I'm not as old as I used to be.
I just turned 57. A mere 25 years ago, when the average pastor's age was 44, my current age would have made me an older minister.
Today, with the average pastor being 54, I'm in middle age.
In recent years as I’ve traveled and spoken with thousands of ministers, I've had a unique view of how ministers on both sides of the age gap treat each other. Some of those relationships have been great. Some... not so much.
At times, we seem so far apart, we might as well live on separate planets. But, beneath it all, we share more in common than most of us realize.
Young or old, we love Jesus, we love people, and we have a passion for our calling. But we sure approach our calling in very different ways.
The factors that make a young/old relationship either great or bad are as complex as the people involved, but I've seen one reason rise to the top, leaving all other factors in the dust.
How we listen to each other.
Specifically, things go much better when we listen like this:
How Younger Ministers Need to Listen
Younger ministers need to listen to older ministers' stories. Hear their experience. Learn from their lives.
A lot of things have changed in the last generation or two, but the important things have not. God is God. Truth is truth. And people are people.
If you’re a young minister, you need to pay attention to the lessons older ministers learned the hard way so you can learn them a little easier.
Let them help you grow deeper, not just bigger.
When you see them interact with people using language and customs that may seem out-of-date and quaint to you, take note of the good manners and respect for human dignity at their core.
Don't dismiss a tradition you don't understand as a relic of a bygone day. It may have more value than you've given it credit for. Ask what it means and why they do it. The why matters. A lot.
Knowing where their traditions came from might help you start some great new traditions of your own. Or you may find yourself wanting to re-purpose that old tradition in a fresh, new way that brings depth and meaning to even your youngest church members.
There are some great treasures to be found in relationships with older ministers, But that treasure will stay hidden unless you look for it.
How Older Ministers Need to Listen
Older ministers need to listen to young ministers' questions. Take their concerns seriously. Let them express their doubts and uncertainties.
Expressing what they don't know is often their best, fastest road to figuring out what they want to know.
And don't be too quick with answers. Especially the ones you've grown used to relying on. They've probably heard them before.
Just listen. Before they will trust what you have to say, they want to know they've been heard.
Let them to help you stay curious.
Be quick with your experiences, slow with your answers.
They want to engage in a dialog. They want to learn from your experiences, but they want – they need – to participate in the process of figuring it out, rather than having the answers handed to them
Assist them. Aid them. Walk with them.
But resist the temptation to pre-package the answer for them.
They will learn more by watching your life than by being spoon-fed the answers.
How Jesus Taught – And Listened
This method of learning from each other isn't some newfangled fad. It's how Jesus taught, and how his disciples learned.
Jesus listened to their questions, their doubts and their fears. He walked with them, lived life among them and shared experiences with them.
Sure, at times he sat and taught while they sat and listened – there are a lot of red letters in the Gospels, after all. But there were a lot of stories in those sermons. And they created even more stories as they walked, talked and ministered together.
And those sermons were usually followed by Q & A sessions with the twelve. With Jesus providing almost as many Q’s as A’s.
Jesus never told his disciples the what without helping them understand the why.
If we listen to Jesus together, he’ll do the same for us.
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