Disarming the Boomers
Can a younger pastor bring change without getting blown away?

Let's be honest. The distance between the Boomers and Busters isn't just a generation gap - it's a generation gorge. The cultural, technological, and philosophical shifts that have occurred in recent decades have given these two generations fundamentally different perspectives. Although some younger pastors have abandoned the Boomer church to launch their own communities, there are many struggling to serve side by side with the older generation. In part 1 of his post, David Swanson shares the lessons he's learned as a younger pastor attempting to bring change on a team dominated by Boomers.

In his letter introducing me as a new associate pastor to the congregation, the senior pastor included the Apostle's advice to his young apprentice, "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12). I was 25 years old and, while it was a nice sentiment, the verse hardly seemed necessary. Five years later it is clear Paul's words were more than a kind gesture; they were a hint at the reality to come.

The generational gap between myself and those I was leading quickly became perceptible. As long as my energy was primarily spent maintaining ministries, the difference between the Boomers and me was negligible. It was when I began asking questions about our ministry strategies and effectiveness that Paul's councel took on new significance.

The leaders at our church are too gracious to have looked down on me as I asked my ministry questions. However, as more time was spent looking for ways to answer those questions, the differences in our ages and ways of seeing the world were a constant reminder of my youth. Even as we came to understand and accept the differences, there continued to be surprises. Three of these came up repeatedly.

Trust must be earned again, and again?and again

As a young staff person, I rightly trusted our church's leaders. These were men and women who had been commended with the significant task of leading our community. And while I knew these leaders liked me and appreciated my gifts, in those first years it was clear they didn't entirely trust me. One morning I was venting about this to my senior pastor when he said, "Just wait until you're 30. I'm not sure why, but something changes on your 30th birthday."

In hindsight I see how true his observation was. Who knows why, but people's perceptions of a young leader change when he or she is no longer in their 20's. In the meantime, I had to accept the fact that trust was not mine to lose, but mine to earn?again and again. It's a slow process that required a lot of relationship building over a lot of coffee.

January 09, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 22 comments

Gary Sweeten

February 09, 2008  6:41pm

As a church consultant let me first ask what you mean by suggesting change in the "church"? I fear that rather than making changes in a part of the church system the change agents try to change the entire system, beginning with the morning service because that is seen as "THE CHURCH". In one church on the move we developed seven services on Sunday morning and only two were identical. The first law of change is to start with a "temporary system" in one area and see how it works before trying to move everybody into a forced change. People will change but nearly always resist forced change and criticism from others. Nobody but a wet baby wants to be changed by another person. Be as "Wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove" and you can change from a minor position.

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nc

January 27, 2008  4:43pm

Fascinating how the Boomers are stereotyped as people who rebelled against authority...then some seem to work hard to preserve their own authority. Difference only equals rebellion when your preferences are being challenged. Just goes to show that humans are going to act, well, human. This whole valorization of particular generations as groups that can be quantified and defined is problematic. It's not Boomers vs. Busters...it's the age old pride of human beings and their deepseated sin of "godding" over others. Augustine had it right, we'd do well to heed his warning about domination.

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Tim

January 19, 2008  12:02pm

A huge part of the problem, that Busters don't seem to understand, is Boomers self-perception. We (I'm 52) view ourselves as the change agents, the revolutionaries. We have changed everything as we have gone through life, including the church. We have positioned ourselves as "against" the "old-thinkers." Now, the Busters come along and have the audacity to say that we're the "old-thinkers," "old fogies," "stuck in a rut." We resent the classification and, therefore, dig in our heels. Of course we seem to distrust younger leaders! They seem all too eager to throw out what we worked hard to acheive, and to "dis" it in the process. A few years ago, as a new pastor in an established church, I worked hard and fought the battles to transition the church to the kind of church that ministered meaningfully to me and my generation. Then, we naively hired a buster-aged worship pastor. Once, when we were discussing our differences and trying to come together, I listened to his side and then said, "What you're telling me is that I had church as I like it for about 3 years. Before that I had my parents' church, now you want me to have my kids' church. I worked hard and fought the battles and it worked! It was great! But I only got to enjoy it for 3 years!" That's why Busters are finding Boomers hard to work with. Don't classify us as "old and needing to change." Appeal to our self-perception as change agents who are used to shaping the world in our image. We're pretty sure that what we like is the way things should be, aren't you?

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Jim Kane

January 18, 2008  9:22am

Having just turned 50, I am beginning to have a new perspective on life... and this post has reminded me of the generational challenges of ministry that I faced at age 23 when I took my first youth pastor position and the senior minister, a wonderful man now with the Lord, started his ministry in the early 1940's! As I moved on in that ministry and then in my second church, I had the same challenges that are described here...the landscape was changing and their modes of ministry were not longer effective and it was painful to watch...and I was often view with contempt... but in the second and third churches that I served I ended up with boomer peers and how the landscape changed... Now at 50 and realizing that I will probably never pastor a 'big' church... I am wanting to be a mentor and encourager to the younger generation because they are becoming the leaders who will pastor my kids...the millenials...I still have a place in ministry and a calling (most important of all) for the next 12 to 15 years... but it will be different and challenging and good... to my younger colleagues... if God has truly called you... you need to have trust in that call because it will be at times the only thing that will keep you going

