Why the Older Generation Needs the Younger Generation

December  2009

My day job affords me continual opportunities to meet new people on a daily basis.  There was one job we had though that I would like to share with everyone.  I think it lends some insight into the topic at hand…so bear with me as I lay it all out.  We were called out to a business here in Cleveland.  They had some flooding and we were heading over to get them all dried up.  I couldn’t believe the condition of the building.  The water wasn’t that bad, but the rest of it looked like a bomb went off. When I talked to the Office Manager she was great: very helpful, on her toes, it was pretty obvious when the boss was out, she was running the show.  She seemed young, on top of things, driven…but she also seemed kind of beaten down.  As we talked to different employees I continued to get the same sense…they really seemed like good people who just kind of hated their job.  It was a very strange environment to be in…it was actually pretty stressful.  So we got to work…moving stuff around and setting up our equipment.  Next thing I know the owner comes in…and during my conversation with him, which was much less than courteous and smooth, I finally understood why things in this workplace were the way they are.  It was him!  Here was an older man, and I’m talking high 70’s early 80’s, who had obviously spent his entire life building this business.  It was successful and continued to do OK…but here’s the rub:  he was unable to pass on to those under him the responsibilities and freedom to make some very necessary and evident changes.  He wanted to run the show…and as the owner, he did.  He wanted to kick us out of there and was less than pleasant about the whole thing.  After he talked to his office manager his tone changed a little and we were able to get the place all dried up for them.  But I remember driving away and saying to the guy I was working with…this place is in trouble.  That guy is going to run this business into the ground.  He has very capable and driven people all around him, and he is not letting go…and they are all beaten down.  It was like everyone was on a sinking ship and everyone saw it except the captain who was still pushing on to certain doom.  I wanted to share this story because it is a perfect example of someone who was unable to embrace the generation behind him, to take advantage of their strengths, and allow others to continue growing the business.  Because of it he was going to lose many of them and destroy his business.

Unfortunately I think we see this in some churches today…the older generation is just not willing to pass all that God has given them on to the generation behind them.  For whatever reason: the young people are irresponsible, they are crazy, they have no respect, fear that it will be mishandled, etc.  So, they do what they do until they all go to meet the Lord and then the church ceases to exist.  I’m incredibly thankful for the approach the ARC has taken in making sure this is not the case for us, and I’m glad we are all praying and seeking the face of our Lord to see how He wants us to do this…what it looks like.  It seems that part of that transition is taking a look at why the older generation needs the younger.  So after a lot of prayer and just rolling over this question in my head, I’ve come up with a few things that I hope help all of us to continue moving forward in what God is calling us to as a group of not only many churches, but many generations.

Before we dig into this topic, I want to share a little bit about the perspective I have.  See, I find myself in a bit of a unique spot, as I’m sure many my age does.  I feel often very much part of the younger generation, that is until one of the teens needs to talk…and then it is quite obvious I’m the older.  So I have been granted both perspectives to this topic and that makes it very confusing at times, but it also seems to bring a clearer picture of how to work multi-generationally (is that a word?)  So I will do all I can to appropriately distinguish when I’m talking about Mark the younger or Mark the older.

One thing that a younger generation will do for an older generation is challenge them…and this is a good thing!  I know that there are many times where I have a tough time relating to the younger generation.  I don’t understand what makes them tick, what makes them laugh, what really sparks passion in their lives…but I see all of those things in them.  There are times when I wonder if they will ever grow up?  Will they ever get past these immature passions and ideas?  And in this wondering God has shown me that all of these things that I don’t understand, that I don’t “get” are indeed a part of how they serve our Lord Jesus.  They have hearts eager to serve the Lord, hearts that love the Lord, and a desire to see lives changed.  There is nothing wrong with this…it is all good, and yet I have a tough time understanding it.  I have to imagine those who are older feel very much the same way about me…maybe they don’t get what makes me tick…and yet I know I want nothing more than to serve the Lord with all that I am and see the world changed for Him.  So in this, we are challenged by the younger generation…especially to be on our toes.  I don’t know if there is a time I pray more than in preparation for talking to young people.  Time and time again I have been stymied by the questions and the perspective they bring to whatever they are dealing with, and I need to be prayed up.  I need to be in tuned with the Spirit, in the Word, ready to roll, on the edge…ready for anything.  Boy…isn’t that where I should be all the time?  See, when I know there’s the potential for something out of left field, I’m ready…this challenge is good.  This youthful energy and excitement can at times be misplaced, but that’s when I need to be in tuned with the grace of God…and be sure not to turn the children away.

