Divese group of multicultural people isolated on white.Your congregation has up to six, maybe even seven, different generations in it.  While the oldest generation is unlikely to still be attending worship, they are still part of your congregation.  And the newest generation is on its way in.  Each generation is influenced by different historical events, technology, and expectations.

Do you know how to recognize who’s who, and what each age group needs? Click To Tweet It helps to know what’s in a name.*

GI Generation: Born from around 1900 through 1923, they came of age during the Great Depression. Also known as the Greatest Generation, this group includes the veterans who fought in World War II. Along with the Pioneers and Baby Boomers, nine out of ten GI’s describe the Bible as sacred. Duty and tradition are motivators for this generation.

Pioneer Generation: Born 1924 through 1944, this generation is generally recognized as the children of the Great Depression. It had a profound impact on their formative years. The American Dream was alive and well with many in this generation. With dedication and hard work, many found success in work and life. Feeling undervalued demotivates this generation; being part of an organization that does good motivates them.

Baby Boomer Generation: Born from approximately 1945 to 1963 following World War II, in a time that was marked by an increase in birth rates. In general, baby boomers are associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional values. A relatively large number of young people became teenagers and young adults in the 1960s. They both fought in and demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. They gave rise to the Hippie movement and the Jesus People or Jesus Freaks movement, living in communes and advocating a return to simpler times. The genre “Christian music” grew out of this generation. They broke away from traditional church more so than any of their forebears. Respect and recognition for their efforts motivates this generation.

Gen X or Postmodern Generation: Born from approximately 1964-1980, they are shaped by the first Earth Day, the 1973 Oil Crisis, the end of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the Challenger explosion and 9/11. Often the children of divorced parents, they are more open to religious, racial, ethnic, class, sexual orientation and gender identity diversity than any previous generation. Rather than challenge leaders, they tend to ignore them. They are educated, active, happy, balanced and family oriented. Not at all the “slacker” stereotype once attributed to this generation.

Many were babysat by the T.V., and as a result they rebelled against authority and tradition to a greater degree than had been previously seen. Since authority structures were not there for them as children, they question why they should play into this system now as adults. They prefer doing things their own way. While a significant number still participated in church activities, this generation increased the trend of falling away from religion.

Millennial Generation: Born somewhere from 1981-1999, they have been described as upbeat, team- playing, civic-minded, multi-tasking, and tech savvy. They are regularly in touch with their parents and many live at home due to high unemployment. Sometimes called the “Trophy Generation” or “Trophy Kids,” a term that reflects the trend in competitive sports, as well as many other aspects of life, where mere participation is frequently enough for a reward. They expect more from the workplace than generations before them: coaching, feedback, access to authority. This is good news for churches which thrive on making the above available.

In the US, the Millennials are more likely to be skeptical of religious institutions than their forebears, but still have a strong spiritual/religious sense. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center on religion and Millennials showed that 64% of Americans in this generation believe in God.

Digital Generation: Born around 2000. Also called the Internet Generation, they came into being at about the same time as the World Wide Web. Typically children of Postmoderns, they have but a faint recollection of 9/11. These world-aware children will be shaped by the Economic Crash of 2008, the 7 Billionth Baby, and drastically different weather patterns than previous generations.

  • They embrace technology and value human connections.
  • They are fluid in their ability to adapt to change. Even so they appreciate stability.
  • They see the spiritual all around them. God moments are not limited to Sunday mornings or church buildings.
  • They want to change the world. And often insist on social justice.
  • They are not fighting over environmental stewardship, whether or not global warming is real, full acceptance of women, gays, lesbians, and transgender people in the church, or whether or not to have friends of different ethnicities and races. Generally, they accept these as given. Even so, they are susceptible to prejudice, racism, sexism, heterosexism, greed, and selfishness—just like the rest of us.

You may have noticed that the above information doesn’t necessarily fit your family, culture, or life experience. Or that of the families you serve. Even as generational experiences vary by country and culture, 1989 marks a milestone year. As the Berlin Wall came down, and a youth revolt took hold, more of the world looked to American culture for economic, cultural, and technological cues.   In the generations before 1989, differences abounded in world cultures. Post-1989, however, a global shift occurred; and American culture became a strong focus.   From 1989 onward, generational experiences may be more confluent with American experiences, regardless of culture.

