Generational issues always seem to cause tension. Paul alludes to such tension when he told Timothy and Titus to respect those who are older. The Apostle also told Timothy not to permit others to “disrespect” his youth. I don’t remember exactly who it was, but I seem to remember it was Clement of Alexandria who counseled the young lions of that day to respect those who were older.
It is no different today. There is growing tension between generational groups in the church. The “music wars” are symptomatic of the tension but it can be observed in many other ways as well. In fact, the “music wars” serve as the tip of the ice berg.
One example of the tension in addition to the “music wars” is the chronological snobbery of the younger generations. In some growing congregations it is a given that no one over 40 will speak from the pulpit/platform. Since the church’s “target group” is the younger generation (Boomers mostly), it is assumed that an older fellow won’t communicate in a way that meets the needs of the younger generation. In addition, the preaching style the older preacher brings might well to too linear for the postmodern crowd. A young man in the Canton Church summed it up beautifully. In a conversation with me about the possibility of an older teacher leading a young marrieds’ class, he said, “What could possibly have to say to us?”
A similar example is the hiring practices of most intergenerational churches these days. Go to www.christianchurchtoday.com and take a gander at the posted ads for ministerial candidates. Most churches seek a younger man and make no bones about it. Frankly, I’m waiting for the day when a candidate is rejected because of age and a church is taken to court for age discrimination. I know of churches that fired their preacher because he was “too old” or “they felt they needed a younger man in the pulpit.” George Barna, in his book Turn Around Churches, advises plateaued or stagnant churches to hire a younger minister. With few exceptions, one being Ben Merold, older fellows are rejected out of hand.
Congregations make assumptions based on age. It is assumed that an older preacher is of “the old school” or “thinks old.” That is not necessarily the case! There are older men who understand the generational differences, the postmodern scene, and the importance of creating relationships. At the same time, there are younger men who think old and who are unable to adjust themselves to the culture around them.
Many in the “older” generation have tremendous experience with and understand church growth principles. Furthermore, they possess a mature understanding of church interaction, relationships, and administrative details. Having seen the mistakes of the past they have much to offer those who need to avoid the mistakes of the future. There is wisdom in gray hair that is rare in younger leadership. Congregations deny themselves access to fantastic resources when they assume older leaders have nothing to offer.
On the other side of the coin, older leaders need input from younger generations. Mature leaders need to develop relationships with younger men and disciple them. If those of us with gray hair do not take the time “wade through” the loud music, clothing styles, and sometimes goofy attitude, you can expect them to reject you. Every generation needs to go “cross cultural” and recognize what the other can contribute. God makes us different on purpose. Whether we talk about individuals, a nation, or a generation, God has his reasons for the uniqueness of each. We must learn not to compromise our convictions, dumb down our beliefs, but accept each other in spite of our differences. It is only when we can learn from each other, respect each other, and work together that we will really make a difference.