Our society tends to segregate individuals by age. Schools allow students to enter a grade based on their birth date; senior centers allow individuals to participate in activities when they reach a certain age; even in the workplace, where many generations are represented, cafeterias and break rooms often demonstrate that we naturally congregate with those who are similar to us. Sports teams are organized by age, and we have age limits for numerous activities such as driving or attending certain movies. The church is no different. Often, families walk through the church doors and are dispersed according to their generational cohort. Special services exist for young adults with music they enjoy and teaching that speaks to them, Bible studies cater to moms or empty nesters, and of course children and youth ministries have age-appropriate activities. None of this is bad, until it inhibits us from fostering and benefiting from the richness of intergenerational relationships.
Currently, I am serving on a church committee with several amazing individuals. One of them is a couple of decades younger than me, another is a couple of decades older than me. As we planned for an upcoming church-wide program, it became evident that while we shared the same vision and heart for the event, some of our ideas for implementation varied significantly. After a couple of hours of lively discussion, we emerged with a plan that not only holds creativity and broad audience appeal, but is strategic and thoughtful in its implementation.
Observing the interactions on our committee, I was reminded of the value and necessity of inter-generational relationships. I also noticed some important dynamics in these relationships. First, young people need to be invited and empowered by those with more experience and maturity. Our committee specifically invited Anne, a high school student, to join us. We actively engaged her input, assigned her important tasks, and included her on strategic meetings with other leaders. She in turn provided incredible insight into her generation, suggested creative methods for advertising and engaging people, and responsibly executed her tasks while learning more about the complexities of coordinating a large-scale event. Though young and inexperienced, her presence added great value.
Another member of the committee has years of experience planning and executing programs, as well as insight into the church context. He provided stability and maturity to the planning process. He wisely slowed us down when our creativity acquired dangerous momentum, problem solved when we encountered obstacles, and connected with his network of long-time friends and colleagues to help facilitate unique aspects of preparation. Without his direction, our planning process would have entailed unnecessary turmoil and frustrations. Ultimately, however, this committee reminded me of the beautiful generational diversity in the Body of Christ, and the need for us to share our gifts, perspectives and talents with one another.
Intergenerational relationships, whether in the church, workplace, or family, require individuals who are willing to listen and learn. Differences in worldview, communication styles, values, and expectations can deter us from pursuing relationships with those younger or older than us. It becomes easy to stereotype or judge behaviors without understanding what is truly influencing the actions we observe. Consider today where you are fostering meaningful intergenerational relationships in your life. Psalm 119: 90 (NIV) says, “Your faithfulness continues through all generations.” God uses us to encourage and pass on the truths and principles of his faithfulness and goodness from generation to generation. We must actively and humbly engage in intergenerational relationships to do so.