3 Practical Ways to Cross the Generational Divide in Ministry Leadership

I was stoked to attend the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, GA this year with a bunch of my friends. For the most part, I only hit one conference a year and every year, I choose Catalyst.

Why Catalyst? Because they’re about raising and resourcing young leaders. As a young leader myself, I am most engaged when I know the older generation is cheering us on. We need that encouragement and partnership from seasoned leaders, because it’s time for guys like me to step up to the plate and start swinging. I love what Andy Stanley said a couple years ago at Catalyst 2008:

The next generation ideas will be birthed from the students in your student ministry. Senior pastors, fuel what’s happening in the student ministry. If you’re 45 years old or older, you’re not gonna have a good idea. Your job is to recognize a good idea, and to clear out some space and margin and allow the younger leaders to run with it. And when you get the emails, be the one to take the bullet. Listen . . . don’t do unto the next generation what was done to you.

I can’t say that I agree with him that those 45 years or older aren’t going to have a good idea but I see his point. According to his definition, I, as a 27-year old, am part of the generation who will take the torch when the previous generation steps down. This is so exciting yet daunting at the same time. I have dreams about what it’s going to be like to be on the executive leadership team for a growing church one day.

But young leaders, BEWARE! We have a tendency to want to take things over prematurely. We have to remember that honor and respect operate on the same two-way street as they do for seasoned leaders. If we truly desire a partnership, let’s make an effort to connect with the older generation to cultivate a true team.

Check out these three practical ways to cultivate an inter-generational team mindset:

  1. Shut up and listen. We all know that our generation is full of idealists. There’s nothing wrong with idealism unless it fosters impatience and arrogance. Listen to wisdom and experience from those who have been there.
  2. Cultivate non-work related relationships with leaders from a different generation. Maybe open your home for a dinner. Get out on the golf course. Think of Paul and Timothy and, to use North Point language, move the relationship from the foyer to the kitchen.
  3. Partner on projects. If at all possible, team up on projects with seasoned leaders. The purpose isn’t just gaining insight. Strong relationships are built in the trenches. Definitely catch some nuggets along the way but keep in mind that the process is probably going to be more important than the product.

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5 thoughts on “3 Practical Ways to Cross the Generational Divide in Ministry Leadership

  1. This seems a particularly timely post for my own life.

    I am a 22-year-old church technologist, with somewhat of a chip on my shoulder about Millennials being under-resourced for the leadership roles they will soon be taking on. Over the last year-and-a-half, I have probably become a little too arrogant and idealistic in my pursuit of what I see as the solution.

    Your advice to find and engage partners from the previous generation makes a lot of sense. That is definitely a takeaway that I will be considering over the holidays.

    • Martin,
      Dude. a 22-year old that is willing to embrace the idea of partnership with the previous generation is a diamond in the rough! Thanks so much for just being one who is willing to partner.

      On a personal note, I feel you. My first two years in ministry were spent being jaded and arrogant. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue as you unpack it!,

  2. Wow, Another Great post man!

    The Church which i attend and Intern at is in this kind of transition. We are deeply rooted in the traditional Southern Baptist old school way of doing church. With which I have no problem with since I actually come from a MUCH smaller and MORE deeply rooted traditional country church. But I do have to say that If you attend a youth service on wednsday night and Then attend the main service on Sunday It's two totally different worlds. You look at the Students and they are unattatched from the Sunday Worship. and on Wednsday nights, the older people are dissatisfied with the loud music and untraditional approach.

    We are trying to figure out how to Intigrate both young and old and it is VERY hard. Right now we have both extremes and yet are losing the college students in our area to contemporary churches.

    It may just be my youth speaking here but It's sad that most churches try to satisfy the elders and the wealthy yet we let the college age and younger just fall to the wayside. I understand that Younger people are arrogant and think we all have the answers to everything. But if you really think about it so do most elders.

    I do believe that in ALL aspects of a churches ministry, Students need to be on the forefront. The elders of the church, instead of complaing about the loud music should try to embrace it. This music and the bright lights at the moment are helping engage youth and if a young person WANTS to come to church, PRAISE GOD!

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the church should brush the older members under the rug, NO I dont believe in that at all. Let the elders hold 1-on-1 discipleship programs with younger members. I love to hear wisdom from older men and yes when an older person speaks i believe it is wisdom.

    I know I was all over the place here but yeah, thats what I think. Embrace, Embrace, Embrace.

    • Embrace, embrace, embrace. Love it! I'd be willing to bet that a high percentage of American churches are just like you described, which tells us one thing: this is common. Most of my ministry friends are in situations like this. My pastor says it this way: I love that you (me) fight for the youth ministry, but you're never territorial. I love that our students have a spirit of teachability and humility. That's why our seniors are so willing to partner with them.

      Thanks for sharing Josh!

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