“That’s so heavy.”
“That’s on fleek.”
“My darling sweetie…”
“You catch my drift?”
“You really get me.”
The generations are very different from each other. We think differently, we dress differently (hopefully), we relax differently – we even talk differently, as demonstrated above.
Sometimes it’s like we’re speaking different languages.
But don’t let that discourage you! There are a lot of differences – and that’s okay! Because the beauty of the church is that we’re a bunch of different people all united by Christ. It doesn’t bring God any glory if we’re all the same. Any manufacturer can build a bunch of robots who all get along and move in sync, with no differences at all.
But when the world looks at the church and sees such crazy differences among its members – older people and younger people, millennials and boomers – and yet still sees unity, that brings God glory. Because only God could do that.
How do we achieve that unity between generations in our church? I think the best way is simply to have intergenerational conversations. Yes, we could achieve some level of “unity” if we just ignore each other – if millennials only hang out with millennials at church, and Xers only with Xers. But that isn’t real unity – that’s building a clique, not a church.
No, the way to achieve true unity is to have honest, open, intergenerational conversations. For a seventy-something to take a twenty-something out for coffee. For a young married man to talk to a father of teens about life’s many problems. For a single to hang out with a middle-aged man and share life together.
Here are some tips for those conversations, with some help from my Gen X father.
- Be on time to whatever meeting you set up with an older person. This communicates respect.
- Offer to pay if you’re having a conversation at a restaurant or coffee shop – another sign of respect.
- Be extremely grateful. In a society where thank-you-notes can be sent at any moment by text, there’s no excuse.
Older people (sorry, I can’t come up with a better name!):
- Specify what you want the millennial to call you. Nothing is more awkward than trying to figure out whether to call someone “Mr. Smith” or “Joe.” Be up front with them. I’d suggest just telling them to address you by your first name.
- Step out of your past and your culture. Don’t be stuck in your ways. Be willing to abandon any view that is traditional but not biblical.
- Listen – don’t preach. Don’t come in with both guns blazing. Gently guide them away from sin and toward the Savior. The best way to build respect with them is to simply listen to their story. My Dad says, “Mankind’s greatest need (after salvation) is to be listened to. It reaches to the deepest part of their being. More respect is earned by listening than speaking.”
- Ask questions. Dad says, “People always like to talk about themselves more than anything else. If you look at Christ’s life, He had the ability to ask the right question without accusing somebody of something. Asking clarifying questions – not yes-no questions – is the best way to get people to open up.”
- Don’t rush to judgment. Always tell yourself: “Everyone has a story.” We millennials tend to rush to judge all old people as hypocritical and legalistic. Older people tend to rush to judge millennials as unwise and rebellious. Both may be true – but not for everyone! Seek to get to know the person at a deep level.
- Be persistent. “Life’s busy. Having time to reach out to one another should be a priority. Sometimes being persistent means saying no to a bigger ministry in front of people so you can have time for a smaller ministry with one person at a coffee shop.”
“I used to think of millennials as just kids that have a lot to learn. Yet now, by spending time with them, I’ve realized that I’m the one who has a lot to learn. And yet I have experiences and life lessons that can help them on their path to be the greatest generation to reach this world for Christ.”
And that all starts with simple, honest conversations. That’s not my opinion. Or my Dad’s. It’s the Bible’s.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” -Heb. 10:24-25
How are you going to “stir up” someone outside your generation this week? How are you going to encourage a millennial or meet together with a boomer?
The unity of the church depends on it.