Have you heard the term “generational gap”? I cringe when I hear it used because there often isn’t any positive connotation. It implies separation; that there are differences, whether in opinions, beliefs, values, standards, or experiences, that prevent the two generations from walking alongside each other.
In the past two years I’ve come to realize that we, as a society, often accept this “gap” without challenging it.
I had to ask myself: am I just seeing the gap, or am I standing in the gap?
I first began purposefully connecting with teens a couple years ago, and then began officially working with teens 8 months ago. In that time I’ve come to realize three beautiful things that can come out of standing in the gap. I’d love to share them with you.
- Learning from One Another. Our generations have so much to learn from each other. Do you have any idea how much you miss out on by not connecting with the generations older and younger than yourself?! I’ve had the privilege of establishing relationships and friendships with individuals across the age span over the last years and would love to share some things that I’ve learned from them. Beautiful friendships can come out of standing in the gap.
- “Generation Z”: Pre-teens and teens have a beautiful energy and excitement that they often end up pouring into me during my encounters with them. They’ve taught me to have raw honesty, but to also have raw love. They challenge me to “know my stuff” and constantly walk in step with the Holy Spirit so that I can provide wise counsel and be a good example. They’ve shown me what Jesus means when he says that we should “have the faith of a child.” They bring a simplified approach to situations when we’d normally tend to overcomplicate them.
- “Generation X”: Young parents, married couples…I’ve had so much to connect over with these individuals because out of all the generations they were most recently where I’m currently Some of the women or couples that I’ve befriended have had wonderful advice to offer. They’ve already done the wedding planning, the first years of marriage, the house, and now the kids. They can offer wisdom gained from experience; anything ranging from investments and finances, to advice for the first years of marriage, to advice for the new mom, to things they discovered in their spiritual walk. There is no shortage of what I can gain from them if they’re willing to offer it, and often their advice can help prevent us from making the same mistakes they made!
- “Baby Boomers”: These middle- to older-aged adults have even more wisdom to share from their life experiences. You’ll probably hear them say that they don’t remember as much about their dating or early married years anymore, but when it comes to sharing wisdom about working with teens, the Church, or balance in life, these are the women or men to talk to! Sometimes also about relationships and marriage- I don’t want to make generalizations or limit what you can gain from them! While their dating and early marriage years were longer ago than for most in Generation X, this could still be an area where they provide fruitful and wise advice. There are several ladies that fall into this age category whom I have the privilege of meeting with every couple months. We’ll talk about life, about the Church, about serving others, and about our opinions on varying matters. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to share our views and learn from each other, rather than see our ages as an incompatible difference.
- “Traditionalists”: The older generation sees things from the most experienced and seasoned eyes. One thing we can gain from them is an honest reality-check about what’s important in life. They’ve lived much of their life already, but as a result they have an honest take on things that were a waste of time or money. They will often tell me that the most important things in life are family, friends, and serving God. It seems like it’s a simple list, but it’s the undeniable truth. We sometimes get sidetracked from these priorities in the busyness of life. The older generation reminds us to slow down and remember our priorities.
- Loving and Supporting One Another. Jesus calls us to love and support one another: how can we do that if there’s a gap? Unless we spend time connecting with individuals from different generations, how will we know how to best reach them with the love of Jesus? How will we know how to best support and encourage them? Most importantly, how will we know how to disciple and mentor those believers who are younger than us if we haven’t connected with them on a personal level first?
Another thought to reflect on: Is the Church following this commission? How can mentorship and discipleship really happen in God’s Church if age is a barrier?
Something I’ve personally learned to this point is that it’s important to remove any hierarchy we’ve set up in our minds. We tend to see those who are older than us as being above us, and those who are younger as being below us. When we actively seek out to find ways to connect inter-generationally, we will make connections!
Applying this specifically to teens again, I’ve discovered just how important it is to connect and relate instead of talking down. Sometimes we’re too quick to look down at the younger generation and roll our eyes at silly trends and sayings. I often need to remind myself of two things in those situations: First of all, I was their age once too; I was also likely weirder. Secondly, and more importantly, Jesus didn’t see an age gap and that means I shouldn’t either.
- Living Most Effectively for the Kingdom. When we stand together in the gap we will be most effective for the kingdom! The body of Christ cannot function without each member. It’s only when we stand together that we can see one another’s strengths and talents, empower and encourage each other to use them, and support each person in the way he or she needs it. True support will be lacking if there isn’t any understanding or connection. In addition to this, each age group has different insight, different knowledge, and different needs.
