As a pastor to young people, I live in two worlds. These worlds exist next to each other in the church much like two parallel universes. Amazingly, they at times occupy the same space while remaining completely independent. I stand, almost like a bridge, in between them, doing my best to pull them together. These two worlds are the younger generation and the older generation(s).
It is because of this tension that youth and young adult pastors have become competent in relating to all generations; a skill which has become unfortunately rare in the church. Typically, we are fluid in both languages, able to speak to the values and/or expectations of multiple generations. This dynamic creates a situation in the church where youth pastors are uniquely qualified to stand in the generational gap and attempt, even in unsuccessfully, to bring the two together.
When we use the phrase “generational gap”, we must keep in mind that we might as well say “cultural gap”. Cross-generational competency is essentially cross-cultural competency. The problem isn’t that we’ve created a system where youth pastors are doing this cross-generational/cross-cultural work. The problem is that we’ve created a system where only one (or a limited few) are able to it. We have corporately designed, funded and maintained a system of segregation in the western church which in the long term has isolated us from one another. Thus while the youth pastor is being forced into this skill set, most of the time without their knowledge, the rest of the congregation is being sheltered. Consequently, Busters, Boomers and even many Xers are lacking the ability to relate to young people on even the most basic level; let alone in discipling relationships.
Unfortunately, many churches probably find themselves suffering from fear, if not outright laziness in this regard. Generally speaking, we are unable to relate, though in many cases we are simply unwilling to put in the required effort. Other times, we seek to relate only on the unbending terms of one generation; usually the older, which controls all of the church’s power and money.
If the majority of people in our churches are ever to achieve cross generational competency, we will have to at some point learn how to understand each other. Though it is not unusual for youth pastors to see their ministry as a mission field, and themselves consequently as missionaries, it is unlikely that the majority of our communities are using this same lens. When it comes to gaining cross-cultural competencies, it hopefully comes as no surprise that we have more to learn from missionaries that we do from pastors. Of course this assumes that either the general congregant either understands what this entails, or that we as leaders will take the time to instruct them. Either way, the “missionary” language could possibly lead to fruitful discussions where both generations take at least as much time to listen as they do to speak.