My friend, who is of a more mature generation, recently reminded me of the adjustments he has to make in dealing with people of younger generations. He has to me exemplified an older, Godly man who is committed to raising up the next generation of Christian leaders in our church…despite the obstacles! He and I jokingly talked about how strange young people can seem to him and how he has to do a lot of extra work to navigate those relationships and interpret their conversations.
The differences between generations are clear to most of us. Terms like “old” and ”young” are no longer just descriptions of age, but can now also be indicators of culture. Thus cultural differences can create problems when developing young adult leaders in the church. If culture shapes our values, norms, language (or is at least shaped by our language), expectations and more, then having two people of different cultures leading next to each other will inevitably lead to some issues.
The good news is that these barriers are not impossible to overcome….Just ask any missionary that you know! Some might be more difficult than others, but all can be dealt with.
In my opinion, the first step is to acknowledge that the culture gap exists. You have probably already done this, and hopefully your church has to. But it may be your job, as I know it has often been mine, to help people see this for the first time. Church leaders, parents, volunteers, and the younger generation need to see this so that they can take any next steps.
As a related matter, the next step is to remind our churches and communities about the gap. People forget things easily and we have to admit that may not always be easy to recognize the differences and/or the sources of these differences. We must continue to remind our churches so that our problems of developing young leaders remains contextualized as a cross-cultural endeavor.
We must however, also facilitate the connections of these generations. To be honest, this is one of the pieces of my job that I dislike. It seems to me that people should just live as the body of Christ, but I realize that I must also help them do this. Create opportunities for people of different generations to lead together and help them debrief as they do. I think we will find a growing momentum of leadership development when we do so in the context of intergenerational relationships.
Lastly: Laugh. At the beginning and end of this whole thing, we need to all sit back and experience some joy around this stuff. There are things about all generations that can provide a laugh and there is plenty to laugh at when we try to relate to one another. One of the best things we ever did was have older leaders and young adults talk honestly about the differences of their generations. People had a lot of fun and grew in their understanding of each other.