We talk a lot of about loving our neighbors and about how to treat the lost. Recently I have talked a great deal about objectifying people by placing them in categories by their religion, political party, sexual orientation, etc., and then reducing them to a set of bullet points we can attack. When we are filled with compassion it means we, at the gut level, feel their personal hurts and pains and empathize with the reasons why they think or feel like they do. Instead of judging them we can love them into a relationship with Christ. Without love we can never lead them to Christ from an objective position.
With that in mind, I want to talk to you about intergenerational relationships…
There is a lot of marketing being done by targeting age groups. It began with the Baby Boomers (those born between 1945-1965) and the GenX/Baby Busters (1966-1986). Finally they identified Generation Y/Millennials (1987-2007), and on it goes. As each group is identified and marketed towards, the characteristics of each generation are used to make sweeping conclusions about each generation that are often unfair.
For instance, critics of Baby Boomers say they are greedy, self-centered, and materialistic. Critics of GenX say they are deconstructionist, nihilist, and don’t play by the rules. Then critics of the Millennials think they need trophies for everything and melt at the slightest hardship. However, I can say I know lots of generous, selfless Boomers. I know GenX who are “by the book” and find meaning in everything. I know Millennials who live sacrificial lives on the mission field completely free of accolades. Assumptions about people based on age are not entirely unfounded, but when we use that information to dismiss, belittle, or judge whole groups of people then we have violated the Spirit of Christ.
These intergenerational struggles have been around since the beginning when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, when Cain killed Abel and their parents gave birth to Seth. It's normal, but normal is messed-up and sinful. Being normal does not make something ok. In 1 Timothy 5 we read: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” The church is called to view each generation as a gift to the body. Every generation has strengths (and, yes, weaknesses), and we need to glean from every generation what they know, what they do best, and value them for it.
Listen, the next generation does not lack information because they have the Internet, but what they need is sage wisdom in what to do with that information. The older generation may not know as much about the Internet, but they know how to do things you are trying to learn from a YOUTUBE video. They have life skills that once were common and now are virtually unknown. More than that, discussion about what is happening in the world right now, seeing it through the eyes of more than one generation, gives us perspective. I love when I get to talk with and listen to people from different perspectives because they help me develop a bigger picture.
In the church, we need the youth to engage and be the church today, not the church of the future. That will be too late. We must reach the young without dismissing everyone else.
We need the life skills and resources of other generations. We need parents and grandparents; we need to remember every “new thing” is not really that new. In fact, it has often been done before, and we can learn from the past as well as the present. We need the patience of those who know “it” will still be here tomorrow, and we need the exuberance of youth who push us ahead because it seems like we will never get there otherwise.
Intergenerational ministry is as important as intercultural and interracial ministries. We are called to reach every ethnicity, every culture, and every age group with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s never ok to make it all about this group or that group or to value one group over the other. No matter how you justify that position, in the end, it violates the spirit of the gospel and the Kingdom.