The Two Generations That Need Each Other

Originally published December 15, 2010.

I was honored recently to yet again share with church leaders who were not youth ministers my belief and findings about church family-based youth ministry.  During the Q & A time, I was asked a question about how old my church is.  I replied we are an older church family, because we are.  This person doubted that I knew what an older congregation was so I had to publicly say that I’m nearing 50 (ugh) and so those older than me are in their 60s and 70s.  Doesn’t that make up an older church family?  I made my point at the cost of admitting my age.


I understood the core of her question though.  So many churches are now made up of older members.  And you know the stereotype of older church members and how they mix with teens.  Or the stereotype of how they respond to anything in the youth ministry.This is a bad stereotype and it is not good for anyone.

The reality is that the two generations need each other.

Teens often feel left out or biased against when it comes to the church family.  After all, they are teens with all of their own stereotypes.  The elderly also feel this same way, left out or biased against, when it comes to the church family.  They feel that the church family thinks they are done and no longer matter.  Do you see the similarity between both groups?   Both are marginalized by the church family for age reasons.  The reality is both groups need each other.  So the question becomes, how can you bring these two age groups together?  When you do, you will benefit greatly.

But first, have you yourself had this mindset towards the older generation of your church?  Have you stereotyped them as stuck and inflexible?  Is this a truthful mindset?

Has your church leadership or the church as a whole put your older generation “out to pasture?”  Have you considered that maybe that is why they have become stuck and inflexible?

Psalm 1:3 describes a wise person as someone like a tree planted by streams of water.  There are two things which make a tree strong–its deep roots and its ability to learn to bend.  Both come from that tree having a good water source.  The flexibility the tree gains from having a good water source helps the tree handle powerful storms because it knows how to bend and when to bend.  This is the value your older generation gives you.  This is why among the 33 Chilean miners who were rescued and even though one was a part-time minister the oldest member, Mario Gomez Heredia, at age 63, became the spiritual leader.  Heredia knew how to bend and weather the incredible dire circumstances.  This comes from age and growing those deep roots.

The older generation has the most wisdom acquired, more time to give, and maybe even more money to give.  They really have the most to offer you during this season of their lives.

One of the many gifts of the older generation with those deep roots is that over time they realize what a superficial fight is.  They’ve been there and done that.  They’ve fought over carpet color and whether or not to allow coffee in the worship center.  With their gained wisdom from being around, they understand that some things do matter and some things are superficial and will change over time.

These older generation members make great Second Family members for a teen.  Because they are not part of the same power structures from parents, teachers, coaches, and youth ministers (admit it, we do have expectations on our teens), the older generation is able to see deeply into teens for who they really are.  They can see this and affirm this through their aged wisdom.  Again this comes from having deep roots.

The older generation also knows how to pray.  That again is a stereotype but don’t you think they’ve learned how to pray because they’ve lived through so much?

There is a flexibility that comes from being renewed day after day (2 Corinthians 4:16).  Streams of living water does that.  Those who have lived a long time in those streams of living water are a wonderful resource for you.  More importantly, they are a blessing all within themselves to the teens.

Kara Powell wrote this blog entry about the gift of such a flexible volunteer:  “I’m consistently struck by the tenderness I see teenagers hold for senior adults, and vice versa.  There’s something about the ‘grandparent’ vibe that strikes a cord in kids.

“A few weeks ago I was speaking on ‘Sticky Faith’ in Pella, Iowa at the Vermeer Leadership Alliance and met a senior adult named Carol.   She told me that she’s made it her job to write every kid from her church who goes to college.  Some of her notes are hand-written; others are typed.  She tells them they don’t need to write back, but a few of them do.  When she sees them in person later on, they consistently thank her for letting them know she cares about them.  These kids know they are not forgotten.  I was impressed when I thought she wrote each kid ONCE at the start of the fall.  Turns out she writes them EVERY WEEK.  Yes, EVERY WEEK.”  (Source)  This lady is so flexible that she was also at a youth training conference.

For the Faith Foundations class at my church, each unit is taught by a different adult.  Since we are an “older church,” many of these teachers are older, like way older than me(!).  The following are adjectives the teens at my church have used to describe these “old folks”: wise, understanding, knowledgeable, holy, have answers, give discipline, have Biblical knowledge and historical knowledge, good, nice, Godly, truthful, fruitful, and inspirational.  I also asked them to answer anonymously if they would like younger teachers.  All said no.  There is something about the grandparent vibe that does strike a cord in teens.  And the blessing goes both ways.  I assume this because each and every teacher has asked to teach another unit and they readily attend anything we invite them to plus they seek out the teens to talk to them.

Another blessing is that these teachers verbally tell everyone how wonderful each teen is.  They say such stuff about the group as a whole but also about each individual teen.  It’s great PR for the youth ministry but it is even greater when a teen and/or the teen’s parent hears or overhears such wonderful words.

Have you experienced some of your older members as being inflexible?  Notice that those who are still active in ministry are flexible and those who are put out to pasture are the ones who are not.  Hmmm….

If your job truly is to creatively incorporate all the people in your church family, you cannot overlook this group that has so much to offer.  Change your stereotype of them and find ways that they can contribute.

For Superbowl Sunday the church leadership has very willingly turned over the entire Sunday morning service to the teens.  The teens have many football-themed ideas to be used as teaching lessons.  One of the ideas everyone is looking forward to most is how they are closing the service.  Everyone will be invited to break out into their own touchdown dance.  With the flexibility of our older folks, the teens are highly anticipating some hysterically great touchdown dances.  (Video to come!)