was kneeling down in her nightgown, and I watched her blowing into the stove. I thought my grandmother had lost her mind because in my young mind, I thought, You blow out candles, and you blow out a match. I knew she was trying to start a fire, but now she had lost it. She was blowing the fire out.
She saw me in the doorway and invited me over to stand beside her. I said, “Grandma, don’t you know you’re going to blow your fire out?”
She chuckled and sat me on her knee and said, “Watch this, Bryan.”
She then blew into the stove, and as she did the coals left from the previous night’s fire started turning red. The stove had looked dry, empty, and cold, but when she blew into it, the ashes turned bright red.
She said, “You do it.”
I blew into the oven. When I blew on the ashes, they turned red, but when I quit, they stopped glowing. So, she blew, and then I blew. She blew, and then I blew. Then she grabbed a piece of kindling that I had carried in the night before, and she laid it on the glowing ashes. Then she blew, and I blew, and she said, “See, Son, you would have thought that we would need to start over, but there’s still enough left in the stove from yesterday’s fire. All we need to do is breathe on the ashes, and we can start right here.”
The same simple message my grandmother shared with me that winter morning applies to the church. A member of the older generation blew on the ashes of yesterday’s fire joined by a young person who did not understand all the facts, but blew on the ashes of yesterday’s fire anyway.
This Movement does not need to start over either. There is enough fire left in the embers of yesterday’s revival. If the younger generation will blow on one side and the older generation will blow from the other side, the embers of past revivals will glow hot again. Then if young people will lay their lives as logs on the fire of yesterday’s revival, God can do again what He did in the past. The God of the brush arbor and the camp meeting is still the God of the carpeted cathedrals. He can do it again. Join the cry of Habakkuk, “O Lord, revive Thy Work in the midst of the years” (Habakkuk 3:2).
Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
1. Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard BibleÂ®, Copyright Â© 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission (www.Lockman.org).