I will never forget a candid conversation I had with an older pastor. We were talking about different churches and what could be done to reach more people for Christ. I brought up the idea of creating community groups within a local church. This pastor swiftly and painfully rejected the idea. He said that community groups only work well in mega-churches – small churches have no need for small groups. If different generations want to get along – both parties need to realize that Scripture should trump tradition and a Christ-centered theology should drive and motivate your methodology.
Today, I want to talk to the folks who are a bit older and provide four simple suggestions. If you want to influence young people, carefully consider the following things and implement as soon as you can.
1. Provide Consistent Encouragement, Affirmation And Validation. Young people crave validation. This is not a superficial ego-boost. This is a genuine desire to feel that they have been heard, understood and respected. This goes both ways. But for some reason, simple “thank you’s,” “good job’s,” and “well-done,” are reserved only for a day of repentance, a day of baptism and during your wedding day. Some people treat affirmation like it was the last amount of funds in their pocket and their entire family will not eat if they give it out. When Jesus spent time with His disciples, He was both tough and tender. He provided affirmation when needed – and administered strict rebuke, when needed. If a young person did something well – congratulate them. It does not matter how trivial it might have been in your eyes. For them, it might have meant the entire world.
2. Embrace Technology. I personally know of a pastor who put on a plaid shirt, rolled up his sleeves, got an iPad and learned to speak English, despite the apparent difficulty of learning a new language and not having the advantage of coming to the United States as a child – when the English language would have been picked up effortlessly and seamlessly. This pastor is influencing an entire generation of young people. Why? Because while his theology remained unchanged, his methodology adjusted to fit the current time. Jesus used an aquatic environment during His time to amplify His preaching — why did He do this? It was a desire to harness a current environment to reach as many people as possible.
3. Listen Attentively And Avoid Immediately Offering Advice.
Before, influence came from a position. Today, influence comes from a relationship.
Instead of immediately discounting a new thought, a new idea or a new way of doing things – we do well to ask open-ended questions. After a great conversation – both generations realize that they are much more alike – rather than different.
4. Participate In A Rhythm Of Community Living. This means that young men need to seek out older and wiser men who would mentor them and press Christ into them. This means that younger women need to seek out wise, older women who would teach them the treasures of Christ. This means that both generations – no matter the age gap – must share meals together, have conversations together and do life together.
When this type of community activity is cultivated, the torn fabric of generational conflict – slowly but surely – is going to be re-sewn, re-newed and re-stored by the great Restorer – who wishes to see love displayed in unity, not uniformity and a mission that is accomplished in diversity, not division.
The goal is to seek Christ-centered clarity in every conversation. If that means you have to spend more time and dig deeper – it is worth it – because the generational divide has never been deeper – and the need to connect it – has never been greater.
As we live in a time between difficult generational conflict – and the deep yearning of reconciliation at the Second return of Christ, both parties – regardless of age – must seek to answer the following question:
How can I display Jesus most gloriously in my interaction with different generations?