I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way, I became the old guy on our church staff. I don’t think of myself as old. I’m social media savvy. I text on my iPhone 7+. I don’t use it, but I even have a Snapchat account (I’m not sure why.).
Of course, I don’t wear skinny jeans, spike my hair, have a long beard, or have the coolest eyeglasses. I don’t sleep more than 6-7 hours a night. I still say “dude,” and I enjoy a mid-afternoon power nap. I also now qualify for the senior discount at a growing number of places.
Okay, at almost 60, maybe I am old, but I’m learning some things about relating to millennials. I’ll get there in a second, but let’s first attempt to describe who is what.
The generation breakdown is a bit difficult to define. In fact, the census bureau doesn’t classify the different generations except for Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964, who are roughly 52-70 years old).
The media, or some self-proclaimed pundit somewhere, have said that Gen-Xers are those born between 1965 and 1981, those who are 35-51. Millennials are typically those under 35, born between 1982 and 2004.
I’ve never been a big fan of pigeon-holing people, and there are plenty of folks who defy definition, but I recognize that some significant differences exist among these age groups.
That being said, how does a Boomer love and care for a staff comprised of some Gen-Xers and lots of Millennials?
Here are seven lessons I’m learning:
Be a good listener. If you’re a pastor, you’ve told couples a thousand times, “You’ll see some major improvements in your marriage if you work on your listening skills.” We all know how important this is, but we senior pastors (pun intended) have a nasty habit of liking the sound of our own voice when it comes to managing staff. However, it’s better to ask insightful and useful questions and to listen sincerely. You’ll make great headway with a Gen-Xer or Millennial who feels genuinely heard.
Clearly define your expectations. Listen first and listen well, but you’ll avoid a lot of frustration with everyone if you work hard to spell out what you want (or don’t want) and when you need it. Communication is a challenge when assumptions are made and ambivalence and indecision are present.
Pick your battles. On a regular basis, while being challenged by one of the young bucks on my staff or in other areas of my life, I’m consciously thinking, “How much does this truly matter? Is this a hill worth dying on?” Be honest. When it’s all said and done, does their way conflict with your ultimate goal? If you’ve defined the “win” (your clear expectations), it’s okay to give a lot of latitude to those doing the work. Of course, there are times when you should pull rank and say, “Thank you for your input, but this is what you’re going to do.” Just make sure those times are done in love and after you’ve listened to them well. Also, learn to under-react rather than over-react.
Don’t get defensive. Millennials are sometimes combative. I know that’s a generalization and not always true, but it is a common trait among the young. They rarely lack an opinion, and they often won’t back off until they feel valued and heard (review the point above about listening). Yes, it’s irritating when it seems like you aren’t being respected and your experience is being rejected or discounted as irrelevant, but take a deep breath and work hard not to be aggressive, defensive, or cynical because doing so never ends well for anyone. Remember, Millennials want to be valued (which is a good thing), and their opinions matter too.
Be mindful of the common ground you probably have with Millennials. Keep in mind, many Boomers (myself included) once were the arrogant, cocky, self-absorbed, know-it-alls who challenged everybody. Sooner or later, most people figure out that the generation before them weren’t all idiots and that experience actually does matter.
Lead by example. Words matter. Actions matter more. If you want them to work hard—then work hard. If you want them to have a servant’s heart—serve. If you want them to listen more and talk less—listen more. If you want them to learn from their elders and be teachable—you keep learning too. Being a lifelong learner isn’t easy. At my age, I’ve caught myself thinking, “I deserve a break. I shouldn’t have to work 10-12 hour days anymore. Where’s that life cruise-control button?” But relevance and respect must be earned, even if you’re old.
Be patient. If heading up a church staff and being the lead pastor were easy, you probably wouldn’t be needed. Believe me when I say, staff challenges are common. Put two or more humans together and some conflict is inevitable. Be patient with your young staff, and be patient with yourself.
Mistakes will happen. People will fail you, and you will fail them, but failure is always an opportunity for change and growth.
I’m thankful for the younger staff who surround me. I believe in them, and I see enormous potential for the future of the Church led by these young people. I deeply value the input and perspective of the young. In many ways, my Church is what it is because of the Millennials who contribute so much to who we are and what we do.
