It takes work to have a harmonious family. That’s true of your biological family and your church family. It’s also true of your organizational family. Organizations should recognize that their uniqueness is part of a healthy diversity that can serve the faith well. There should be a complementary understanding of uniqueness without each generation idolizing its own ways to the point of conflict. Those with experience who try to encourage stability are seen as out of touch. Sometimes they are, but from my experience, they often just have a different view. Those who push the envelope to make an immediate impact are seen as aggressive. But often the two groups are just talking (or shouting) past each other. Here are three ideas to help keep the peace.
1. Refrain from arrogant attitudes.
This means young members have no business sending out mailers saying, “This ain’t your grandma’s organization. Are you tired of boring, dead conferences? Ours is smoking.”
You cannot run down those who came before you and expect to have peace with them. Chances are, grandma paid for your church building, prayed for you and sponsored your youth camps and mission trips. There are more traditional people in your network who are reaching the lost you aren’t. You don’t get any extra points in heaven for being the hippest organization.
There also needs to be a sense of confidence among older generations in their kids and their grandkids. They may be doing things differently, but they’re doing those things for their faith. Brag on the younger generations who are doing things differently. Celebrate them. Cut ’em some slack.
2. Respect varied ministry callings.
I was in an elevator once with pastors Darrin Patrick and Adrian Rogers. They are well-known pastors from very different worlds. Patrick was young and cool and on his way to growing a church called The Journey in St. Louis. Dr. Rogers was… well, he was Dr. Rogers. I didn’t call him Adrian. So, I said, “Dr. Rogers, could I introduce you to Darrin Patrick?”
Patrick was like a kid in a candy store, meeting one of the most famous preachers in America. He didn’t feel the need to say, “Our church is contemporary and yours is traditional, so mine is good and yours is bad.” He didn’t point out their differences and try to convince the veteran he needed to “get with it.” He valued his elder for who he was and what his faith had helped him accomplish. But respect went both ways. Dr. Rogers didn’t say, “Young man, put on a tie.” He treated Patrick (who was wearing jeans with holes in them) like he would treat a friend and a colleague. See, they both are in very different places serving the same Lord. And, both seemed to be genuinely thankful for one another.
3. Reinforce a culture of peace. [inlinead align="right"]"Brag on the younger generations who are doing things differently. Celebrate them. Cut ’em some slack."[/inlinead]Peace is not achieved with silence. If you want a culture of peace between generations, you need to communicate it clearly and often. Unstated goals are just wishes. Understand what encourages and discourages peace, and then empower those in high-risk areas to make the right choices for the health and success of the movement. Sometimes this is achieved with positive reinforcement after a good interaction. Other times it takes a proactive approach before something bad happens.
It is important to remember that substance is more valuable than style. We can and should be aggressive when it comes to issues of substance. But we should be generous when it comes to style. There is more space for variations. When it comes to flexible issues that will change according to context, intentionally work in and toward peace. Faith-based organizations must have common beliefs with diverse applications across ethnicity, languages and cultures. That’s a given. What is harder is to see that diversity across generations.
Ed Stetzer is a pastor, author, well-known conference and seminar leader, and executive director of LifeWay Research. This article is an excerpt reprinted and reworked with permission from an original blog post on Christianity Today and edstetzer.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo credit: Neal Reeves Photography