Chances are, your church is a generational mix, complete with untapped blessings, wisdom and knowledge. What can you learn from the generations around you? Click To Tweet

If you are interested in learning more about how to lead a vibrant multi-generational congregation, Creating a Culture of Renewal is for you. Gain the emotional intelligence to interact with all kinds of people. Look deeply at the life of Jesus, his world-changing vision, and how he implemented it. You will learn a step by step process for crafting and implementing a Kingdom-oriented vision that expands assumptions about what is possible in your setting.

* Much of the generational research used in this article has been drawn from Wikipedia.

My colleague, Martha Taylor, recently reported a conversation with a parishioner in which said parishioner gushed, “Oh, I just love my church to death!”  Martha noted that she had a tight grip on the reins and leadership of the church and thought, “Yes, sadly, you probably do.”Wooden Background With Olive Heart And White Cross For An Obitua

In a time when different factions are fighting over the future of the church, it’s important to consider how not to love the church to death.

These days biblical interpretation, the unique claims of Christianity, worship on Sunday mornings and even church itself are up for grabs.

What’s a church leader to do? How do you achieve peace in your congregation?   Is it even possible?

One of the biggest spiritual challenges for people of every age and generation is learning how to let go. Click To Tweet Letting go of power, control, possessions, preferences and life itself is tough stuff.  Yet, this is the call of faith and of spiritual maturity.  It is also the pathway to harmonious relationships.

How might this work?  For now, I’m going to skip over the obvious disagreement before United Methodists—norms of human sexuality and of biblical interpretation—in favor of something less charged: worship style.  When traditionally-minded worshipers are able to let go of the exclusive use of organ music played at a stately pace, in order to accommodate the addition of a band’s lively music or meditative Taizé chant, this move not only includes more worshiping preferences, it also enriches the spiritual life of the whole community.

The key word is exclusive.  It’s not that the organ can’t be incorporated into multi-generational worship.  It’s just that insisting on it can suffocate other options.  And ultimately the life of the church.

If we are to make way for new generations, new expressions of faith, and new leaders, we have to practice surrender. Click To Tweet

The current rate of change is more rapid than any previous generation has ever experienced. That means Postmoderns, Millennials, and Digitals are far more fluid and adaptable than Baby Boomers, Pioneers or GIs.  Futurist Ray Kurzweil noted, “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).”

So while the church is deciding if it’s okay to sing songs out of the new hymnal, use projection screens, or incorporate new musical instruments, the Confirmation Class of 2019 is learning how to navigate more change in a few months than we have previously encountered in our lifetimes! They don’t understand the church’s collective reluctance to embrace change. For them, change is a matter of course.

Before you love your church to death, ask yourself these questions:  What do I need to let go of to be faithful to younger generations?  To older generations?  A house divided against itself cannot stand.

There’s a lot of talking past each other right now. Listening, true listening, seems harder than ever.  Add to that the polarizing results of General Conference 2019 and it’s a wonder United Methodists can hear each other at all.

At a recent district event, six of us sat around a table to process our feelings after General Conference 2019. Like a microcosm of both Men And Women Sitting In A Circle During Group Therapy, Supportichurch and the world we live in, our table had a sprinkling of theologies, life experience, and deeply held convictions. How would this go, I wondered?  My expectations weren’t very high.

Equipped with a timer, a list of questions, ground rules, and 25 minutes, a retired DS, three lay folks, a pastor and I sat at the round table, looked at each other warily, and began the vulnerable experience of listening, truly listening, to each other.

I needn’t have worried. The questions helped us tap into our own inner resilience, faith, and trust in God. Click To Tweet

The first set of questions, “How has General Conference 2019 and responses around it both within and beyond the church impacted you?” followed by “How do you feel about it?” went pretty well. Haltingly at first, we began to reveal our convictions and reactions. Then as we came around to the end of the circle, the retired DS began to speak. His reflection turned into a complaint about what “they believe.” Sheila, a lay person, with opposite views as it turned out, firmly reined him in by reminding him of one of our ground rules to use “I” statements, not “you” statements. He stopped, trailing off, somewhat surprised.   But he was gracious.

The second set of questions, “How do you deal with challenging circumstances in your life? What practices of faith do you rely on?” caught me off guard. We shifted rather abruptly, it seemed, from the topic at hand to our own coping resources. Only in retrospect could I see the genius of the move. We had neatly moved from problems we had no control over to remembering our inner resilience.

