If there is one word that could describe our society in 2018, I believe DISCORD is that word. We see it all around us. The political culture is toxic, with each party spewing vitriol at the other on a regular basis.
Somewhere along the way we all forgot how to disagree without hating. And as much as it pains me to say it, Christians are not immune from this inability to get along. Denominational politics, church fights, and struggles within our families all highlight the discord that represents the current age.
One specific area that seems to reflect this ongoing conflict is in the relationship breakdown between generations. Generational discord has been at the root of many battles in the Baptist world. Where does this discord come from? My friend and former pastor, Kevin Miller, used to tell our church that this discord comes when one generation fails to fulfill its responsibility to the other generation.
While most churches have many generations represented, for sake of simplicity we will only refer to two generations: the older generation and the younger generation. When we think of it that way we realize that each of us can fall into either category depending on the people we are relating to. As a middle-aged pastor, there are times when I am the youngest person in the room and other times when I am the oldest. Depending on the situation, I have differing responsibilities.
Generational harmony is found when the older generation invests in the younger and the younger generation respects the older.
So, where do we start? If the cycle of generational discord is already spinning, how do we stop it? First, it starts with “me.” If each of us approached the issues we face with that attitude, a lot of progress could be made in many areas. But I also believe John Maxwell is correct in his famous statement, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Most often the older generation is in a position of leadership, either by title or by longevity – so let’s start there.
The older generation must lead the way by investing in the younger generation. That happens in a number of ways. First, we invest by teaching what we know. In Psalm 145, David writes of each generation passing on the stories of the works of the Lord to the next. Leading by example is not enough. Our life experiences and lessons learned along the way are an invaluable resource to those coming along behind us.
We also invest by sacrificing some of our preferences. There are some areas of life where we don’t have a problem making sacrifices. Every Friday, my four-year-old daughter, Aligrace, and I get to have “Daddy Fun Day.” Aside from the occasional Taco Bell date, most of those days are spent in our living room. And through that time, I have become an expert in Puppy Dog Pals, Doc McStuffins, and Elena the First. Disney Junior is set as a favorite on my remote control channel listings. I can sing the theme songs and name all the characters. Now if I were alone, I would probably be watching ESPN or MLB Network. But because I love my daughter, I sacrifice my preferences for hers.
We are all willing to make similar sacrifices for those we love. Whether it’s where we spend our weekends or what entertainment we consume, the younger generations are not considered selfish for having differing preferences; it is expected, and mature adults are willing to concede as an act of love.
But for some reason, when we enter our places of worship, we start clinging tightly to our own preferences and the younger ones can either learn to like it or find their own place to worship. Discord breeds in this atmosphere of selfishness, and the statistics show that we are losing a generation because of it. I wonder how many people will one day spend eternity in hell because they were driven away from church by a fight over music styles, stage lighting, or a pastor’s wardrobe. While the cost may seem high, I assure you that sacrifice is worth it for the souls of our kids and grandkids.
There is also a responsibility for the young in the pursuit of generational harmony. The younger generation must do their part by respecting the older generation. How do we do it? First, we respect by showing honor. In fact, that made the top ten list in God’s rules for his people (Exodus 20:12). Showing honor demonstrates humility and a recognition that someone else is deserving of admiration.
We show respect to the older generation by asking questions and listening to their wisdom. In Exodus 18, Moses had led the Israelites from Egyptian captivity and was facing the challenges of establishing a new society of God’s freed people. His father-in-law, Jethro, came to visit this “young” leader and was treated with great honor. (Moses was at least 80 years old at this point.) As Jethro witnessed Moses at work, he recognized some areas where Moses could grow as a leader. He offered some management advice that Moses took to heart and immediately put into practice.
Moses didn’t reject the unsolicited advice of an old man. Moses didn’t assume he had it all figured out. Moses didn’t let pride prevent him from growing. Moses honored this older generation by listening and acting on wise counsel. As a younger generation, we need to pursue the wisdom of our elders. Instead of crying to be heard, we should seek to listen. Those who have gone before us have valuable insights that we would be wise to grasp.
Finally, the younger generation respects the older generation by following their lead and investing in the next generation. If you are younger now, there is someone coming who will be looking up to you. Commit today to pursue generational harmony no matter where you are on the spectrum: the older generation investing and the younger generation respecting.