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One thing that most excites me about the Spire Platform is it provides an opportunity for the younger and older leaders in our movement to connect and share 24/7, real time! No more waiting for an annual conference. The older can dip into the fresh ideas of the younger right now. The younger can soak in the wisdom of the older right now. And we can all be better together because of it.

This is so needed. I know firsthand. I’m Tyler. I’m a Millennial. I lead a church.

So, I have come to discover few things cause more squabbles, resentment, sanctimoniousness, and division in the American Church than the gap between generations, particularly Millennials vs. Boomers. Many churches focus on reaching Millennials at the expense of Boomers who built it. Many others allow Boomers to institutionalize tired methods at the expense of an increasingly apathetic generation of Millennials.

I recently experienced an extremely healthy senior leadership transition at the church I now lead with its Founding Pastor, Bob Cherry. He’s a Boomer. Through that process we discovered there is a way to bridge this gap, to harness its negative potential for momentum in the life of a church. But it all boils down to understanding and resisting the tension that naturally divides us. Surprisingly, what pulls us apart is a shared set of assumptions all generations believe together. No matter your age, we tend to believe three things:

1. Every generation recognizes it is different than others.

2. Every generation believes their brand of different is right.

3. Every generation believes every other generation’s brand of different is wrong.

Here is the problem, there is only one true statement above, and it is not #3 or #2. It is #1. Every generation is undeniably different, but we would be ignoring history and our call to humility if we would not admit every generation gets some things profoundly right and others profoundly wrong. Getting things wrong doesn’t make us bad, it makes us human.

Let me explain differently. Every generation falls prey to two generational myths as we grow older. When we are younger, we believe “The Myth of Progress.”

“We are finally taking the world somewhere! If we could just get these dinosaurs out the way we could finally move beyond our parents and grandparents! Because you guys had yearbooks, we have Facebook. You had encyclopedias, we got Google. You had snail-mail, we have e-mail. You did a lot of bad and wrong! We are here to make that bad good and that wrong right because we are the #Millennials, #LivingtheDream, #YOLO, #Everything.”

Now I love Millennials. I am one. But Millennials, if you think our generation is the climactic point of human history, you have bought the myth. And I can’t wait to see how you respond when you hear what your kids and grandkids say about you!

On the flipside, as we grow older we move out of “The Myth of Progress” and into “The Myth of the Good-Old-Days.”

“The Good-Old-Days when life was simple and people believed in God and hard work. Sure, you have Google, but we have patience. You have Facebook, but we have face-to-face conversations. You have iPhones, skinny jeans, and two college degrees, but we still pay your bills!”

You ever noticed how every older generation tends to shame the young? We deserve it sometimes, but sometimes we don’t. Sometimes our brand of different isn’t wrong, it’s just different. And sometimes different isn’t just different, it’s better. Let me cite some examples of how the older shame Millennials today:

“They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb the corporate step ladder. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial.” Said Time Magazine about Millennials Generation X in 1990! …Now wait! I thought Millennials were the only worst generation ever! Let’s try this again.

“The NOW Generation has become the ME Generation.” Said the New York Times about Millennials Boomers in 1976. …Now hold on! I thought Millennials were the ones taking this country to hell in a handbasket. Let’s give this one more go!

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today.” Said Hesiod in the 8th century BC.

Hmmm… Interesting. It’s almost as if the older generation has been shaming their young since the beginning of time! What’s my point? Every generation is different, but every generation thinks their different is right and every other generation’s different is wrong. And that is wrong.

If you are reading this and you are stuck in “The Myth of the Good-Old-Days,” I want to remind you it’s a myth. You made mistakes. There is a part of your past that needs repenting of. There are corrections being made today by our youth that deserve applause. The mission of the Church never changes but the methods must, and the young can be a catalyst in that. If you’re reading today and you are stuck in “The Myth of Progress,” hear me – New does not necessarily mean good! In fact, Jesus’ teachings are 2,000 years old but last time I checked they are still the best thing on the market.

Speaking of Jesus, you know who God calls us to be? Not Millennials, Boomers, or GenXers. He certainly does not call us to be divided. He calls us to be a family. You know how a healthy family treats one another? The young respect the old. They listen as if the older actually have wisdom to offer. And the old believe in the young. They encourage, equip, and empower them. They sacrifice everything for them because they recognize the young carry their legacy.

Let’s be a family, the family of God. What unites us spiritually is bigger than what divides us generationally. Let’s bridge the generational gap! That starts with the humility to admit, “We got some things right! …But so do they.” And the humility to admit, “They got some things wrong! …But so do we.”

 

ABout the Writer


Tyler McKenzie is the Lead pastor of Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

  1. Aaron McClary
    Aaron McClary on

    This is so good Tyler! I, too, am a millennial leader of a multigenerational church. With a 140-year history, creating and sustaining a healthy dynamic in our church between various generations/cultures/temperaments/etc. is a constant challenge…but it is vital and necessary for the health of our church and, on a broader scale, our movement.

  2. Jordan Kellicut
    Jordan Kellicut on

    Great article! Especially those quotes from the NYT, certainly made me chuckle. It reminds me to always be quick to listen and slow to speak, especially if the new idea evokes an emotional response. Anything that brings up a gut reaction needs to be double checked to make sure it isn’t a prejudice or preference. (Side note: the site needs some easy social media share buttons!)

