The Church as the Sandwich Generation

10 07 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”

“I will do as you say,” he said.  Genesis 47:29-30

I believe it was Will Rogers who came up with these four stages of life: First we are our parents’ child, then we are our child’s parent, then we are our parents’ parent, then we are our child’s child.  Right in the middle of those stages, there is a life stage, a generation (if you will), referred to as the “sandwich generation”.  It is that life stage where you find yourself not only still parenting your children, but also being a  caregiver to aging parents.  That is where Joseph found himself in Genesis 47-50.  He was a father to two sons born to him in Egypt, while at the same time being called upon to honor his dying father’s heritage.  I am grateful to God that I have two healthy parents and have not quite arrived at that sandwich stage (and I’m not sure either of my parents would ever permit me to), but I can only imagine it is wrought with difficulties and tensions.

three generationsIt seems that having our focus divided between raising a new generation into adulthood and, at the same, honoring an older generation is a real challenge.  Then again, as a church leader you already know that.  The sandwich illustration, you see, is a perpetual life stage for every local church…always raising up new leaders and always loving well those leaders who are aging.

The challenge hits us at virtually every turn in the church.  The tension surfaces in worship, in communication patterns, in fiscal policies, in government issues, in missiology, in community ministry, and in leadership styles.  The demand for effective leadership development in the much-studied but rarely understood generations X, Y, and Millenials in the church has never been higher.  But at the same time, the need for elder care and learning to honor the numerous and now-aging baby boomer generation, looms large in almost every church today.  There simply are no shortcuts.  Just about every church must figure this out and must do the hard things necessary to nurture both ends of the generation spectrum.  In most cases, forsaking either end spells doom for that church.

In some cases, it may mean bringing in a staff member specifically for each end of the adult generation spectrum.  In other cases, it may mean being more assertive in creating community among the generations…genuine Spirit-filled relationships between them.  In still other cases, the real need might be a senior pastor who is adept at loving and shepherding across generational lines.  But in every case it takes intentionality.  It requires creativity and strategic thinking…a plan, if you will.  It will not happen naturally, not in this culture.  It takes thinking and effort and a commitment on the part of your leadership.

So, what about it?  What’s your plan?

© Blake Coffee
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Transparency for an Older Generation

20 12 2011

Tuesday Re-mix –

“The peace of mind one experiences on one’s own, one’s certainty of self in the serenity of solitude, are nothing in comparison to the release and openness and fluency one shares with another, in close companionship.” Muriel Barbery

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.” Oscar Wilde

One of the trends I believe we will see in the church over the next 20 years is its people growing increasingly comfortable with genuine transparency in their relationships…knowing each other more fully and having fewer and fewer deep dark secrets. I believe this because our younger generations (generation X and millennials) just seem to hold genuine community as a much higher value than those of us who are baby boomers and older. If you don’t believe this, spend about 30 minutes on your college student’s social media pages. OMG…LOL! On the other hand, go to their respective grandparents’ facebook pages (if they have a page at all) and you’ll find an utter vacuum of any personal information. These older generations, after all, are the generations who brought us firewalls and the right to privacy and LifeLock and gated communities. For our generation, the walls are up and the shades are drawn! Transparency, it seems, is just difficult for those of us over 40.

If I am right about this trend, then that means we still have about 20 years or so of having to teach the importance of being transparent…the significance of truly knowing each other and of being truly known. Being the New Testament church demands that we live in relationships of accountability and that we learn to be involved in one another’s lives. I suspect I will spend the rest of my ministry life finding creative ways to teach this to my generation of church leaders. Then, by the time my work in this world is done, a new generation of church leaders will be in place and they will have a whole other set of issues to complicate their lives!

The protests I hear from my generation of leaders sound something like this:

  • It’s just not safe for a leader, especially a pastor, to share too much personal information with his congregation…it will always lead to his undoing.
  • There have to be limits…you have to be careful to whom you show your faults and flaws.
  • My people don’t want to think of me with flaws…that is not the leader they want to follow.
  • My accountability is to God and God alone. He is the only one with whom I can be that transparent.

And by the way, it’s not just the leaders who feel this way. It is two entire adult generations of church members.

Here is what I say to those of us over 40 and struggling with all those troubling scriptures about confessing our sins one to another and holding one another accountable and being transparent with one another: everything in moderation… including transparency (with apologies to Oscar Wilde).

You see, scripture does not demand that every member of my church know every sordid detail of my life. Surely, the vast majority of my acquaintances at church would never want to know those details. So, while I may show only a measured degree of transparency in the larger congregation, I might be a little more transparent in my Sunday School class, and a little more transparent yet in my home Bible study group, and even more transparent yet in my addiction support group, etc. The bottom line to transparency in our Christian relationships is simply that we have somebody (i.e., some small circle of friends) who know our deepest struggles and who carry those burdens with us. In effect, we have “levels” of transparency, depending on the group and the circumstances. And for me, that squares quite nicely with scripture.

