A Boomer’s LAMENT
How we relate to the next generations has timeless consequences.
by KERRY NATIONS
I HAVE A HEART FOR YOUNG ADULTS and emerging adults — Millennials and what we are currently calling Generation Z. In full disclosure, there’s good reason for it. I’m the father, father-in-law, uncle, and uncle-in-law of seven Millennial young adults and six Gen Z nieces and nephews. And in further disclosure, I am often frustrated but mostly heartbroken by the way my generation talks about the generations that, for the most part, we raised. It seems those who once believed you couldn’t trust anyone over 30 now don’t trust anyone under 30. It’s particularly disheartening when the harshness comes from Christians because there is, potentially, so much at stake.
DON’T BE PART OF THE GAP
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, NLT).
Generational conflict must come naturally to our fallen world. Paul and Solomon wrote about it. It is embodied in the fifth commandment. Jesus spoke of it. When Paul admonished the believers in Ephesus not to “provoke” their children, it’s probably safe to say that the generational name-calling we see and hear in so many venues might be included in that.
Baby Boomers — and those who raised us — should be pretty empathetic to generational differences, especially as Christians. I was saved as a young teenager; raised in a loving, Christian home; and attended a nurturing, Bible-believing church in a community of committed Christians. But that didn’t mean we didn’t have our share of disagreements at home. Most of it was superficial — hair too long, music too loud, clothes too flashy — but some was more substantive.
BE PART OF THE STORY
“Start a youth out on his way; even when he grows old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
Most Boomers came to understand that we weren’t right about everything we believed as teens and young adults. Our parents got a lot smarter as we got older, and many of their values once again became our own. But we weren’t wrong about everything either. And we taught older generations a thing or two along the way, as we learned to channel our beliefs into ministries.
We were right about civil rights and about opening new opportunities for women. We helped create new ministries, like divorce care and addiction recovery. We opened food pantries and soup kitchens, and we made our church facilities available to immigrant congregations so they could worship God within their own cultural traditions. We made sure the clothes hanging in the closet weren’t a barrier to coming to church and encouraged new translations of the Bible that were easier to understand. And we helped people realize that not every guy with long hair and a guitar was some wild rock ’n’ roller — some were youth pastors. Not bad for a bunch of “radicals.” But we didn’t do it alone. Despite the harsh rhetoric that accompanied the generation gap, our elders often mentored us and supported us.
The transition to adulthood is hard, even for those who grow up in church. Our kids and grandkids, even as adults, want to hear from us. They want help with what my daughter calls adulting. The truth is, intergenerational relationships are important to all of us but too often not nearly as available in an age-graded culture.
We can and should acknowledge that emerging adults aren’t right about everything. But they’re not wrong about everything either. Our children and grandchildren have grown up with a keen sense of social justice and community service. That’s a pretty good place to start a ministry. It’s also a pretty good place to find some intergenerational common ground, done the right way.
There are some pretty scary statistics out there about the number of Millennials leaving the church — some fear to never come back. There’s also an emerging counter-narrative — not questioning the statistics so much as what to do about them. Two things are clear, though. One, God hasn’t finished writing this story, so it’s all in His hands. Two, God can put us in a place and time to be used in that story. And thanks be to God for that.
KERRY NATIONS is a marketing and communications professional living in Kennesaw, Georgia. He enjoys cooking, reading, motorcycling, and traveling with his wife, Janet. Their son, Cameron, is a minister in Mountain Brook, Alabama, married to Carly, an English teacher. Their daughter, Shelby, is a marketing content manager in Nashville, Tennessee.
This article originally appeared in Mature Living magazine (October 2018). For more articles like this, subscribe to Mature Living.