Spiritual Generativity is Not Dead…

Blog Series:  “Lost In Translation”

Using Paul’s engagement with the Athenians in Acts 17 as a backdrop, we are reflecting on the many gaps, disconnections, and misalignments we see across the landscape of ministry, along with some hopeful and constructive suggestions for how to respond faithfully.

Start children off on the way they should go,

and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

The Wisdom Literature in the Bible is filled with beautiful illustrations about how to live life and what we need to be teaching the next generation about the fullness of living. These books of the Bible encompass wonderful and thoughtful phrases that are designed to roll off the tongue of a wise parent who is trying to school their child in lessons that will live on from generation to generation.

Can you imagine a grandfather rocking on his chair next to the grandchild and saying to him, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.[1]  And the young child looks up to him and says, “what does that mean grandpa?” “Well…it means listen to what we teach you and we’ll make sure you discover all the good things God is offering you in life. But, if you don’t, you’ll be a fool!” If only it were that easy to pass along the faith from one generation to the next. Unfortunately, for most of us, that generational wisdom has been challenged and sometimes even blocked. And maybe, as parents, it’s just too hard to pass along our religious views because what we thought was “wisdom” for living has often turned into “judgment,” “anger,” and “prejudice.” Therefore, passing on the faith in a generative way just doesn’t seem as appealing to us today.[2]

I get it. There are times when I can relate and I have heard friends, family, and other formerly faithful members of Christian communities wonder why we would even try to get our kids to buy into a religion that has restricted love, judged people for the way they live, or shamed our own friends and relatives for not being “holy enough” to belong to this church or that church.  When I hear that, I want to say, “But, that’s not my religion or my church, we’re different.” For many of them, the damage has already been done. So, they would rather have their kids figure out faith and spirituality on their own, instead of trying to jam a particular kind of religion down their throats, like had been done to them growing up.

What does this mean for church leaders today? I explored this concept called “spiritual generativity,” in my doctoral program and in this research I discovered that, even though parents are the number one influence in a child’s life, there are other influencers who can also make a difference in a child’s spiritual maturity. And as recent research has shown, this up and coming Gen Z (born after 1996)[3] may be more open to exploring spirituality and understanding a higher power according to the Springtide Research Institute’s report on “The State of Religion & Young People 2022.”

As church leaders, we can’t just give up because one generation of parents doesn’t find it compelling to pass along religion and faith. Even Jesus’ parents[4] were a bit skeptical about his radical ways of connecting people with God when he was just a boy. The truth is this generation may be influencing the older generations in a positive and hopeful kind of way. We already look to these digital natives to fix our computers, iPhones, and apps when we can’t figure it out. We rely on their tech savviness and cultural awareness to teach us what’s the latest language, emojis and acronyms that are beyond our understanding. Why would it be so difficult to let them teach us about spirituality and God, too? Maybe parents, grandparents, teachers, and leaders need to be reminded that Paul had both Timothy and Barnabas in his life offering wisdom from both directions, from the younger and the older generations around him.

Spiritual Generativity is a responsibility of people of faith to both plant the seeds of faith, nurturing those seeds, but also trusting the process that God will grow the fruit that is needed for each generation. Yes – we should care about passing on the essentials of faith that God has offered us on our own journey. And – we should be mindful of how the Holy Spirit is using us and the next seven generations to ensure that those essentials will continue. But the fruit may not look exactly the way it did for us when we were growing up. We have to trust that the Holy Spirit will always find a way to be generative from one generation to the next. Our faithful response is to join the Spirit’s work in planting, cultivating, and enjoying the good work that is being done in each generation. Maybe we will even learn from the beautiful fruit that is growing in our children and grandchildren, and all the children around us.

These three podcasts are a great way to learn from the youth leaders who are carefully listening to this generation everyday.  Take time to listen, reflect and learn with Kyle, Bianca and Brittany!

The Message Is Love: A Conversation with Bianca Howard, Brittany Porch, and Kyle Bender about Youth Ministry


100% of Kids: More with Brittany Porch, Kyle Bender, and Bianca Howard about Mental Health and Youth Ministry


Beyond Red Kool-Aid and Hot Dogs: Wrapping Up with Kyle Bender, Bianca Howard, and Brittany Porch about Youth Ministry in the Midst of Systems and Structures


[1] Proverbs 1:7 (NIV)

[2] https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/02/06/70-of-white-evangelical-parents-say-its-very-important-that-their-kids-have-similar-religious-beliefs-to-theirs/

[3] https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/05/14/on-the-cusp-of-adulthood-and-facing-an-uncertain-future-what-we-know-about-gen-z-so-far-2/

[4] Luke 2:41, NIV (The Boy Jesus at the Temple)

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