By Ashley Hall
In the last Resource Quarterly, you began setting the stage for us, as to why the conversation about intergenerational relationships is important. In this issue, we would like to continue the conversation with a few more specific questions about those relationships and their importance in women’s ministry.
Why does it seem especially hard to establish intergenerational relationships? What are the challenges?
Boomers value resolution; Generation Me values the dialogue. For example, Boomers, when asked their opinion on something, will state what they believe to be true and that is exactly what they mean. Generation Me, does not want to know the “final answer” first but wants, rather, for you to talk with them through all of the options. There is a tendency for both sides to shut down when their way of relating is not valued or received or understood. But we need both perspectives and both need to be more willing to engage the other.
Boomers are more likely to plan a program; Generation Me is more likely to plan a service project-both need help learning how to relate to one another in those venues. The venues don’t need to change. You need both, but you need true fellowship centered on Christ to be happening at both of those venues. The end goal is not the service project or the program, the goal is growth in Christlikeness, which most often happens when two sinners bump up against and relate to one another.
Generation Me values relationships. Boomers see the reality of how painfully introspective those relationships can be and Generation Me sees the reality that the Boomers do not easily engage on topics of personal intimacy and spiritual growth, as perhaps they would like. The reality is that Generation Me does need to learn that introspection is not the highest of all virtues and quite often creates self-centeredness. Equally the case, Boomers need to see that the younger generation does have a right longing for conversations of depth, where lives are shared, and more than the news of the day is discussed – that’s how Biblical world and life views are formed. Yet, the younger need the older to understand how to have those conversations without making the sharing of your deepest darkest sins the goal.
Boomers are more likely to want to mentor; Generation Me is trying to find out how to be mentored but how to also have friendships with their mentors. Perhaps one of the most challenging elements of intergenerational relationships is for both sides to relinquish their roles. It is easier for the older ladies to understand their role of “mentoring” a young person as opposed to befriending them without a role or agenda. While mentoring is good and necessary, not every older lady can relate to every younger lady as a mentor. That expectation is unrealistic. Yet, Scripture calls us to love and be in relationship with those in our church body. So yes, there will likely be one or two along the way that you develop a strong and good mentoring relationship, but this cannot be the goal for every young lady you meet. What does it look like to be a friend to the younger or the older…without any view of what you can give or receive from the relationship? What does that love look like? What would those conversations contain?
Why do we long for relationships with those outside of our stage of life? And biblically speaking, why do we need those relationships?
From the very opening chapters of Scripture, we learn that we are hard-wired for relationship – relationship with God and relationship with each other. First, there is a longing within all of us to know and be known. We understand intuitively that we have a likeness with other people that could be shared and we desire to learn and grow from their differences. We treasure relationships because we have so few that endure; we want to be heard because so few ever listen to us, we want to connect because we are so lonely; and we think that we are superior to every preceding generation. These and many other such attitudes, we are likely to bring into the church. But each of these reasons, though understandable and though true, are based largely in our own sin, insecurity, instability, and weakness. Genesis 3 speaks to these realities, reminding us of a significant problem that we can never overcome with finality in this lifetime. Because of sin, our desire to know and be known now competes with the desires of the flesh that seek to gratify ourselves and build up our own pride. Knowing is no longer about sacrificial love. Knowing now has a selfish, self-serving component that competes with you each time you try to love someone as better than yourself. Sin alters relationships from the way that they were intended so that they become all about “me.” You see it in your relationship with God. How many times daily do you catch yourself wrestling through sin because you want it your way, not God’s way? Obedience becomes about you rather than obeying a Holy God. This is not the way it is supposed to be.
So then, our great expectations that go unmet in all relationships – intergenerational, same generation, with spouse, and with children – is that we expect others to meet our needs rather than seeking to serve them and lay our lives down for them. We make idols out of ourselves and to some degree, we know this to be true, we know that it does not provide satisfaction, and we want to change…and we don’t know how. So, we turn to those outside of our own generation, thinking, “surely this is something that can be figured out…surely they have ‘arrived at the answer.'” But these great expectations must meet the Gospel reality that we need a Savior, not an intergenerational relationship, to deal with our sin problem and with the idols we have created and are now serving and worshipping. Unless Christ be central in our lives, our relationships will be all about us. Each generation is going to struggle with this reality differently and will need help from the others – Scripture continually tells us that each generation has its own particular sins. It’s not a question of whether we will have them, but rather, what they are and whether we will choose this day to serve God. That’s why we need intergenerational relationships.
