One of my great passions is to see all generations in the church valued and appreciated. Most of us would say we do this and some churches do indeed do it wonderfully. However, this only really happens with great intentionality because our natural tendency as pastors is to gear our ministry toward those we we know best - our own generation. And when we do that, we often miss those who went before us and those who will come after us.
It is interesting to me that we are told in the Scriptures to honor the elderly. Growing up in Hong Kong I saw how much the Asian culture does this and even now with my grey hair I receive honor when in Asia. Often, however, in our pragmatic culture we do just the opposite by marginalizing those older than us. Their time has been and we need the younger generation. The second statement is indeed true but the first is not. Our time has not been until we see Jesus.
Here are some ways the church dishonors the generations above us. First, when we don't see their opinions as equally valid as we do those of our generation. Actually there is a great deal of wisdom that comes with age and even though our perspectives may differ between generations, all perspectives are needed in the church. My experience in working with hundreds of churches is that pastors listen to their seniors but do not really hear them. And, many don't truly honor them except in their public persona. In other words, it is often disingenuous.
Second, when we take away worship options that are meaningful to a prior generation. I think it is the height of insensitivity not to accommodate worship styles of those who have gone before us. This is not an argument about music but about how different people connect with God in worship, or don't. When we take something that is precious and could have found a way to accommodate, we have made a statement that we don't really care. This is especially true when our congregation has multiple services and can therefore offer options.
Before our mission candidates can go overseas they must take courses in cross cultural ministry. I often think that pastors ought to take a course in cross generational ministry because ministering to my generation is not the same as the generations before me or after me. It takes wisdom, sensitivity, humility and a very open mind to understand and minister to generations that are not my own. Why do I assume that my paradigm is the right one for other generations in the church?
Often, when we disempower a generation by removing worship that they appreciate, we position this as a matter of what we must do to reach the next generation and label alternate opinions as sin or gossip or not getting it. What if the issues are in fact real? What if it truly does matter? We should not spiritualize decisions that we are making out of our own preferences especially when we can give people options. I wish pastors understood what it feels like to be disenfranchised and marginalized. One day they may and I hope will remember decisions they made in the past that did just that.
A third area is that of ministry. Personally I don't relish being put into some seniors group that meets for coffee and trips to Branson Missouri. I want to be active in ministry, mentoring the younger generations, caring for those with needs, and simply using my gifts as I have all along. But we must work hard to find meaningful ways to engage older generations as we do younger.
I think it comes down to a deep sensitivity that we need one another, that we cannot marginalize anyone and that means that we need to listen, dialogue with and work hard to be inclusive rather than exclusive. We need to seek to understand the values, concerns and perspectives of generations different from our own and do all that we can to honor them. My generation is no more special than those that come after me or go before me. It is simply the generation I understand the best.
Think about these questions. What does it mean to honor generations different than mine? What does it mean to understand their concerns? What does it mean to care as much for them as I do for others? What would it mean for me to care for other generations as much as I do my own. If we get the answers to those questions right we will move toward true generational inclusiveness.
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