So, to my baby boomer friends, take a deep breath and find a support group ministry you can plug into in order to learn what genuine Christian relationships look like. And for my daughters and all their friends…quit laughing at us. We’re trying!

© Blake Coffee

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Childlike Connectedness

22 11 2011

Tuesday Re-mix –

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:1-3

Have you ever noticed that, when it comes to choosing playmates, children don’t seem to be bothered by any of the same concerns which we hold? When we find out that our child has taken more than a passing interest in another child, we have a thousand questions about that child…and we are frustrated when our child doesn’t know the answers to ANY of them. Where does she go to church? What does he believe? Who are his parents? What does her daddy do for a living? Where does he live? WHAT IS HIS/HER LAST NAME? And when we ask, we get nothing from our own child about any of these concerns. Because children just don’t care about these things when choosing a playmate.

Of course, the longer they live in the world, the more and more the world teaches them about what “really matters” when it comes to judging people. Unless they are intentional about staying childlike, they begin to lose this ability to connect with anyone and everyone irrespective of outward appearance or social status or even belief systems. This makes me sad. And I believe it makes Jesus sad too.

This post comes on the heels of last week’s post about generational differences in the church today, specifically, how Gen X’ers and Millennials tend to BELONG first, and BELIEVE second and what that teaches us about how we connect with people in the church. Today, I am pinning that concept to a teaching from Jesus, because I firmly believe that the generational changes washing across the church’s landscape today DID NOT catch Jesus by surprise.

Jesus insisted that having a certain “childlikeness” is more than just helpful to a Christian…it is critical. And the more I meditate on His words in Matthew 18:2-3, the bigger and broader that concept becomes to me. I have long understood “childlikeness” to include childlike faith and childlike love and childlike vulnerability (see this post for that lesson). Now I am also understanding that the childlikeness to which we are called is also about how we connect to each other, i.e., how “community” happens among us.

I have become certain that being the New Testament church requires that we learn to connect with people without regard to all of the exterior characteristics the world teaches us to consider. Moreover, I believe there is even some level of connection which we must learn without regard to what a person believes. In short, I believe that part of the childlikeness to which we are called is a childlike willingness to play alongside others who look different, who think differently, and who believe things very different from what we believe. I believe Jesus was signaling this with His words in Matthew 18.

There are two adult generations today who are already shaped by a desire for this kind of connection. It just so happens that my own children are a part of those generations. They taught me when they were children, and they are teaching me as adults as well…about what childlikeness means.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Belonging, Believing and Being a Boomer

15 11 2011

Tuesday Re-mix –

I grow tropical plants in my backyard, specifically, plumeria and some hybiscus.  It is one of the wonderful “perks” of marrying into a Hawaiian family.  Mind you, I am no master gardner, which makes plumeria the perfect plant for me.  I can break off a limb, stick it in the ground, nurture it for a year or so, and it will take root and bloom just like all the other ones around it.  I just have to have some patience while I wait for the roots to grow.  That is the key…patience.

Besides being a gardener, I am also unashamedly a Baby Boomer.  Pretty much all the observations I have heard sociologists make about my generation are true about me as well, at least in some degree.  I was shaped by a cultural mindset that said anything is possible, that I can make a difference in the world, and that a common vision is critical to any “revolution”.  For my generation, the way this all translates into church is this: what I “believe” is of first and highest importance…if we don’t all “believe” the same central truths, our “revolution” will fail.  For my generation (and, by the way, for the generations which came before me as well), BELIEF comes first, followed by BELONGING to the church.  For us, without belief, there is no belonging.

So it is with great fear and trembling that I turn to Generation X and then to the Millenials, two generations who will lead the church sooner than any of us realize, and I begin to embrace their very different values and priorities when it comes to church.  These generations hold connection and community as much higher values than we Baby Boomers have.  These generations may well come to respect the concept of a “regenerate church membership”, but they will otherwise radically blur the nice, bright lines we have drawn around categories of “belonging” to church.  They will do this because, deeply rooted in their generational culture is the need to belong.  In short, for them, BELONGING will come first, even before BELIEVING.

For them, gathered worship services will be filled with friends who have come for the BELONGING, but are still trying to work out exactly what they BELIEVE.  They won’t be “members” in our traditional sense of the word, but they will be friends with whom we are developing a growing relationship and whom we are nuturing and to whom we are ministering.  They will be very much like my plumeria sticks which “belong” in my garden a long time before they actually start blooming.

I admit that this scares me a little.  I admit that I will continue to talk a lot about the importance of doctrine and believing and authority and truth, etc.  I will continue insisting that truth is not negotiable and that scripture teaches us to respect authority.  But I also admit this…I’m going to learn a thing or two from these younger generations about how to love the non-believers around me and how to engage them in relationship SO THAT they can see Jesus in me.  I am going to learn to invite them to “belong”, i.e., to find community here, even as they are still working out their beliefs.  I am going to learn something about loving my neighbor and, as Jesus might say, figuring out exactly who my neighbor really is.  I am going to learn to do church a little differently, at least in this particular regard…

…and I am going to LOVE this change!

How about you?

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com