Navigating Generational Gaps

Three or four years ago our son was really caught up in politics. He was very involved in one advocacy group that was pressuring him to travel to Washington D.C. to march to the capital and voice displeasure with some of our political leaders. I was concerned for his safety and urged him not to go. Ultimately he chose not to travel, but not after criticizing me and “my generation” for our lack of action. What he said kind of hurt. I may have taken it personally. But you know, every generation, as it comes of age, feels like it is the one who will finally get it all right … only later to find itself under criticism when the next generation comes along.

Similar things are happening in local churches across the country. As one generation begins to lead, another is stepping aside. Simultaneously younger ones are coming of age with boundless energy, contagious enthusiasm, fresh perspectives, and lots of questions. Each group has a different way of looking at the world. Differing worldviews collide and criticism is generated. Gen X is critical of Gen Z. Gen Z is critical of the Baby Boomers. Everybody is critical of Millennials. So how do we handle the generation gaps that are very much a part of life in the church? As we go through the following suggestions, it is important to remember these things apply to every age group. Please do not read this and think, "boy I really hope those old people are reading this," or "all those young know-it-alls need to listen to this." All of us have work to do here.

We need to bear with each other, Colossians 3.13; Ephesians 4.2. The wording Paul uses carries along the meaning of enduring with or putting up with, especially when the attitudes of someone else are tiresome or immature. We need to let others have the room to be themselves. One translation words the Ephesians passage as forbearing love. This is the kind of love that leaves room for the failures of others. People of every age need to have the space to make some mistakes and learn from them. Meanwhile, we must move with patience and seek to be as encouraging as possible, Ephesians 4.29.

We need to assume the best of each other, 1 Corinthians 13.7. This is the essence of love. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. Older generations look at younger and assume they care nothing about God or truth and are simply pushing change for the sake of change. Gen Z is one of the most spiritually active generations to come along in this nation in many years. This is encouraging and older ones need to be channeling this energy in the right direction. Younger Christians can get caught up in the viewpoint that older ones are just out of touch and don't know what really works today. They might forget that those who are down the road in life's race have learned from experience and don't want those coming behind to repeat the same mistakes. It is never fair to judge someone else's motives. We need to talk to each other more and see inside our hearts.

\We all need a good dose of humility, 1 Peter 5.5. No one has arrived. No generation has or ever will do it all right. There are things we've missed along the way. Young people need to remember they don't know it all. Older ones need to guard against any lingering pride that exalts itself in knowledge gained or abilities and strengths developed. Humility is a basic virtue for Christian living ... applicable to all ages, Philippians 2.3-4; Ephesians 4.2.

We may just need to keep our mouth shut, James 1.19. What does James say? Quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Sometimes it is better just to say nothing ... rather than damage relationships by careless words. Great harm is done when we speak negatively about each other, question motives, and talk with pessimism about others. If you must speak and make your opinion known, let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt (Colossians 4.6a), and only speak what is good for building up, giving grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4.29).

Generation gaps are part of human existence. Recommit yourself to working together maintaining unity in the bond of peace, Ephesians 4.3.

Matthew Allen

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