When Leaders Unite Across Generation Gaps

I am privileged to serve as a women’s ministry director at a large church among people of every stage of life. In the twenty years I have been on staff, I’ve witnessed many changes, especially in the way we communicate. As a member of the baby boomer generation, I still walk around with a paper planner that records my life from day to day, but there’s no denying that technology has brought changes that have affected us all.

Millennials are comfortable filling out forms, applications, reports, vacation schedules, etc., online; for the generation that grew up without computers and passwords, it can be, at the very least, challenging—at worst, extremely stressful.

Millennials tend to believe they are communicating well because of a great website, while at the same time, baby boomers complain they never heard about an event they missed and resist registering online anyway.

These are things that confront my life nearly every day, because as many of my peers have retired or moved on to new ventures, I am now one of the last baby boomers on a staff among a host of millennials. The pastor I currently report to is younger than my youngest child. While he leads our staff with confidence, zeal, and grand visions for our campus, new leadership inevitably brings changes in methods and priorities. Yet in all of this, I must continually keep my ear tuned to the work the Lord is calling me to, while also striving to submit to my young leaders and contribute to my team.

As I have reflected on these things, I asked a young millennial friend of mine, who serves on staff with me, to comment on some of the differences in thinking and perspectives that she sees between the generations. Here’s what she said:

Millennials are typically comfortable with change and enjoy putting a new spin on something that’s been done the same way for a long time. Yet when this is done without taking time to understand history or giving older people opportunities to share their concerns, it can cause distress for baby boomers who, by nature, are more resistant to change and need to be convinced that doing something new is a positive thing.

The way millennials and boomers prefer to communicate personally is often different as well. Texting or Facebook messaging is often preferred over a phone call for younger people, while that can seem impersonal to those who worry we are losing personal connections with each other.

My friend recognizes that her generation also has a different view of hospitality and face-to-face connections. Convenience (which is often driven by the fast pace of life) typically results in people meeting at a place like Starbucks rather than someone’s home. Although people of every age can fall into this habit, she and I both recognize the great value of opening our homes to one another.

Finally, she shared that millennials don’t typically gravitate toward long sermons and lectures, unless they find great meaning and value in the content. They prefer “taste testing” different blogs and catching quick sound bites throughout their day.

While each of these things holds potential for strife, they also provide wonderful opportunities to look to the interests of others, bear with one another in love, and bear witness to our unity in Christ. When we patiently listen to one another and work to bring God-honoring solutions, people of all ages will feel valued.

As I have reflected on all this, I’ve found myself thanking God for the ways He is using a thirty-year-plus age gap to provide us new opportunities to live out unchanging biblical truths. Here are a few things I have learned:

Gospel Unity Despite Age Differences

In spite of the differences that come with age, baby boomers and millennials who love Christ and His Word bring glory to God through their unity in gospel mission.

At first, the fact that my pastor wasn’t even thirty when he was hired seemed crazy to me. But I hardly even think about it anymore, because our hearts beat the same. We both want to see people know, love, and grow in gospel truths. All of our differences will be diminished when our greatest desire is to exalt Christ!

Regardless of our age differences, we have much to learn from each other.

Though the older generation may have more years of experience, those who are new to ministry bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm that can both challenge and encourage us in our calling to women. At the same time, we in the older generation can offer some historical perspective and wisdom God has taught us over the years. Listening and learning from each other allows the church to grow and serve its people well.

Serving under younger leaders gives us opportunities to demonstrate respectful submission to God-ordained authorities, even when our personal opinions and experiences might lead us to do things differently.

While God may graciously give us opportunities to express opinions and ideas, in the end, we are called to submit to our leaders (Heb.13:17), even if we have many more years of life under our belts than they do. This is only possible when we put our hope in the Lord and trust that He is guiding the leaders He has put into place.

Does that mean they won’t ever make mistakes? Of course not. Neither does it mean we should not speak truth when necessary. But when we put our hope in God (1 Peter 3), we will be less likely to use a loud voice, manipulation, or a demanding spirit to be heard. God is in control of all things.

God will use us to influence younger leaders when our words and actions are gentle and humble in spirit.

Probably one of the ways I have grown the most is by learning how to influence through humility, as opposed to operating with a prideful attitude that assumes my way is better. First Peter 5:5 says that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” We would do well to remember that pride never serves God’s kingdom purposes.

Serving under younger leaders provides fresh opportunities for us to lean on God’s grace, admit our limitations, and do all for His glory, even when our energy lags behind our ideas and vision.

While I love ministry more than ever, each decade brings new challenges, weakness, and reminders that I can’t run quite as fast or multitask like I once did. But that’s okay because it drives home the reality that we are mortal beings, here for only a season, and that one day, someone else will take over the work we have poured ourselves into. God’s work will go forward with or without us, and that is good for us all to remember.

Gratitude for the Next Generation

As we labor side by side with people of differing generations, let us be encouraged by the wisdom of the older and the zeal of the younger. God has set apart another generation to proclaim His gospel and make disciples for His kingdom.

I thank God for allowing me the privilege to serve on a staff that is increasingly made up of millennials. These young men and women give me great hope for the future as I witness their hunger for sound doctrine and proclaim the gospel with a boldness and confidence that spurs me on as well. I pray that you might never lose your single-minded focus and zeal for the gospel, no matter how old you get.

How has your life been enriched by serving alongside younger or older laborers in God’s kingdom?

About the Author

Linda Green

Linda Green is the coauthor of He Gives More Grace with her daughter, Sarah Walton. The thirty-day devotional offers biblical hope, encouragement, and wisdom for mothers. Linda is married to Ray and is a mother to three grown children.