The first person to share confessed that when faced with challenging circumstances, she first gets grumpy, and then tries to get others to do as she wishes before she eventually remembers to pray.   Several us laughed in recognition and the table relaxed.   We shared about the power of nature to calm us, the enduring wisdom of the scriptures, and the grace of friends.

The third and final set of questions moved us deeper into resilience as we began to envision a new future. “What is your hope for the future, healing and well-being for yourself and the church? How can you contribute to that happening?” One by one we shared our hopes and dreams and considered ways we could be part of the various solutions we envisioned.

At the end of 25 minutes, a mini-miracle had unfolded. We had interrupted the reflexive process of speaking past each other.  Instead, we had listened quietly and respectfully, shared vulnerably, and reconnected with our own resilience. The future shifted around our table.

Do you need resources to reconnect with your own resilience and to envision a new future? Creating a Culture of Renewal equips you with the capacity to do both.

Satan offered Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world. Tempting indeed for a person who was here to proclaim the Kingdom. Yet what Jesus meant by “kingdom” and what Satan meant were two entirely different things.   Jesus had to have understood the difference. Otherwise, he would have succumbed to a soul-killing temptation.

Just as Jesus had to be clear about meaning, and to not project his understanding of Kingdom onto Satan’s, so we have to be clear about the meaning we ascribe to words. And to not project our personal definitions onto someone else’s words. Otherwise it’s like comparing apples and oranges and finding oranges wanting because they are lousy apples.

The Traditional Plan and the One Church Plan had different meanings for different General Conference constituents. From what I gather, many delegates who voted for the Traditional Plan were not voting against gays. Rather, they were voting for something else. Likewise, many delegates who voted for the One Church Plan weren’t voting against Biblical authority. Rather, they were voting for something else.

Some people are saying, “The United Methodist Church now rejects gays.” But IS that what happened at General Conference? That depends on who you ask.

I have to admit that as a One Church Plan proponent, I didn’t get why people would vote for the Traditional Plan since it seemed to allow space and grace for theological differences. So, I asked around amongst my friends and colleagues who supported the Traditional Plan. This is what I found:

One friend and colleague believes that the church moves forward only when it is countercultural. John Wesley challenged the culture of his time. Martin Luther challenged the culture of his time. Thus, my friend believes that we must challenge the culture of our time.

Another friend supports the Traditional Plan because she feels it supports a deep reverence for God and the Scriptures.

A third colleague believes that God alone wills human sexuality and that the will of God is delineated through the creation, and union, of Adam and Eve, which was male and female, and thus heterosexual.

When I polled One Church Plan proponents, here is what I found:

One friend supported the One Church Plan because her interpretation of the Bible prioritizes Jesus’ first and second commandments (to love God with our whole being, and our neighbor as ourselves) above any passages related to sexuality.

Another colleague supported it because of his understanding that our United Methodist baptismal covenant welcomes all people —regardless of sexual orientation—into the fullness of the life of Christ, and the fullness of the life of the church.

A third friend and colleague supported the One Church Plan because it would allow United Methodists the freedom to follow their conscience as they minister with the love of Christ in their various settings.

It is tempting to use either Traditional Plan or One Church Plan rationales as justifications to bolster your arguments for why supporters of the plan you didn’t support are wrong. I get it.   I’m quite capable of falling prey to the same temptation.

Here’s the thing, though. Making them wrong victimizes both you and them. Because it’s an “against” position. In the law of emotional triangles, what goes around comes around. Victimizing others because you feel victimized simply reinforces victimization. Jesus put it this way: Judge not lest you be judged. This is a spiritual temptation that will not get us where we want to go, assuming that where we want to go is Christ-like love.

A few caveats: First, to be sure, some folks did vote against gays and some folks did vote against Biblical authority. Second, regardless of why people voted the way they did, votes have unintended consequences which can do great harm. Third, I am not urging anyone to leave the denomination or to stay. That choice is between you and God. What I am doing is encouraging us to expand our powers of emotional intelligence as we traverse this Lenten journey.

Want to act instead of react? Step out of the emotional triangle and self-differentiate. Have the courage and clarity to say what you are for instead of simply reacting against what you oppose. In other words, lead with vision and not from reaction.