Sure, you and I might be old, but God’s not done with us yet. We still have the opportunity to shape the generations in our wake. Whether we do or don’t will have a lot to do with our attitude.
In fact, its use was a very popular practice, particularly by religious scribes, who are thought to have started the whole “Xmas” thing in the first place. Indeed, the practice of using the symbol “X” in place of Christ’s name has been going on amongst religious scholars for at least a thousand years. (Here’s another link just in case you need more convincing.)
Second, we use Xmas on our sign for a very practical reason: Space. To use “Christmas Eve” and list all our services would take too many panels. People driving by have time only for a glance.
Third, of all the things that matter, like the billions who don’t have clean drinking water or the millions suffering from starvation, this issue is not worthy of an uproar by Christians. (Especially, when they are being inaccurate. See my first point.)
Maybe instead of worrying too much about taking Christ out of Christmas we should be a lot more like Christ at Christmas. I’m quite certain Jesus wouldn’t mind the use of “X,” and He’d be way more concerned with things and people that matter.
Fourth, to think that a Christian, evangelical church has taken Christ out of Christmas is a unfortunate false assumption. Every week we preach Jesus, and our stated mission is to “help people find and follow Jesus!” For the record, Jesus Christ is at the center of everything we do and say at Eastpoint! Everything.
Fifth, our mission as a church is to reach the unchurched. And trust me, the unchurched are not the ones calling and complaining. Frankly, they tend to think arguments about “X” are stupid, and they sometimes use this foolishness among believers as an excuse to avoid Christians. How sad.
When the sign got delivered this past week, one of my staff said, “Are we going with ‘Xmas’ again this year? Are you sure it’s worth the flack we’ll get?”
“Yup,” I said, “We’re not trying to be offensive, but the only people who will be offended aren’t the unchurched folks we’re trying to reach.”
She smiled. So did I.
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In one twenty-four-hour period, I ran into two families who pretty much hate me. Once upon a time we had been friends. These encounters weren’t the first time I’ve seen these people, but, ironically, my personal devotion that day had been from Luke 6 about loving our enemies.
I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in a loving, sovereign God who has a way of dealing with my heart. If I know anything (and sometimes I wonder if I do), I know that God is far more committed to my character than He is to my comfort.
The good news—I didn’t feel anger or hate toward these people. I wasn’t anxious or afraid. But I did feel pain and the angst of loss.
Tossing and turning in bed last night, I said out loud, “God, how am I to deal with this situation and these people? I’ve asked them to forgive me, and I’ve forgiven them. I don’t know what else to do!”
He whispered to my soul, “Be thankful for your enemies.”
Not what I wanted or expected to hear from God.
You’ve heard it, and I’ve taught it: Be thankful in everything but not necessarily thankful for everything.
Yes, I’m supposed to be thankful in all things regardless of the good, the bad, or the ugly in my life. (Did someone just whistle?) But I don’t have to be thankful for cancer or for any other horrible thing that’s happened.
Thankfulness in all circumstances does not mean gratefulness for all circumstances. Thankful in but not always thankful for is good theology.
So God and I had a bit of a disagreement. “Father, I can be thankful in my pain and despite the sting of a broken relationship, but being thankful for these people, my enemies, is just stupid!”
The heavens were silent.
“Okay, God, why?”
Then it hit me.
I can be thankful for my enemies because of the way God is using them to mold and change me into the image of His Son. (You might want to go back and read that last line again.)
My enemy provides an opportunity for me to love the unlovely even as God has loved me.
My enemy provides a path for personal blessing. I get blessed by God when I love the haters, and I can rejoice in a reward that will someday be mine in heaven.
My enemy provides a profound opportunity for me to practice the golden rule.
My enemy provides me with a chance to be more like my Father, who is kind and merciful to the ungrateful and wicked.
By the way, all of the above can be found in Luke 6 (you should click on this link and read verses 22-36).
Of course, we are supposed to love everyone, but why should you and I be thankful for those who curse and hate us?
Because our enemies help us to grow.
Being thankful for those who hate me changes my fear about them or my frustration with them into a radically different perspective.