The Peter Pan Generation

Peter Pan 2

An elderly widow in our congregation invited me to see if I wanted any of her late husband’s books. He had been a faithful pastor. One book, non-theological, caught my attention: Peter Pan. I’d never read Peter Pan, so I took it. It was a wonderful read. 

Peter Pan. The boy who never grew up. He came to visit Wendy and her brothers. They went to Neverland and had wonderful adventures. Exciting times. Peter Pan was having so much fun that, given the opportunity to grow up, he refused. 

The Peter Pan Generation

Our culture has become a Peter Pan generation: The generation that refuses to grow up.

Our culture has become a Peter Pan generation: The generation that refuses to grow up.

Chipley mcqueen Thornton

This generation lives with their parents longer, marries later, enters the work force later, has children later. Churches have followed suit. Andy Stanley, pastor of Northpointe Community Church (32,000 members), has significantly impacted churches across America. He started a church by taking the youngest families from his father’s (Charles Stanley) church with a vision of “creating churches that unchurched people love to attend.” It grew rapidly into a megachurch. Multiple campuses were spawned. Sermons were piped in via satellite. Thousands flocked weekly. Then, things began to change. Stanley began to apologize for the Bible in order “to keep people who are skeptical of the Bible’s authority engaged in the sermon.” He never denied scriptural authority. He just didn’t focus on it. Next, he began to demean propositional truth. It’s called the ark ministry: “The goal is to lead [people] to the place where they acknowledge Jesus to be who he claimed to be,” he says, “They don’t have to believe Noah built an ark and put animals on it to get there.” Then, he made new headlines: Churches need to “unhitch ourselves from the OT.” Where does it go next? 

Peter’s Problem

His story is the story of the Peter Pan generation. They maintain four foundational misunderstandings of Christianity.

  • A Fundamental Misunderstanding Of The Church. We’ve confused “crusades” with “congregations.” Crusades are evangelistic productions designed to cattle-call the unchurched to introduce them to Jesus Christ. Congregations, on the other hand, were designed by God for believers to assemble regularly to ascribe worth to Him. When the assembled church’s primary aim is evangelism, not worship, we become vulnerable to losing our identity as Christ’s bride.  We inherently become man-centered, not God-centered. 
  • A Fundamental Misunderstanding Of Worship. We’ve confused “entertainment” for “worship.” The danger of entertainment-driven productions is they create a false sense of worship that exalts the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25).  
  • A Fundamental Misunderstanding Of Our Mission. The church’s mission is not only to “make converts,” but to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:19). In our zeal to win people to Christ, we often lose our passion for long-term disciple-making. We ween them on milk, but never move them to solid spiritual food (Heb. 5:14). 
  • A Fundamental Misunderstanding Of The Sufficiency Of Scripture. We’ve confused the “authority” of Scripture with the “sufficiency” of Scripture. It’s subtle. I remember the first time I saw a video clip inserted into a sermon to illustrates the pastor’s point. I thought, “That was creative.” A few years later, I saw a 15-minute movie clip followed by a 10-minute devotional interlacing certain points of the movie with certain verses of Scripture. I thought, “Um. That concerns me a little.” More recently, I saw a church service which showed a movie and spliced-in clips of the pastor at various points to make spiritual observations.  At the curtain call, the pastor came on stage and read a Bible verse to wrap-up the show. Churches now are purchasing sermon kits that provide both the ideas and the script for the service. Do you see how Scripture, bit-by-bit, got pushed out of the way? It went from primary to secondary to an afterthought when the show was over. Such methods may affirm the “authority” of Scripture, but in practice they deny the “sufficiency” of Scripture.

Closing Thought

Peter Pan never did grow up . . . but Wendy did. She left Neverland, married, and had children of her own. She even tried to get Peter Pan to come back with her. He always refused. He never wanted to go to big church.

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Author Peter Pan 2

Chip Thornton

Pastor of FBC Springville, Alabama. Chip is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned his Ph.D. in expository preaching. He enjoys spending time with his family, has a passion for discipleship, and is committed to biblical exposition.