Disarming the Boomers (Part 2)
The key to bridging the generation gap between church leaders: massive quantities of coffee.

David Swanson is back with the second half of his post about working with a church leadership team dominated by Boomers. He believes there are a few simple strategies that can help a younger leader not only survive in a Boomer church, but even begin to influence the congregation toward change.

This morning I met one of our church leaders, a self-identified Boomer, for breakfast. We talked about the tendency for younger leaders within established churches to eventually leave for greener (more exciting, more like-minded, more missional) pastures. As one who has remained, I shared how lonely it can be as a young leader whose priorities and passions are often not shared by the congregation or its Boomer leaders.

I imagine loneliness is not a unique experience among young leaders. Not long ago a youth pastor in his twenties visited me from out of state. His first year in ministry was going well, but he was beginning to feel like a fish out of water in a church dominated by older leaders. After commiserating, I shared with him the limited wisdom I had gained from working with Boomers.

Paint pictures of the future

In Part One I pointed out the need to repeatedly earn the trust of older leaders. Skepticism was often expressed when I shared new concepts and ministry ideas. Whether it was fear, resistance, or simple misunderstanding, many conversations would end with those dreaded words, "You're just going to have to be patient with us."

One day I summoned the courage to share a very specific and, in my mind, risky ministry initiative. Bracing myself for the usual hesitancy, I was amazed by the enthusiasm of one leader's response. So I shared the idea with another leader, and then another, and finally to an entire team of Boomers. Each time the response was the same, "We could do that!"

This new ministry initiative was informed by the same concepts and ideas that had met with such uncertainty before. What had changed? The difference was that my co-leaders could now imagine the future I was talking about. What seemed radical as a theoretical concept now looked reasonable as a specific ministry initiative. Their inconsistency didn't seem rational to me, but I was not about to argue with their enthusiasm.

Answer the questions being asked

There is a line in a song by Over the Rhine that reads, "You need questions, forget about the answers." It's a judgment about the tendency to give simplistic responses to complex realities. Many young church leaders can relate to this lyric. Call it a generational shift, deconstruction, or good old-fashioned rebellion; the fact is that many young leaders are not satisfied with the overly-pragmatic Boomer mentality.

January 17, 2008

Displaying 1–8 of 8 comments

Gary Sweeten

February 09, 2008  6:50pm

Good thoughts. Thanks. I attempted to introduce small group Bible studies in my church and it ended badly. I was asked to leave the church. As a result I studied how to be an organizational change agent without killing the organization. There are many people trained in OD work and anyone wanting to bring change to the church as an organization would do well to select one. Make sure you get a person trained in effective organizational change not just an individual counselor. Meeting with individual Boomers is a good idea but it is not enough. There is an old adage about getting a lever that is long enough and we can move the world. But movement alone is inadequate. We must make the RIGHT moves or the earth falls off its axis and catastrophe results. Passion and good intentions pave roads but do not lead to a healthy church.

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January 24, 2008  12:02pm

Nice job of posing your concept of relational differences. As a boomer I felt the same things in my youth, like not being listened to or taken seriously. However, try to understand that lots of boomers wore the tires off the bicycle of change for change's sake. Some of us now feel a little guilty about tearing down things without replacing them with better stuff. You hit on a keystone concept when you discussed forming relationships with people you work with. After all, everthing important in life happens in the context of relationships. Another helpful suggestion involves getting mastery over the beast of instant gratification. Remember, the boomers invented instant gratification, you are just trying to perfect it. Really though, my point is that good ideas will stand up to a little scrutiny, but I too get very excited when the idea is my own. Oh, another suggestion, try green tea instead of that coffee flavored syrup so popular today.

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January 22, 2008  2:49pm

coffee...tea...in the Antipodes we open a bottle of wine! But yes it is all about relationship and trust. I am an older gen x'er- but do not think or process the world like a boomer. Try looking for these people in your leadership- they have a little more age on their side but think creatively and love change- they might form a bridge in your leadership.

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January 22, 2008  12:26pm

Leadership is about relationships with followers. Boomers aren't that different than other age groups. Successful leaders connect with followers and build a vision based on what the leader envisions and followers are capable of seeing. This shared vision is a powerfully motivating tool.

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M G Thompson

January 22, 2008  8:41am

When I was younger, I wanted change in many things, not all of which were fruitful. As years passed, we eventually made better decisions on how to live life. As we got older, our kids seemed to want other things, and it was right to allow some departure from our 'proven' ways. The irony on the headstone was deep - 'As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you will be' Boomer churches will fade away without youth Change is always necessary, but not all change. I suggest you mark your calendar 20 years hence, and record your feelings. Your world will change as ours did, and you will need to encourage the new youth then, in His work. Your own church one day will change, but with your future work, it will change in maturity.

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Nicholas van Oudtshoorn

January 18, 2008  12:08am

I've really enjoyed reading this 2-part blog entry. It seems to me that David is spot on with what he has said. I think this second article really drives home the most important point: to build relationships with people. If you want people to trust you, you have to let them see your heart. In my experience (26 y.o. sole pastor), it's not that the older generation don't want to see the church do marvelous things. Most (with a few exceptions, of course!) do. Once you come to the point of sharing a vision (or, as David puts it, you see the future together), everything is possible. The older members of our churches are an incredible resource. Let's lubricate them with coffee (or, if you have to, tea!) and get going!

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Andy Rowell

January 17, 2008  3:32pm

Dave's insights seem right on to me.

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January 17, 2008  2:04pm

I enjoyed your 2 part blog. You hit the nail on the head for me. It's about coffee and tea and the time we spend with those with whom we drink. The more time we spend with those we are in ministry with, the more the relationship can develop and each heart can know the heartbeat of the other. And we may just experience change that neither had expected.

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