Young people can tell whether an older person truly likes them or not. They know instinctively whether they are included as “part of the family” or rather someone who is an outsider or stranger. Some church leaders who fear change have felt threatened by youth whom they suspect want to “take their position” in leadership. Future young leaders often hear older leaders in the Church saying, “Sit here under my authority—and wait!” True spiritual fathers and mothers, on the other hand, make space for their spiritual sons and daughters, encouraging them to take leadership responsibilities and empowering them to succeed. True intergenerational leadership development in the Church must go deeper than merely the training and development of replacements—it must include affectionate, emotional bonding that comes with the idea of being a spiritual intergenerational family.
God can heal intergenerational wounds and bring down intergenerational walls in the church if a new generation of youth can be loved, taught, and empowered to follow Jesus by loving, older spiritual parents. In the New Testament, we see the Apostle Paul spiritually adopting and parenting young Timothy and young Onesimus, helping them become leaders and countercultural forces in the first century. The church needs more fathers and mothers in Christ who will spiritually adopt the young people in their local congregations, helping them become empowered leaders for the church of the twenty-first century. If you stop and listen, you will hear the youth of today crying out for spiritual parents. Solving intergenerational issues and building strong intergenerational relationships may be one of the most important tasks the Church faces today.
Younger and older generations in the Church probably have many good ideas for intergenerational interaction, but what seems to be lacking is intent that leads to action. Both generations are intimidated by the other, each waiting for the other to take the first step. With multiple generational cultures existing in local churches, walls of separation arise easily, whether intentionally or through neglect. Bridging generational cultures will take cross-cultural skills, such as observation, asking questions, listening, language-learning, and culture-learning. Cross-generational “missionaries” will need to remember that words and actions are defined as respectful and loving according to the perception of the receiving generation. Older and younger generations must make every effort to bring down the intergenerational walls that have been erected in the Church, without regard to who takes the first step—perhaps even both at the same time!
REFLECTIONS: Do you honestly like young people or do you need to ask the Lord to help you make an attitude adjustment? Have you ever considered playing the role of a spiritual father or mother to a young person who needs one in your church? Ask God to give you the courage to step out of your comfort zone to begin building relationships with young people in your church. Name three young people in your church for whom you will begin to pray daily.
One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts