Working with a multi-generational team
I have watched for years as churches have navigated generational tensions, especially as it relates to the millennials and boomers on church staff. Over the last few years, I had the opportunity to work with several ministries where this is playing out in force. As millennials continue to join the organization, and step into leadership, there is a push towards different priorities than those who came before have. This is where things get messy.
Recently, I sat down with an older ministry leader who was sharing his feelings about the generational divide. Seeing the passion of the rising generations around social justice issues, he shared how deeply hurt he was by the conversations that he had with these young leaders. He shared how hard he had worked to bring about change in the areas that they were passionate about, the toll that this work had taken on him, and how he felt as though all of this work was dismissed by the rising generations.... because injustice still exists.
Several years ago I was introduced to the work of Marshall Rosenberg. The man is a genius at explaining complicated human interaction issues with the help of puppets. Rosenberg introduces the concept of speaking and listening as a giraffe or a jackal. The jackal, to Rosenberg, is the voice of judgement, attack, and condemnation. The giraffe, as the mammal with the largest heart, is the voice of compassion and seeks to understand the needs of the one being communicated with.
As I watch the generational divides, I see much hurt, anger, and dysfunction resulting from people who want to see the same thing... but miss each other due to listening with a jackal's ears and speaking with a jackal's language:
- As the rising generation surveys the landscape of the modern Church, it is easy to point out the deficiencies, mistakes, and heresies that currently exist. The jackal looks at previous generations and lays the blame on them, making assumptions about their motivations and desires... without realizing that they have made it better.
- As the older generations look at the rising generations it is easy to forget their own youth and the volcanic nature of their passions. It can be easy to listen with the ears of the jackal and hear condemnation, blame, and judgement... where there is a deep desire for recognition of the good that has been done.
Many of our churches are watching this divide play out in an unhealthy way... and I am convinced that this grieves the heart of our God. If we are going to fully lean into the calling that God has placed on our churches, we need to be united in our purposes and working together to seek to bring the Kingdom to Earth. Doing this is going to require us to rethink how we communicate:
- For my older brothers and sisters, stop and remember the passions of your youth and how you presented them. Listen with the ears of the giraffe, seeking to understand the unmet wants, needs, and desires of the rising generations... rather than condemnation on a job left unfinished or personal failures.
- For my younger brothers and sisters, be careful not to make assumptions. There are many contributions made by those who have gone before that we need to celebrate and honor. Get to know those who have gone before, pause to hear their stories and recognize the contributions that they have made... speak the language of the giraffe.
The church has come a long way through the years, but we have a long way to go. Let's do this together.