Pastor to Pastor: 9 Thoughts to Navigate Ministerial Generational Differences

In 2005, I took a team of young people to England to minister to the community of Peterborough. It was an amazing week of ministry. And on our “free day,” we spent 24 hours in London. Honestly, 1 day, is in no way, enough time for such a historic city.

In the subway, there is an announcement that has become quite famous. The warning is to “Please Mind the Gap.” At the time, my students were wondering if  there was an issue with “falling into the gap” (as if someone could fit in between the train and the1200px-mindthegapvictoria platform). Obviously, London was concerned about watching your step getting on and off the metro. The warning was less about a fall as it was about a stumble. Because to stumble, in a place like that, can lead to personal injury and a crowd-flow catastrophe.

My heart of this blog to ministers is that of the warning of the London metro: Please mind the gap, or more specifically, please careful attention to the generational differences. This should be a place of sharpening instead of a chasm of division.

At 41, I recognize that I’m at a “different” age. I am neither old nor young. I used to refer to 40 as the “Purgatory of Ages” as I felt it was the holding cell right before launch into my next season of life and ministry. But honestly, I never realized how much I would enjoy being in my 40’s. And over the past couple years, I find my self in a peculiar generational gap that afforded me some perspective I didn’t expect.

To younger ministers, I’m a 20-year veteran. To older pastors, I’ve just barely started (or so I’m constantly reminded SMH). So the view of my ministry vintage is all about perception. For example, two months ago, I met a 70-year-old retired minister (whom I thoroughly enjoyed talking to) who changed his tone halfway through the night. I wasn’t sure why his demeanor shifted till one of his family members informed me that he just realized that I’m not currently IN bible college but graduated back in 1997. No offense; I kind of enjoy those moments.

Being in this “bridge age” has made me a bit of a lightning rod for fellow ministers. Younger pastors contact me to ask about older generations and older pastors ask me to “explain” the actions of younger pastors. Honestly, I don’t have all the answers (I wish I did…thank the Lord for the pastors I can call). But not being in either category, and being at the tail-end of Gen X, affords me (I think) a very cool opportunity. It has given me an amazing chance to watch and observe, to learn and to grow, and to be stretched as well as to reinforce.

What troubles me is when we (ministers) lose sight of the Kingdom over the issue of age. I am all about studying the generations. There is immense value in learning about each other and from each other. But I tire of the blogs and articles that look to place blame on one generation or another instead of working to build bridges between them.  I watch pastors taking sides with peers above embracing the Kingdom. We make much of generations instead of making much of Jesus.  Age, or the lack thereof, doesn’t disqualify you from being an effective ministry leader; but pride can and does.

Friends, fellow pastors and ministers, Millennials/Xers/Boomers are not the problem with the church today. Oh, I’ve read your Facebook statuses and Twitter rants. I’ve perused your generational finger-pointing-blog. As powerful and authoritative as you may sound, but your pastoral attack on ministers of a different generation make you sound foolish and angry. You are painting a picture to the world that the Church has no hope for unity because, those that lead it, are fighting amongst themselves because they refuse to make the efforts needed to understand each other.

In the immortal words of James, “My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

I’m am in not way claiming perfection in this!! But it seems to me that the generational underlying issues are less about the resume of your expereinces but more the weight of your preferences. And I find that preferences skew perspectives. We point fingers instead of reaching out our hands. We criticize because it’s easier than sitting with coffee to have a discussion. We make much about what we are comfortable with instead of being open to what the Holy Spirit may (or may not) want to change.

To repeat my friend James, “My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

“Where there is unity, God commands his blessing.” Psalm 133 (paraphrased)

It’s time to “mind the gap.” So today, as I sit here drinking my Costa Rican coffee, I thought I’d share some thoughts from my “bridge-age” perspective.

Filled vessels, fill others. As much as I believe being “hangry” is a real thing (angry because you are hungry), I believe there are ministers who are constantly critical, and seemingly angry, of other generations.  You will not have the capacity to learn or give value if you are not spending personal time in the presence of God being filled by Him. I’ve seen too many pastors who respond out of the emptiness of their own spirit than out of compassion, strength, and identity drawn from the Holy Spirit.

I’ve been there; I’ve been “that guy.” And because I’m human with a sin-nature, I have the capacity to be “that” guy that facilitates infection instead of being a part of the healing. Fill yourself and be a resource of refreshing.