  3. Brian Jennings
    Brian Jennings on

    Generational squabbles threaten the unity of the church – so this discussion matters to God. I’m glad lots of church leaders are talking about bridging ethnic & racial divides, but we should not forget this divide either. It requires constant attention, calling everyone to humbly serve “the other.”
    Thanks for writing this.

  4. Don Shelton
    Don Shelton on

    There are times when the church can be as divided by age as our nation is by race, etc. I see the church as a multi-generational community where each group learns from another. There are those who want separate services for every age group and I personally see that as counterproductive to the cause of unity within the church. I don’t know maybe I am just one of those dinosaurs they talk about.

  5. Mark Slabaugh
  6. Jim Barber
    Jim Barber on

    Great column and you really nailed in the second-to-last paragraph. I’m going to keep this in my memory bank for quite a while.

  7. Phyllis Bornemann
    Phyllis Bornemann on

    I love this paragraph…. it speaks volumes! Thank you Tyler.
    “He calls us to be a family. You know how a healthy family treats one another? The young respect the old. They listen as if the older actually have wisdom to offer. And the old believe in the young. They encourage, equip, and empower them. They sacrifice everything for them because they recognize the young carry their legacy.”

  8. Larry Marshall
    Larry Marshall on

    Good stuff. It’s important and helpful to recognize those differences while at the same time learning from one another. We need the wisdom of the older generations and the new ideas and energy of the younger. The stakes are too high to try to function without each other.

  9. Team Spire
  10. Tyler McKenzie
    Tyler McKenzie on

    Appreciate all the kind encouragement and feedback. I would be interested to know how you all manage this tension in your unique contexts.

    Obviously, that’s the part that takes guts… having the self-awareness and courage to practice brutal honesty to call out when we fall prey to the myth of progress or the myth of the good old days.

  11. Lyle Parker
  12. Aaron McClary
    Aaron McClary on

    I could write a book on the challenges/opportunities I have experienced in my multigenerational context, but (per Tyler’s solicitation) I’ll offer just one example of how I’ve worked to manage this tension in my leadership.

    Once a month I join our oldest Sunday School class, the Standard Bearers, for lunch on a Tuesday afternoon at The Corner Depot. They tell me it starts at 11:30am but if I show up then I’ll be the last one to get there. (And, more often than not, they will have already ordered their meals.) Each month we spend an hour or so together sharing conversation over a good meal. Without fail, Claron Boots asks me if I’ve ever tried their fried shrimp and generously offers me one of his. Ilene Kern inevitably chides me for failing to offer a proper altar call each week. We laugh, we tell stories, and we get to know each other on a level we can’t in passing on a Sunday morning.

    If I’ve learned anything in 35 years its that people are people. We all have our moments…good, bad, and ugly. The generation gap is only as wide as our unwillingness to bridge it with thoughtful conversation and humble appreciation.

    If you don’t have regular/intentional opportunities to break bread (or drink coffee) with members of a generation outside of your own, start there. Its made all the difference in my life and leadership.

  13. Greg Curtis
    Greg Curtis on

    I love the truth of this post. It makes me grateful for my church and my Lead Pastor (Gene Appel) who has led the way in listening, loving, understanding and giving real leadership to Millennials. Our church is a solid 4 generation church in Southern California as a result. I wouldn’t trade the relationships I have with young adults for anything. They make my house a fun place to be, fill my wife and I’s time with a lot of laughs and profound conversations and make our church office a place I want to go everyday. We all vacation together and follow Jesus together and I love it. Not all churches have the gift of generations living with this kind of bond. I am grateful for sure.

  14. Mark Montemayor
    Mark Montemayor on

    Great stuff Tyler … thanks for taking the time to share! We’ve found Haydn Shaw’s books: “Generational IQ” & “Sticking Points” to be amazing resources for our staff (and our family).

  15. Team Spire
    Team Spire on

    We want to thank Jordan Kellicut for the suggestion of adding social media share buttons. These buttons now appear to the left of the blog posts, please share with your friends and encourage them to Join the Spire.Network.

  16. Dan Garrett
  17. Greg Curtis
    Greg Curtis on

    Thanks Tyler. I don’t know why I just came across your post, but I love how you identifying and debunk the 2 myths that the 2 generations so easily buy into. It makes me grateful for my church, Eastside Christian n Anaheim Ca. We are a solid 4 generation church and there is a ton of love between all the generations, just like a healthy family would have. I am 55 years old but my home is filled with young adults coming, going, even spending the night on my floor! I (along with others in my generation) are regularly invited to parties, events, conversations and meetings with young adults who not only make me feel like a person of value but who themselves are so valuable to our church’s mission and energy that we JUMP at the chance to engage with them at any level.

    I also know that what I experience day to day is often rare in other circles. My prayer is that we operate like you challenged us to at the end of your post: like family. That has to make God smile when we do.

  18. Ron Walter
    Ron Walter on

    I’m a little late to the party here, but thank you for what you have to say here. I think too often our churches today have a tendency to deepen the gap between generations through our practice of age segregation. The youth go here, young adults go there, singles off in that corner, and the old folks get the 8 AM service, and never the twain shall meet. As a result we lose out on the wisdom of generations older than us and the fresh ideas and enthusiasm of generations younger than us.

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