The Bible is filled with thoughts on loving one another, belonging to a body of believers, supporting and mentoring one another, and working together. Below are a few of many passages:
- John 13:34-35 “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
- John 13:14-17 “Now that I, your Lord, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”
- 1 John 4:7-8 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who has love has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
- Galatians 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
- Matthew 28:19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
- Galatians 6:10 “Therefore, we should take every opportunity to do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
- Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one person should sharpen another.”
- Proverbs 1:5 “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance!”
- 1 Timothy 4:12 “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for other believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.”
- Philippians 4:9 “Whatever you have learned or heard from me, or seen in me- put it into practice!”
- 1 Corinthians 12:27 “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it!”
- Ephesians 4:16 “The whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is healthy and working properly, will grow and build itself up in love.”
- Romans 12 “In Christ we form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different roles and gifts… Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves…Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality!”
If everyone does his or her part by connecting with the generation above and below them, then everyone will be taken care of! Jesus calls us to take care of ourselves spiritually and make that a priority, but one of His greatest commands is to also love others; to go out into the world and make disciples!
We all have a fundamental need for human contact, for love, and for affirmation. We also all have the need to be supported and mentored in some form. I see people without strong support systems, without a “friend group”, or without any real friends at all. I see people who always seem to be on the outside, because there isn’t someone consistently pulling them in. If each of us does our part in reaching out to others, then we won’t need to see this problem anymore.
It starts with you and me.
Will you resolve today to reach out to someone younger than yourself? Will you challenge yourself to invite someone new for coffee, or for a round of pool, for a game night, or for dinner?
I’ve personally prayed about whom God has laid on my heart to reach out to, and I would love to challenge you to do the same. Reach outside of your comfort zone, or usual circle of friends, and get to know some new people. Mentor, support, encourage, disciple…let the Lord use you to love some new people. I’d like to invite you to spend some time praying about how God might be leading you.
Lord, I desire to live out your commission to love others and make disciples. Please show me if there are places I could be doing a better job of this. Thank you so much for the opportunities you’ve already given me- for the individuals I’ve had the privilege to connect and establish relationships with. You have created beauty within every age group, and I desire to see more of that beauty and experience it personally. Jesus, I truly believe that you never allowed age to be a barrier in your ministry work. You reached out to the young, old, and middle-aged alike. Please let this be said of me too…I never want to see age as a barrier or gap. Spirit, please equip me to better reach out to those around me. Give me words when I need them. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear the needs of those around me. Teach me how to best connect with each age group, and let me learn from Your example. Give me a sincere love for all. Teach me to grow in your love, grace, and compassion. I love you, and I want Your love to flow through me into others. Amen.
For those of you who love practical application, I’ve put together 3 quick points of how you can apply this to your life. How can I stand in the gap?
- Pray. If you’re struggling with this, tell God. If you want to get better at it, tell God. If you want Him to challenge you in new ways, tell God. Pray whatever is on your heart!
- Read. I listed several passages of scripture above, but explore this more on your own. Look at examples throughout the Bible. In the New Testament, take a look at how Jesus reached out to others. Read about Paul’s example of discipleship. Learn from how Jesus discipled His own disciples. While you read, pray some more. Ask God to open your eyes to see people in your life whom you could reach out to.
- Take action. Like any other area of your spiritual walk, this too requires action. You can pray for God to open your eyes and equip you, but none of that will matter if you aren’t moved to action. This is the point at which you take a step of faith (and courage!) and reach out. Invite that couple you don’t know very well over for dinner. Ask a young guy to play a round of pool with you on a Monday night. Invite that lady who needs a friend out for coffee. Ask a couple of young believers over for a Bible study. The possibilities are endless!
It’s important to remember that there will be some trial and error- you’ll figure out what works best to connect with each person individually. Make an effort to really get to know the individual or couple that you’re trying to connect with. Find out likes and dislikes, hobbies and pastimes, favourite foods, etc. Later on, this will progress to discovering struggles and fears, victories, prayer requests, and more about their spiritual journey. Once you’ve made these discoveries, you can most effectively come alongside them in their spiritual walk. You’ll be able to laugh with them, cry with them, celebrate with them, and pray with them.
My prayer is that God guides you as you pursue standing in the gap. I pray that each of us grows in our love for others, and that this love would move us to action. I pray that we, as members of Christ’s church, can all come together to stand in the gap.