Crossing the Generational Divide, Part 2
In Jesus' day the younger generation wrestled with their relationship to their elders and the reality of what God expected:
And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But you say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, "Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban"' (that is, given to God) — then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do" (Mark 7:9–13, ESV).
The narrative tells of a nifty little stunt the young adults would pull when it came to child support — in this case the child supporting the parents.
The phrase “Corban” was the equivalent of saying “1-2-3 not it!” The word removed the obligation of money/gifts for the parents — making it reserved for God. The idea is well and good except that it declared that you had reserved an item — it didn’t mean you had to follow through and actually give it. They would use the phrase as a sneaky way to keep what was supposed to take care of the older generation. Jesus has a problem with using religion as an excuse to exclude people.
Intergenerational ministry is a dance that requires grace and finesse. Traditionally, younger and older generations within a church community view each other with suspicion. What I offer here are a few suggestions to help build some bridges in order to practice the fifth commandment.
Word to the Elderly
You will have tremendous challenge with integrating young adults in ministry — but if you refuse this challenge the alternative is to let Israel perish in the wilderness. Studies reveal a few things about the emerging adult generation that are helpful to keep in mind.
If they cannot move upward, they will move onward. If they aren’t trusted with significant roles they will find a place that will trust them — and it won’t be the church.
- 96 percent believe they can do something great.
- 85 percent feel they have a lot of unused potential.
At a glance this looks pretty frustrating, but as an encouraging note three-fourths of those surveyed expressed interest in being mentored by a leader. They respond well to input and constructive criticism.1 You have a ready generation to pass leadership on to — as long as it is real leadership and not a token position.
So who is the youngest elder in your church? Many ministerial students are ordained as elders in their early 20s, but they sit on elder boards and church boards with people multiple generations apart from them.
It’s a dangerous gap.
What happens when the leaders no longer have the strength to lead? Who is being discipled? Where is the energy, creativity and fresh perspective coming from?
Too often young adults can be educated, can start families, can have careers, pay taxes, play professional sports, direct films, compose music and die fighting for freedom — but we don’t let them lead in “the Lord’s army.”
Word to the Millennial
We are partially to blame for our lack of leadership within church structures. We break the fifth commandment whenever we complain about the elderly. We have a passion to do meaningful tasks, but too often we are willing to sacrifice those who have gone before so we can go on ahead.
Impatience and entitlement issues hallmark my generation. But aren’t we entitled to lead eventually?
Yes. But you cannot lead something you are not a part of.
Our hyper-ambition and mobility make us unstable as leaders. As soon as we arrive in one position we leave after a year or two — and guess which generation is left with picking up the mantle they tried to hand to us? We start things we don’t finish, and our parents and grandparents have to come clean up our mess as if we were still children.
While we cannot contribute as much as our financially stable elders, we do need to demonstrate that we are invested in this community. Like electing a president who doesn’t pay taxes, like adult children who live at home and refuse to help with expenses. You want to lead? Then you need to invest.
This means making a commitment longer than one or two years and contributing financially to show that you have invested in the health of the community — not just your resume. Listen, connect and find ways to bring the retired leadership with you on the journey God has called you to take.
May our efforts result in the fulfillment of the fifth commandment’s promise of our “days being long in the land” God will give us.
1. Thom S. Rainer and Jess Rainer. The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation (Nashville: B&H Books, 2011).