Secondly, we need someone outside of our perspective to shed light on our need for a Savior, the centrality of the cross, the depth of our sins, the weakness of the flesh, and encouragement to grow in the fruits of the spirit. The longing for relationship is foundational to being made in the image of God. The realities of those relationships are a long and continual fight against sin, a running to Christ, and a willingness to serve and lay our lives down for others so that we can learn from them. Unless this be our perspective, our great expectations for Gospel friendships will be only frustrations.
What do healthy intergenerational relationships look like?
- For the Older: Begin by doing a lot of listening and asking a lot of questions. Let the younger generation know that you want to hear, want to talk, want a relationship, and that you want to know where they are, how to get them involved, and what ideas they might have on life and ministry, marriage and family, free time and work, gardening and sewing. Make it a small goal to listen and give wisdom and feedback that is not always and only in the form of answers and resolutions. Leave the conversation at a point that makes you both look forward to talking more, rather than having everything nicely resolved.
- For the Younger: When you are sought out and in conversation with ladies older than you, continually seek to take steps toward them in love, affirmation, and encouragement of the ways they are reaching out to you. Also, it is just as much in your court to initiate conversations and relationships with those who are older. When so doing, seek to lay aside your agenda and expectations and ways of communicating and instead, love her better than yourself. Ask questions and show interest. Defensiveness and self-centered conversation are not the best motivators for developing friendships.
- In Ministry: As you plan programs, think about the people that you want to attend who are not already doing so and contextualize your plans around those people. You do not want to be reactive, but rather, proactive. If you would like to see more young ladies involved in your programs, find ways to include them in the planning and be ready to listen to and act on some of their ideas – if you want them there, contextualize your planning around them. The goal is to go and seek them out – this is being proactive, as opposed to tossing a program out there and expecting them to come. In contrast, being reactive would mean that you wait until the younger ones voice discontent that nothing is available for them in ministry before thinking through a different approach – this is not the goal.
- To Both: Be approachable in your humility and pray that your life would be attractive for Christ.
- To Both: The Goal is NOT Best and Right…that’s not the Gospel; instead, the goal is Christlikeness. The goal is that we would count ourselves less. The goal is that we would grow in our humility, and that we would grow in our ability to love those who are different than us.
- To Both: The Goal is NOT deepest, darkest sins and struggles, though at times that will be a component-but it is not the goal. We are all sinners coming together; the goal must not be to “uncover” the sins because that immediately makes her (older or younger) the project and you the solution. The goal is esteeming her as better than you; it’s a posture of assuming that you have more to learn from her than she does from you. As you grow in your friendship, you will uncover those sins, but there will be a deeper relational context that allows those sins to be dealt with “normally” rather than as a crisis.
- To Both: The Goal IS Christ in every conversation – blessing, struggle, ordinary, extraordinary…every conversation affords the opportunity to make that topic sweeter and better by infusing Christ. From laundry to CEO jobs, every part of our lives is lived under the Lordship of Christ. Can we talk about those realities with one another?
- The Goal IS Gospel friendship – commitment (you belong to each other) to bear one another’s burdens and sins, commitment to spur one another on to love and good works, commitment to living a life of holiness with one another. The goal is friendship, not purely mentoring. This means that you make fun, ordinary, and non-programmed life on life situations possible. For example, intergenerational relationships need to include at times, trips to the grocery store, watching a movie, a cup of tea on the porch without an agenda to talk about anything, a spontaneous phone call invitation to come over – effectively showing an interest in all parts of her life, not just for the serious and intentional conversations.
- The Goal IS 1, 12, and 4,000 … both/and, not either/or…our challenge is understanding what it looks like to put Christ in the midst of each setting with its own particularities. Jesus ministered effectively to the crowds of 4,000, to the group of twelve disciples, and at times, to one person at a time (woman at the well). Do our lives reflect His incredible willingness to meet the needs and minister to whomever and how ever many the Father gives to us?
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