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Beth Bilynskyj

January 17, 2008  7:37pm

I am 53 years old, and I couldn't agree more, David. Speed certainly is subjective! Your slow may be my fast. But think about this: for both of us–as well as for those from the Psalmist to anyone who is suffering from evil and injustice–God's fast may be our slow. You might not be the only one who is impatient. So maybe we should try to think about things not simply from our own subjective framework. (That is, after all a very Modernist thing to do, as Descartes–one of the Early Modernist Fathers–demonstrated.) Maybe neither Boomer Modernism nor Buster Postmodernism offer a perspective that is faithful to Christ. Maybe we should be truly relational, and always be ASKING, "how can I keep in step with the Lord? What speed is He moving at?" None of us– Boomers or Busters or Whatevers– will ever be able to fully match His pace. Even as He is patient with us, we need to be patient with Him and with each other. At the same time, we should always keep SINGING the psalmist's constant refrain, "How long, O Lord? How long?" (Ps. 6:3, et al) All of us–Boomers and Busters and Whatevers– share that song.

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Barb

January 15, 2008  6:37pm

I've been in lay leadership at churches from my 20s until now–my early 40s. So, I've been on both sides of the "young vs. not so young" dilemma within the church. I appreciate David's comments and the responses here. I would hope that both the young and not-so-young would always look for the best in each other and work at learning from each other, knowing that while we may approach things differently, we all love God and are working to serve Him within our church community. I love serving alonside both the 20somethings AND the 60somethings at my church.

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Scott

January 15, 2008  6:29pm

I am 36 and have served many roles in many different denominations as lay/paid/full-time. The trust I was taught to give others as one brought up christian is not reciprocated by those who taught my generation. Jesus started at 30 for a reason. Life's outlook does seem to change at 30, but I pray that I don't loose the passion. I have learned many hard lessons in my two senior minister ministries. The old addage that 'people don't care how much you know till they know how much you care' is very true...however, David hit it on the head that some just don't want to know how much you care because you are asking valid questions that will lead to an adjustment. The explicit trust and faith in God demanded by coming to him as little children is replaced by the 'wisdom' gained from personal experiences and 'tried and true methods' of the past. Jesus fought it....our parents fought it...it's now our turn. Hold on to Jesus for all your worth! As one in the fight...starting a new church is an idea I have battled over and over but God has not released me from my post. Working on my personal character, methods of ministry, and God's molding me is as important to Him as local revival. Being in on a huge God thing is my desire...but I did not realize how much it will hurt me as I endure and adjust to God. I have to remember...I prayed for it!

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Paul Almas

January 15, 2008  4:48pm

In all the above posts, save one that mentioned the first century church, no one has identified the core reality that our faith is a historical faith. The historical record of the early church fathers's - St.Augustine, Polycarp, St. Francis of Assisi, Justin Martyr, Aquinas, Luther, Edwards, Wesley etc. who wrestled through core theology, established orthodoxy, crafted the creeds and frequently paid the ultimate price for the faith - informs us today. I have been around long enough to watch as several contemporary generations of Western believers have decided that this richness of faith and experience doesn't matter. In fact, the current secular postmodern view is that no history, secular or church, informs how they live. That the North American church confuses orthodoxy and sacramental worship with evangelism reflects a sad neglect of the foundation of our faith and a naievty to understand how important that history is. There is plenty of room to accommodate change and innovation - but not at the expense of orthodoxy. The North American church is weak and sick because we only have a passing acquaintance with the God of our fathers. If we knew Him well, we would be living very visible, counter culture lives. We would not be attempting to make our faith look as much like the pagan world as possible. This is where intergenerational conflict related to change occurs within the body of Christ - around bogus issues of cultural expression that would dissipate quickly if our worship and teaching truly focused on the power, dominion and majesty of, as Francis Schaeffer so aptly said it,"The God Who is There." The Jude 24 benediction says it all. ..."all glory, majesty, power and authority are His before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.

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Curt

January 15, 2008  2:05pm

David, I appreciate your insight and advice. I am a 25 year old pastor and the only pastor of a congregation where the average age is 60+. It is challenging from so many angles. Our church is beginning the process of considering change and boy is it slow. I'm constantly told to be patient and I'm always fighting to be trusted. Many days, I don't think there is any hope for these "old folks." Yet, God is good and we keep pushing forward. I look forward to reading your second article.

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Evan Wiggs

January 15, 2008  1:23pm

The reason the church is grasping at gimmicks to try to reach the lost, and basically failing is that much of the church has left the power of the gospel behind. The early church reached their lost with a love so powerful that in three hundred years a band of 120 in an upper room shook the whole Roman empire with signs and wonders and a love that feared nothing, not even death. This kind of revival is roaring in the third and second world just outside our borders, while inside the church is sick. Bishop Earl Paulk, and Ted Haggard are just big symptoms of this sickness. I go to those foreign lands and see thousands saved and thousands healed and delivered. I know what I am talking about, but when I come back I see just a few healings here. Why? I don't know all the reasons, but I know we don't really need God or so we think. God Bless you all.

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