January 21, 2014
Updated February 27, 2014
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This past Christmas I headed back to the family home to celebrate. Unlike other years where I busied myself trying to connect with everyone I love, this year I holed myself up and didn't stray far from the homestead. And here's what I was reminded of while I was enjoying the family... my father and I are from different generations. Okay, that's not anything earth-shattering... but it was surprising to me how contrasting some of our perspectives were - we obviously view the world from distinct angles, and with our own unique soundtracks! Though he might say it has to do with the way "women" think and "men" think, I would shake my head and (usually laughing) disagree because I think it has to do with our generational gap. Personally, I think my point was proven when my mother entered the dining room and laughed as she observed Dad and I playing a game of Scrabble, he checking words and plays with his tried and true 2nd edition Scrabble Dictionary while I was using an iPad.
I love multi-generational gatherings for this very reason. To me it is beautiful to come together as the body of Christ with all our varying experiences and ways of thinking. However, it can also be incredibly difficult. When I think about the time I spent on council I'm very aware of the diverse opinions around the table about what, why and how things should happen. For example, at the council table I never once used the phrase "Mr. Chairman", however a good friend of mine did. We come from different generations - and this isn't a bad thing! When I was the chair of the deacons I chose intentionally to focus on prayer and building up the team to work together well. Under my leadership that included a sharing time where we'd reflect on a Scripture passage, sharing our feelings and what we heard God saying or inviting us to do. There were people on my team for whom that way of being was unfamiliar and, frankly, they felt it was invasive.
There are many things on a team which can cause misunderstandings and the fact is that coming from different generations can be one of them. We may be saying the same thing, but in slightly different dialects. Someone may interpret my lack of formality in not using a title like "Mr. Chairman" or "Pastor den van der meyertsma" as being disrespectful to church leadership and authority. If they asked me about that they'd find that my choice of language is intentional, flowing from a challenging sermon I heard in university, my belief in the priesthood of all believers and the fact that I'm not a big fan of promoting hierarchy. While I'm confident and comfortable in my decision I need to be aware that another person may have a differing opinion about these things.
With this as the reality, what do we do? I think there is a lot to be said for having the humility to recognize that we need each other to learn and grow. I do believe we also need to have grace and patience with one another, and as the famous hymn Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace says "grant that I might never seek so much... to be understood as to understand". At my very first council one of the elders started quoting church order regarding a matter we were discussing. I was incredibly intimidated. Instead of closing my mouth and thinking I had nothing to offer, I decided to speak my opinion. I also decided to approach this person after the meeting and tell them that I realized I had a lot to learn from them and looked forward to serving with them. That decision continues to have impact in my ministry today, as a friendship grew where there was space for challenge and encouragement.
My invitation to you is simply this - don't write off an opinion different than yours just because of a generational gap. Take some time to listen and learn. Share your own thoughts and feelings. Rather than focusing on "their way" and "my way" try to find an "our way" as you seek out the Spirit and submit yourselves to the leading of Christ.
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Thanks for the reminder, Melissa! In whatever ministry we serve seeking "our way" should be a priority.
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