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Published Date: December 31, 2013


Published Date: December 31, 2013


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The Times, They Are a Changin’

When Bob Dylan sang “the times they are a-changin’,” he wasn’t kidding. Recently I glanced over at my seventeen-year-old son doing his homework. While he was online doing research for a paper, he was also instant messaging four of his friends-all of this while listening to his iPod and typing words into his research paper. He explained to me that he’s able to work better when he has a lot of stuff going on. It helps his concentration. What a contrast from the time I got irritated at the librarian at the University of Northern Iowa for whispering too loudly while I worked on a research paper. The times they are a-changin’.

I’m a credentialed mediator, and for almost fifteen years it’s been my privilege to come alongside dozens of churches and help them manage their conflicts. Christian men and women have fought over lots of different matters. They fight, I believe, because they are not taking the time to understand each other.

A couple of years ago, while speaking at a church in Illinois, a woman came up to me after the service crying, and she was crying a lot! I had just enough ego to think that she was really touched by my sermon. She was actually crying because of the way the young people came dressed to church: wearing shorts. “This generation has no respect for the Lord!” she proclaimed.

Attempting to challenge her perspective, I explained that it’s not the outside, but the inside that counts.

Unfortunately she walked away from our conversation remarking that “she will never understand today’s generation.”

Actually, her last observation was correct. She won’t understand today’s generation until she is intentional about it. Neither will today’s generation understand her until they get inside her world for awhile.

It’s my privilege to teach a class called “Preaching to Post-Moderns” at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul. I often tell my students: “The way people change is changing.” The effective communicator to the generations must understand the experiential backdrop of each generation. The way my 21-year-old daughter processes life and forges decisions are fundamentally different than my ways. She gives me a strange look when I explain to her that I watched the Beatles make their television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. When I argued with my daughter about the quality of love songs in my generation, in contrast to hers, she reminded me that it was my generation that turned out such classic love song lyrics as:

“Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name?”

“If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” Or the incredibly profound:

“Love means you never have to say you’re sorry.”

Watergate, Vietnam, and Kent State did something to my generation, and we developed a different set of values than the generation before. The generation before me, often called the Builders, also leaned a set of values from their circumstances. They experienced the Great Depression and can remember what it was like to wonder about the next meal. This explains why a builder I talked with recently became noticeably upset when I explained that during an interview Lance Bass, a singer for the group ‘NSync, threw away a half-eaten piece of French toast. Someone picked up the piece of French toast and sold it on eBay for $1025. The times they are a-changin’.

The generation following mine, sometimes called the Busters is the MTV generation. They are choosing churches that allow a measure of entertainment value, and that value drives the previous generations nuts.

Whatever descriptive one uses to categorize today’s generation-next Gen, GenNext, Generation X, Post-Moderns-this generation is marked by two main characteristics:

Experience. Many of us reading this article were a part of the information age. Give us information and data and we’re good to go. Information isn’t enough for today’s generation. They want experience, which is why worship must incorporate images and activity. A failure to understand this about this generation brings an enormous amount of conflict, particularly in churches.

Connection. This generation is a group that must connect with one another as demonstrated by my son instant messaging four other people while working on a research paper. Connection with others is a central focus to much of daily life.

Conflict emerges in churches when one generation is absolutely convinced that their way of looking at life is the right way. How can we pursue age reconciliation? To bridge some of the divides between the generations, I find that Paul’s words are timely:

So accept each other, just as Christ as accepted you, then God will be glorified (Romans 15:7)

So how does “accept each other” work to keep harmony and minimize conflict in churches? In churches where I’ve intervened, and there are obvious disconnects between generations, I’ve encouraged three commitments:

A commitment to understand the values of each generation.

The operative word here is “understand.” I may not agree with what you’ve concluded about life, but pure respect tells me that I ought to listen and understand you, if your generation is different than mine. Many times, we don’t even do that. We use our generation as the template of right or wrong and immediately refuse to listen and understand.

I appreciate what one of the biblical authors said:

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters. But a person of understanding can draw them out (Proverbs 28:5)

Many times, this “drawing out” never happens because we are so locked into thinking that our generation has the corner on the truth, or the right way to look at life.

Recently, I intervened in a church that was fighting over worship styles. As part of the intervention, I asked all of the young people in the audience to come to the platform, and I allowed the congregation to ask them questions about why they do life the way they do. It was a way to get them to understand each other. One young person was asked why he wears his pants so low. He responded: “Because it’s comfortable.” The congregation laughed, but this really was the first time that the generations had entered into some measure of dialogue with each other.

A commitment to respect the sacrifices of previous generation.

As I’m typing this article, I’m spending some time with my mother. She’s an 84-year-old widow and has experienced a very difficult life. She explains to me in great detail what it was like to raise children while her husband, my father, fought in World War II. She explains what it was like to live with an hourly wage of 20 cents while Dad was off serving his country. I come away from those discussions with a greater understanding of Mom’s values, and sacrifices.

In churches that are experiencing conflicts between the generations, I’ve encouraged public interviews during worship to help gain a greater understanding of the values of each generation. Recently, I advanced public dialogue between a member of the Builder generation and a Post-modern person. I asked the Builder three questions:

  1. What do you wish this generation would understand about yours?
  2. What do you appreciate about this present generation?
  3. What do you pray about the most for your children and grandchildren?

And that little interview went a long way in helping others understand that there is simply a different set of values driving that generation. Perhaps the calling for many of our churches in conflict is the ancient wisdom to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). My core belief about conflict between the generations is that we are not drawing each other out by listening carefully.

A commitment to celebrate the spirit of this generation.

In this generation, there is an incredible spiritual search, a level of authenticity that’s remarkable. The desire to connect with God is very real-it is simply expressed and pursued differently than the generations before.

The calling remains:

So accept each other, just as Christ as accepted you, then God will be glorified (Romans 15:7)

Three women smiling at the camera, each is holding a present.

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