Gary Inrig wrote a wonderful book entitled "Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay" (Moody Press, 1979) which was a detailed study of the book of Judges. One of the issues he quickly raised in the book was what he called "The Second Generation Syndrome." In that early chapter of his book he discussed the difficulty of passing on our vision and convictions to our children and grandchildren. It is a daunting and challenging task for any parent, and it is rare for the faith of parents to be handed down to succeeding generations.
The book of Judges in chapter two graphically describes this challenge: "The people worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua's lifetime and during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua. They had seen all the Lord's great works He had done for Israel... After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works He had done for Israel. The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord's sight. They worshiped the Baals and abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt.
"The second generation has a natural tendency to accept the status quo and to lose the vision of the first generation," Inrig writes. "Too often the second-generation experience is a second-hand experience. Church history is filled with examples of it, and sadly, so are many churches. The parent's fervor for the Lord Jesus Christ becomes the children's formalism and the grandchildren's apathy."
What caused the children and grandchildren to lose the vision of the parents? Inrig continues: "They knew about his deeds. But they did not know Him or acknowledge Him. They had lost touch with God. Here we come to the heart of the second-generation syndrome. It is a lukewarmness, a complacency, an apathy about amazing biblical truths that we have heard from our childhood, or from our teachers."
This underscores to us the great difficulty in seeing succeeding generations follow in the spiritual footsteps of their first generation Christian parents. To see godly children of godly parents is something that happens frequently, but to see generation after generation follow in that heritage of faith is difficult to discover.
I am a man most blessed of God as I look toward my approaching retirement on Feb. 1st. My strong godly heritage goes back at least to my grandparents. My grandfather was a Baptist preacher for 54 years. He and my grandmother were married for over 50 years. My father was a Baptist preacher for 36 years until his death at the age of 52. He and my mother were married 33 years. My parents had three sons. All three of us became Baptist preachers. Our marriages have been centered in the Lord and our children all have followed in the pattern of faith first revealed in my grandparents.
My oldest son, Randy, is a committed layman and often preaches in the pulpit of his church when his pastor is absent. My youngest son, Bailey, is a Sunday school teacher and faithful member of his church. Both are ordained deacons. My daughter, Terri, married a minister and they have served in local churches for the last 20- plus years.
Carol Ann and I have 6 grandchildren. All of them have a personal relationship with Jesus and they love the Lord. Our 22 year old grandson, Kyle, and our 16 year old grandson, Wes, have both surrendered to the Gospel ministry. What an incredible blessing it is to have experienced five successive generations walking in the grace and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ!
How did it happen? What has been the secret? I can only venture some observations about our family.
1. The Bible was honored and revered in each generation as being the completely reliable and inerrant Word of God.
2. Never have any of us ever heard our parents fighting, shouting at each other, or in any way mistreating one another. Love, kindness and grace were lived out before us and are present in each of these generations. Such things are "caught" more than "taught."
3. Regular involvement at all church services (and usually all activities) was a given in our lives. We never knew we had a choice, yet we never felt we were made to attend!
4. We were taught compassion, kindness and generosity. Each of our homes has been havens for friends and others to whom we ministered. Tithing and much more was a practice in our homes. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive!
5. Integrity, consistency and obedience to God have been the characteristic of each family. We all learned early on to stand for what was right and to oppose what was wrong. And we learned to do it in a strong and firm, yet kind, way. Convictions don't have to brutalize others!
6. Christian morality and biblical ethics were and are practiced and lived out in our homes. Consistency has always been a strong character trait in our families. Do as I say and not as I do has never worked! What you see is what you get is a good descriptive phrase for our families. We have never been good at putting on airs or pretending to be something we are not.
7. Daily fellowship with the Lord and drawing strength from His Word continues to be a strong pattern in our lives. We can't make it one day without Him! He said "You can do nothing without me" (John 15:5).
8. Forgiveness and grace has always been the pattern. All of us understand that we are frail and sinful and in need of forgiveness and grace so we learned to forgive others as we ourselves need forgiveness. By keeping this at the forefront of our lives we have avoided family squabbles, disputes and divisions that are so often seen. Our family really enjoys being together.
9. All of these things are wrapped up in our unswerving conviction that the Lord Jesus Christ has a plan for our lives and we have found our fulfillment in Him.
I am proud of my family and my family heritage. My dad once told me, "The debt we owe to the past is to leave the future indebted to us." I am deeply indebted for the godly heritage I received and I pray that it will be passed on not just to two succeeding generations but many more.
God's greatest gift to us is our families. Let each of us make sure we have continued or begun a legacy of faithfulness for our children and grandchildren.
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 19, 2005.]