Self-differentiation is a key ingredient of emotional intelligence. Jesus shows us how it's done. Click To Tweet Notice that Jesus didn’t fight Satan in the desert, or even quarrel with him. Instead, Jesus simply articulated his own vision again and again. It’s what allowed him to emerge unscathed from his 40-day journey through the desert.

How will your 40-day journey go?

Jesus survived the temptations of the wilderness because of his spiritual grounding and his guidance by God. Another factor empowered himConflict as well: his emotional intelligence. Jesus had his wits about him. He never could have survived otherwise.

The UMC faces its own set of temptations as we threaten to implode or explode over General Conference proceedings. We too need our wits about us.

The UMC faces its own set of temptations as we threaten to implode or explode over General Conference proceedings. We too need our wits about us. Click To Tweet

A hidden opportunity awaits us in this timeline. These 40+ days give us time to think instead of react and time to pray instead of stew. It gives us time to gather our wits about us. So that we can address the last temptations of the UMC in a calmer fashion.

This week I want to address the temptation of demonizing the other side.

Reactions to General Conference have included: THAT side is against love. THEY are against me. Clearly, THEY don’t want me, so I’m outta here. I am done with church, done with organized religion, done with people like THAT.

Or on the other side: THAT side is godless, THEY worship at the altar of human preference, THEY have abandoned the Bible, and the authority of Scripture. Clearly, God’s will was done through General Conference. God wants for things to be this way.

Demonizing the other side feels empowering, but it’s a temptation we can ill afford to entertain. The truth is many factors came into play at General Conference. Let’s see what we can tease out.

Factor 1: Our will, not God’s will. In the Bible, Jesus is explicit that humans must decide how to interpret the scripture. Not only that, Heaven will go along with what we decide. This principle is captured in Matthew 16:19 “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” So, when it comes to General Conference decisions, we’re not so much looking at God’s will but at the will of the delegates we elected. We must take responsibility for our theologies and votes, not ascribe them to God. In this case, the will of the General Conference was to pass the amended Traditional Plan. It received 438 yes votes (53 percent) and 384 no votes (47 percent).

Factor 2: The will of the body can change. Two thirds of US delegates were in favor of the One Church Plan. Even though the One Church Plan didn’t pass, a mere 54 votes separated the two sides. From a numbers perspective, that’s an astonishingly narrow margin for a global church. It says to me that The UMC has come a mighty long way in its ability to accept people where they are.

Factor 3: Cultural understandings vary. According to reports I’ve heard, two thirds to three quarters of the International delegates were in favor of the Traditional or Modified Traditional Plan. Why the insistence on a traditional view when the One Church Plan would have safeguarded people’s dignity of choice? The answers are as varied as the delegates. Some international delegates were under the impression that the One Church Plan would have required them to accept LGBTQ pastors. How and why did they get that idea? Were they intentionally misinformed? Others were told that they could not return home if they didn’t vote for the Traditional Plan.

Factor 4: Becoming a global church. In addition to the above, consider this. This year, the General Conference consisted of 58% US and 43% International delegates. That’s a real shift from previous years. Now put these two sets of figures together and you can see why things came out so tight. As Bonnie Ives Marden, head of the New England Delegation and author of Church Finances for Missional Leaders: Best Practices for Faithful Stewardship likes to say, “We are a global church without a global business plan.”

Factor 5: Context matters. Since discussions about full inclusion of LGBTQ folks in the UMC began, gay marriage has become legal in the US. The rights of LGBTQs to marry has gained wide acceptance in our country. In light of these developments, restricting church leadership of LGBTQ folks in the US feels harsher and less just than ever before to many people. Meanwhile, the mere fact of being homosexual is outlawed in some other countries, punishable by death. Both contexts are very hurtful for a wide swath of people.   But the US context heightens the sense of injustice and impatience with the Traditional Plan.

The bottom line is that many of us were hurt and deeply discouraged by the recent General Conference. At the same time, others of us felt calmed, satisfied, even justified. Untold numbers are somewhere in between. Because we are church people, it’s easy to theologize our differences. And to demonize those with whom we disagree. As in, “God is on OUR side, not THEIR side.”

Demonizing the other side is a temptation we must avoid. The truth is, we are a church in transition. Instead of reacting, we can gather our wits about us, think, pray and practice the Platinum Rule.