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Strengthen: Dealing with generational differences

I recently read a book that has captivated my attention because it addresses one of the most prevalent issues in the life of the church today. This issue is not about what we believe but how we behave in the church. 

The book addresses how we relate to one another in the church with an emphasis on how the different generations relate to each other in the church. Many, if not most, of the problems that churches from across the state bring to my attention have a direct connection to the struggles that are evident between the generations in our culture and in our churches.

“Generational IQ” by Haydn Shaw is a book I believe would be helpful for every pastor to read. In fact, any pastor in our state who will contact my office can receive a free copy.

In his book, Shaw does a masterful job of explaining the contributing factors of why the generations in our culture think differently. He also provides useful insight into helping the generations interact within the church. There are a couple of key takeaways that I want to share that significantly impacted me.

First, when we were born greatly influences the way we look at the world. That statement seems like a no-brainer, but it has proven to be profound for me. Our worldview has been shaped not only by the way we were raised but the culture in which we were raised. This provides a framework we build our lives upon.

Positively, this helps to instill values that shape our character and make us people of faith and conviction. There is danger here because it is easy to impose our personal preferences on others in the form of convictions, even though they lack the proper basis. This forces us to ask the question that Shaw raises in the book, “Is it generational or is this scriptural?” 

Sadly, many of the issues that arise in the church today are more about generational or personal preference than the Word of God. This book has provided a needed reminder for me that the church must be following Scripture and not seeking to satisfy the preferences of people.

Second, because we face the reality of five generations being present in our culture and churches for the first time in history, how do get along in the church together?  Shaw presents a Biblical picture of what is needed for the generations to interact in a God-honoring way from Eph. 4:1-3.  It is a call to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. He suggests four practical steps from the passage successfully dealing with generational differences: 

Be completely humble.  Humility is the key to discerning between the biblical necessities and the generational preferences that will arise. Humility helps to shine light on the situation and find ways to keep the bond of peace. Even though one group may be right, it does not give them to right to act like it.

Gently listen. Gentleness means having courtesy and consideration for others that is seen in the willingness to give up rights and preferences. Humility will make people willing to learn, and gentleness will help people to hear what others are saying. When there is a willingness to listen there is the opportunity to engage others in learning from each other. 

Patiently bear with.  Instead of being short-tempered with the imperfect people in the church, Paul literally says to be “long-tempered” with each other. Patience appears to be a diminishing virtue in the world today and in the church. This means that there is a need to make room for others with humility and gentleness.

In love.  We have to start and end with love. It is not enough to understand and tolerate, we must learn to love each other across the generational lines. Love motivates us to understand and accept. It is the key motivator for us to keep the bond of peace. It drives us to care regardless of the differences. There is no place where love should more evident than in the church.

James Swain

Author: James Swain

James is the BGCO Equipping Team Leader.

View more articles by James Swain.

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