People like to put us down… Talkin’ bout my generation! The WHO began screaming those words in 1965 as young people were trying to find their place in society. Every generation since has continued the quest to find their footing. These lyrics resonated with the Baby Boomer generation. Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are people who are characterized as being questioners of authority, eager to put their own stamp on institutions, and extremely optimistic. They were the first generation to be shaped by sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.
The Baby Boomers protested against a nation governed by Traditionalists, who were seen as “The Man” of their day. The Traditionalists (born prior to 1946) were the people in authority, they were the voice of the country in a time before social media and the internet enabled anyone to speak to a broad audience. Traditionalists survived the Great Depression and World War II. They are characterized as being patriotic, loyal, fiscally conservative, and faithful to institutions.
Then came my cohort: Generation X (born 1965-1981). Gen-Xers grew up on Sesame Street, MTV, and punk rock. Our parents got divorced at high rates, we dealt with AIDS, crack cocaine, and pictures of missing children on milk cartons. Gen-Xers are described as being eclectic, resourceful, skeptical of institutions, highly adaptive, independent, and willing to throw rules out the window.
Next, allow me to introduce you to the Millennials (born 1982-2004). The new generation is maybe the most intelligent. They are globally concerned, cyber-literate, media savvy, environmentally conscious, collaborative, and very adaptive. They’ve grown up with terrorism, technology, violence, drugs and gangs. They’ve coped with Columbine, 911, and Hurricane Katrina. If you have a meaningful conversation with a Millennial and you tend to see things through a lens of black and white you’ll be thinking gray by the end of the exchange.
My father is a Boomer, my son is a Millennial, and I am an Xer. My father and I have a great relationship today, but growing up and even far into my adult years we didn’t see eye-to-eye on very much. I was a rebellious teenager who railed against his rules. I thought they were arbitrary and ridiculous. My son and I, although we’ve had our moments, have been and continue to be very good friends. The difference is that my son is conversationalist and my dad is an authoritarian. The way they are stems from the generation in which they were taught to think and be.
In ministry I often find myself acting as a bridge between Millennials and Boomers/Traditionalists. Boomers and Traditionalists are often territorial. They’ve paid a debt and feel like they deserve to be “in charge.” What they don’t often realize is that Millennials and Gen-Xers aren’t looking to take over, they just want their voice to be heard (especially Millennials). Boomers that expect Millennials to “get in line and follow orders” are going to be disappointed with the results of their relationships.
Over the past year my denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, has dealt with her fair share of problems. In my humble opinion what we are dealing with has a direct link to generational gaps and leadership styles. However, because of social media, what was once easy to sweep under the rug and forget about can now be discussed openly among those affected.
Personally, I found myself very troubled over the issues at Nazarene Publishing House (NPH), where it seemed that someone intentionally profited from the church’s loss. I think that affected me because I’m an Xer who recognized personal gain at the expense of the church. In the mind of a Gen-Xer the institution can exist, but when it takes advantage of the grassroots it’s time to storm the gates. However, I’ve noticed that the Millennials are speaking out more over events at MNU and NNU (two of our universities) because of what seems to be unfair downgrading that has negatively affected two professors who are well-loved and admired.
With these scenarios I find myself, once again, trying to bridge a gap in the discussion. I’ve ask God to check my spirit as I engage these conversations because I genuinely desire to help. I have been mentored by Boomers. I have faith in them and I want to be loyal. I love Millennials. I believe they are asking the right questions. I also believe they are revolutionizing the way we minister to a broken world. In examining characteristics of the different generations we clearly identify areas of disconnect: (1) Boomers want to put their stamp on institutions; (2) Gen-Xers are skeptical of institutions; (3) Millennials critique institutions.
As a Gen-Xer I didn’t agree with my Boomer father growing up. In fact, I kicked against his rules. As God has led us both through the years we’ve come to a place where our hearts are softer. We still don’t completely understand each other’s perspectives, but we love each other nonetheless (I love you dad). And that’s the point: I pray the world would recognize us by our love, not our differences.
Through the questions, conflicts, and generational gaps… I pray that love will prevail and that we will emerge stronger than ever because we wrestled with the difficult inquiries and walked out of the pit with our arms around each other. May the Spirit of Christ overcome… And may an everlasting love for one another be the theme that bridges the gap between our generations for generations to come.