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
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




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

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