To see that God works differently in different generations…and in order for the truths and wisdoms we have gained through our lives as the older generation to be passed on…we need the younger.  We need to share with them, live with them, allow them to see what God has done and is doing for us so that they can translate to the lost.  We, the younger, have the ears of many who will not listen to the older generation.  The truth of Christ is so much more real to those when they hear it from their own generation…and we need to be OK with this…the older needs to be Ok with the idea that the younger plays a huge role in reaching the lost for Christ!!  We need them…you need us!  There is a lot of need in the world…some from the older generation, and some from the younger.  But, often times it seems that the older generation has a tough time translating the wisdom and life that God has put into them into a language that the younger generation understands…we as younger church leaders can help.  I think James Ferguson hit the nail on the head in helping translate a need from the younger for honesty.  OK, now that the older realize there is a need for brutal honesty, I’m sure many think…that’s it?  I just have to admit how crappy I am without Jesus?  Cool…no problem.  But without that translation, without that insight the older may have just continued with what they thought was needed and never met some of the actual need.

It seems that it has always been God’s ordained plan for a younger to follow an older, and for the “mantle” to be passed.  From Moses and Joshua, to Elijah and Elisha, to Paul and Timothy…God has always provided someone to take the baton, to continue in what the older was doing.  But it always required the older to let go…and for the younger to be there…not always feeling ready, but there.  The older needs someone to pass the mantle to.  I know that seems elementary, but I think it’s important.  If the younger is constantly seen as ones who need taught, who need to grow, who need challenged; they may not be seen as the ones to take the baton.  It’s a perspective thing.  When I was a manager, I was constantly looking for that next guy, the one that had what it was going to take to take my place.  See, if there isn’t anyone to take my place, to do what I’m doing then I’m stuck there.  If I want to continue improving myself, I need to train others to take my current spot.  I know the analogy breaks apart a little, but as the older we, and you, need to be looking to what God is calling you to next.  And you need us to be there to take your spot.  For some, it will be moving on to less responsibility, more time for other things, for others it will be more work of a different sort.  Either way, the younger generation needs to be there so the baton can be passed.

You need our perspective…if I may be so bold.  At one point a couple years back I found myself teaching our adult Sunday school class.  We were going through a theology book and I took a look at my audience.  There was one young person…young being younger than me.  There were 2 or 3 people my age…but the majority of the class I would put in the Older bracket.  So, we finished and I was feeling a little useless.  Here I am…probably 30 at the time, teaching a bunch of seasoned veteran Christians a topic that they have probably been taught for the last 20 years.  And my heart was, “What’s the point?  They should be teaching me!!!”  So one of the guys in the class thanked me for teaching and was letting me know how he appreciated this or that.  As we talked I kind of let him know how I was feeling…and he said something to me that I keep very dear to my heart, and share with those who are younger than me.  He said that yeah, he had heard this topic before, but never from me.  He needs to hear it from me and likes to hear it from me.  And that really struck a chord deep inside of me.  We, the younger, have a perspective that the older generation needs to hear.  Not because it’s theologically earth shattering…but God shows us different things.  And since we are part of a different generation, God equips us and shows us things appropriate for our ministry that can help the older.

There are times when the younger is able to go where the older could not.  We see this pressed out in Joshua and Elisha…and according to God’s plan.  You have to feel for Moses and Elijah in these situations.  Here both of them do so much of the leg work in regards to obedience to God and putting up with a bunch of garbage.  And yet, Moses is not allowed to enter the Promised Land, and Elijah isn’t the one leading the final victory against the prophets of Baal.  It seems to me that there are times when God is calling the younger generation to do things that the older generation has been working towards for so long…which is interesting.  It seems that there may be times where the goal seems so close…revival is right around the corner…the Promised Land is right there, and God says, “Time to pass it on.”  In order for that mission to be completed, for God’s plan to be achieved, he needs this passing to take place.  It is through this that both the younger…who may not always feel ready, and the older…who also may not be ready to let go, are reminded that God is in control.  This is his will, this is his plan and when generationally  we are humbly obedient to what He is calling us to do, we have the privilege of joining Him in completing His work.

And lastly (I know…it’s about time right!) the older needs to be encouraged by the younger.  I have the privilege of having a large portion of what used to be my youth group as part of my home group now.  One of whom is our current youth leader.  I don’t know if there is anything more life giving than seeing those who I personally have passed the baton to going places I never went.  Doing things I never did…seeing them minister is as good as it gets.  Seeing them seeking the face of God and walking out lives eager to honor Him is awesome.  When we are faithful to pass the baton, we are able to see the way God is faithful and truly blesses our obedience.  We need to be encouraged by the younger generation.

I want to add that we need never forget that we have an enemy who is daily trying to destroy all of the good that comes from us working out this generation thing.  I think his biggest tool is pride.  When we, the older and the younger, allow pride to sneak in, it very quickly can bring all of this to a halt.  It causes us to see the other generations as less than they really are, and we need to be constantly fighting against this enemy, and engaging him to make sure that what God is doing is seen clearly by all and not muddied.  We serve a great God and I cannot wait to see what He does in the ARC as we continue to faithfully work this out.

God Bless,

Mark Widener