I was privileged to be part of a recent retreat for pastors and church leaders. The focus of the retreat was: How do we mentor the next generation of leaders? During the retreat I said that none of us chooses what generation to be born in. And every generation is shaped by different formative forces. That is why different generations sometimes struggle to understand each other. But I also said that each generation has different treasures to contribute to the common good. So while we need to work to understand and empower the upcoming generations, we also need the younger generations to understand the older ones, and we need all generations on deck if the church is to be all that she can be for God’s purposes in the demanding times we live in.
I was encouraged when I saw Parker J. Palmer make the same point in his latest book, On the Brink of Everything (Oakland, CA: Barrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018).
It’s unfair to lay all responsibility for the future on the younger generation. After all, the problems they face are partly due to the fact that we, their elders, screwed up. Worse still, it’s not true that the young alone are in charge of what comes next. We—young and old together—hold the future in our hands. If our common life is to become more compassionate, creative and just, it will take an intergenerational effort.
Let’s stop talking about “passing the baton” to the young as we elders finish running our laps. Since most of us are more skilled at sitting than at running, let’s change the metaphor and invite young adults to join the orchestra. As we sit together, we can help them learn to play their instruments—while they help us learn the music of the emerging world, which they hear more clearly than we do. (33)
I have been involved in young adult ministry for some time now and this will continue to be one of Graceworks’ emphases. In particular, we have been helping older leaders understand the young and how to help the young fulfil their potential in Christ. I guess it helps that my hair is grey but my heart loves the young. More recently, however, I have felt the Lord saying that I need to build bridges both ways. I need to help the older leaders understand the young but I also need to help the young understand the old. After all, old or young, we are called to love one another and to help each other be our best for the Lord.
One pastor at the retreat asked me for help to build an intergenerational ministry in his church. I told him I was no expert in this and had a lot more studying and reflecting to do. But I think I better get going because not long after the retreat, another church approached me to facilitate a conversation between their older and younger leaders. If the Lord is leading me into this ministry He has to lead the way.
We live in a rare point in history where three or four generations can be found in most churches. The two most influential groups are the Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964) and the Millennials (born 1977–1994). Because of good healthcare, more and more Boomers will be around and still engaged in our organisations and our churches. And Millennials will be the largest of the present generations. We need the two generations, and all the other generations, to understand each other. More than that, we need them to help each other make their unique contributions to God’s mission. That calls for love and humility all round. Boomers, Millennials, and everybody else, let us hear afresh the exhortation of the apostle Paul:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1–6 NIV)