Listen before you comment. Listening is not waiting for your turn to talk. Show value to others by listening to what they have to say.  I have inadvertently devalued another minister’s experiences by “topping” theirs or by feeling I need to say something. “That’s what you dealing with? I dealt with something…” There are times others just need to talk stuff through and don’t need you to share anything. In the immortal words of Anne Barringer, “Why can’t people just shut up and be listeners” (advice I head every time I want to interrupt someone).

Refuse generational stereotypes. I find it humorous that, when it comes to your own generation, you don’t see everyone as the same. But another generation, we lump them together. Don’t paint every age-group the same. Connect with others in order to know the individual rather than make the judgement call on their “generational stereotype.” Toss out all-encompassing statements like “You younger/older pastors all act like…say…do…think.” Toss out the label and engage with one another in authentic relationship.

A $3 investment will create a priceless opportunity. Take another minister of a different generation out and pay for their coffee. Instead of questions about the “success” of their ministry, have a more personal approach. Ask questions about their calling into ministry. Encourage them. Ask him/her about their family. Pray over them.

When you leave, journal some thoughts. Bring it all to your prayer closet. Ask God to bless them and change you. And when the Holy Spirit brings them to mind, send them a message to let them know about it.

NOTE: Take it to another level, take out someone of a different DENOMINATION to learn from them. This has been a huge learning experience for me over the past 10 years and it has enriched me. Last week, I had a few hours with a Greek Orthodox Priest and walked away with so much more understand than I expected.

Apologize. Keep your heart in check. And as you discover where you’ve faulted, be willing to admit it. Be the first to ask others for forgiveness and be just as quick to grant it. My guess is, unless you’re a robot, being human means seeking forgiveness from mistakes will probably happen a few times in your life. Repenting to God for a misunderstanding is easy when you are alone, but meeting with someone to confess bitterness and misunderstanding takes humility. And if you’re looking for maturity, humility is the place where growth begins.

Growth isn’t optional. In bible college, it seemed that “destinations” were celebrated and sought after. To get to a position, to write a book, to accomplish credentials, or to grow church to a certain size was “success.” But the longer I’m in ministry, the more I am reminded of how much MORE growth I need. And to be focused upon a “destination” means I can “arrive” as opposed to seeing the journey I’m on, recognizing how much I need the Lord with me, and that I need to grow into continue on it. If I refuse to allow God to stretch me and grow me, then how can I expect that of the people I lead?

Look at the motives before you judge the actions. Assumption is cancerous to a mind and us ministers are good at it. But I know what you’re thinking, “How am I supposes to know someone’s motives?” It easier than you think. This is where you need to go back a few thoughts and take someone out for that coffee (make sure it’s good coffee).  The enemy works in isolation and God works in community. And a few moments with coffee can clarify so many assumptive thoughts. Why? When we discover the motives of someone’s heart, it will disarm the manipulation of the imagination.

Find a mentor and a reverse-mentor. Mentoring is valuable from 2 perspectives. First, purposely connect and build relationships with a mentor (someone with more experience and different insight). You need that Paul speaking into Timothy experience. I’d recommend a couple of them that you can lean on who’ve been on the journey before.  I love being a sponge just sitting and soaking in the rich experience and wisdom of my mentors.

Secondly, deliberately make the initiative to get reverse-mentors (someone with less experience but different insight). I literally love to talk with college students and pastors fresh into ministry. Their passion and perspective is both refreshing and challenging. It reminds me of that drive that propelled me into my passion for ministry as well as hear of the innovative approaches and takes on issues and ministry.

Be a mentor and a reverse-mentor. IF you are approached, be open to the Holy Spirit leading you to pour into someone. And I would invite you to do it without expectation of compensation. Let the Kingdom be the primary beneficiary.  I’m not saying you need to stop them from blessing you (as I enjoy blessing mentors), but don’t let what you get dictate what you give. Freely you received, freely give.

We are better together. We are part of a greater Kingdom. And if we’ll work together, be humble about what God has entrusted to us, we can learn from each other.

I love you all. I’m praying for you. And I believe the best has yet to come for you and the ministry God has you in.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

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BTW: If you want to purchase my new book, “Mosaic Marriage”, click on the link below. mm-center-screen-3

 

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