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:

Good News and Bad News for Your Church

1 05 2014

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. Ezekiel 18:20

I have good news and bad news for your church and for mine. The good news: no matter how many wrong choices your church may have made in the past, God is still willing to work through you today, if you will humble yourselves and seek after Him. The bad news: you get little credit for the amazing things in your church’s past…it is your current testimony that matters. This generation of your church will stand alone in its effectiveness.

standing aloneEzekiel was dealing with the first group of Hebrews exiled to Babylon. They were the young, best and brightest of the Hebrew society. They were the intelligent, creative, young leaders. Before the exile, they had their whole productive lives in front of them. But now, it was all for naught. For all practical purposes, their productive lives were over. They would now spend the rest of those lives in exile. No surprise, then, they felt “robbed”…and they blamed their parents. They blamed the stiff-necked, rebellious nature of the generations before them for their current sad state.

The irony is that, for generations now, those very Hebrew people had been living off of the “favored” status of their own forefathers before the Lord. They had all the stories of a mighty God who had faught their forefather’s battles and who had miraculously saved them time and time again. They were living off the very spotty righteousness of their forefathers. “God promised our father, Abraham…we are his favored people.”

Do you see the pattern?

Ezekiel had a sobering word for them…and for us.

If you and your church are still living off the “glory days” of your past, if the last evidence of real Spiritual activity among you was an especially powerful Experiencing God weekend in 1996, if the prevailing wish of your people is to go BACK rather than venture forward, then Ezekiel has a harsh word for you. You cannot go with God and cling to the glory of the past. Those past victories will not carry you today. You stand today on your own feet, with your own choices, irrespective of those victories of yesterday.

By the same token, if your church has a horrible legacy of conflict and damaged relationships and a bad reputation in your community due to wrong choices in the past, be encouraged. Our God is a God of fresh starts. You can turn it all around today. The Lord has not forsaken you. Humble yourselves before the Lord and stand on your own before Him, unhindered by the poor choices of your church’s past. Start new. Today.

Maybe this word is good news for you. Or maybe it is bad news for you. Either way, one thing is certain…the responsibility is yours.

© 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:

Church Unity for a Social Media Generation

12 10 2010

Tuesday Re-mix –

If you’re reading a blog (and you are, by the way), then you probably already understand that this youngest adult generation in the church, the “social media generation”, is learning to do relationships a little differently than relationships have ever been done before (and I should add here that social media has now made huge inroads into all the generations and no longer “belongs” just to the 18-35 crowd–the “social media generation”, therefore is not an age-label, but rather an era label for our time).  Between TwitterFacebookMy SpaceLinked In, and a host of other social networking worlds, this generation is more connected with one another than any generation before it.  Reportedly, more than 95% of American college students today are actively connected in one or more of these social networks.  Their culture has them receiving massive amounts of information about one another all day and night through steady streams of photos, videos, and text.  Never before has an entire generation been more “connected” with one another. Tony Steward of observes, for example, that the concept of a class reunion will be completely foreign to this generation, who will have stayed “connected” with each other throughout the years following their graduation so that a “reunion” will seem superfluous.

social-networkingAn older generation of Christians has stood back and observed all of this “interconnectedness” with varying responses.  While some of us have worked to embrace it and participate, others are more wary, calling into question the long-term ramifications.  The concerns range from “what does this do to intimacy in relationships?” to “what does this fast-paced, fire-hydrant delivery of information do to the brain?”  For purposes of my point here, I will not engage that debate.  But I will say it is more than just a little bit interesting…fascinating, in fact.

No, the question I want to explore is this: what does this communication make-over mean in terms of how we experience unity in the church?

The answer will depend on how you define unity.  I define it this way: living in community with one another in such a way as to regularly experience Christ Himself through each other.  In that light, then, how this generation will experience Christ in one another is the real question.  Does this new “connectedness” give us a leg up in that arena, or does it actually present us with new challenges preceding generations have not had to face?  Here are a few of my observations:

1.  Web-based social networking may create more opportunities for friendships, but it will not replace face to face encounters. This point has been made over and over again, and is actually old news by now.  I suspect that few facebook friends or twitter followers are so disillusioned as to think they no longer need actual face time with their friends.  Still, the point needs to be made right up front.  My own experience is that the more connected I have become with casual friends and long-lost acquaintances, the more desire I have had for face time with them, not less.  My conclusion, then, is that this generation may actually be more motivated for physical face time with each other than my generation has been.  Then again, that is not saying much…my generation (the “me” generation) has been ALL about self-sufficiency and independence.  We are addicted to our anonymity, almost the antithesis to genuine community.

2.  This generation will value community more than we have. For them, there is no choice but to become interdependent on the community for information, expertise, and even counsel and guidance.  Being “self-made” or “self-reliant” is nearly impossible in this culture.  Those are icons of the Baby Boomers, but not of this generation.  The social networking generation literally depends upon millions of people they do not know, have never met, and will probably never meet.  Wikipedia, with all its flaws and critics, is a prime example of that interdependence.  This generation needs and relies upon each other unlike any generation before it.

3.  The prejudice and politics are not gone, they are just different. The on-line community (and the church which follows) will not struggle so much with racial or gender or age discrimination.  Political power will not follow money so much.  But this community is not without its bias and prejudice.  It may indeed measure the value of an idea on its own merits (apart from race, creed, gender or popularity), but it is a community of creative expression and articulation.  Those who are creative, articulate, expressive and captivating will enjoy favor.  Those who are not creative and not particularly expressive with the written word, those who are not skilled “communicators” will become the overlooked and downtrodden.  The online community may be unaffected by outward appearance (since outward appearance is obviously not so “outward” online, but what IS “outward” online does very much create biases.  Interestingly, the lines of prejudice do not disappear, they are just redrawn.

4.  The Spirit of God is quite capable of revealing Himself through on-line relationships. As this generation gets better and better at expressing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control through on-line expressions, they also get better and better at recognizing their Savior through those very expressions.  And when that happens (no matter the environment), we experience unity.  In a sense, our question about whether this generation can experience unity is as much a question about God as it is a question about us.  And in my experience, every question about God which begins with “Is God capable of…” ends with the same resounding answer: YES!  AND MORE!

And so I look forward to the future with much anticipation and excitement.  As a church leader who has been writing about church unity for almost 20 years now, I truly believe my children and their generation are going to teach me a thing or two about genuine unity in the church.  I can’t wait!

What do you think?  Are we getting closer to unity or further away?

© 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:

Cultivate ’09: Telling God’s Story from One Generation to the Next

2 11 2009

This is the second in a series of posts on my impressions from Cultivate ’09, a church communications conference at Chicago’s Park Community Church.

The gathering place for registrants of Cultivate ’09 was the coffee bar in Park Community Church.  It was where we all relaxed while we waited for the doors to the auditorium to open.  It was a spacious room with several couches and tables and nice chairs, and a full service coffee bar.  It was a fitting room for this crowd of communications professionals, most of whom were of the gen-x variety (when I walked into the room, the median age went up a good 10 years).  I felt like one of the few who was not carrying a Macbook in a shoulder bag or backpack and wearing thick-rimmed narrow glasses and shirt-tail out over jeans…all marks of a generation younger than I.

Coffee barThis type of atmosphere is where an entire generation of Christians gather to tell their stories.  And they do tell their stories differently than my generation does.  I suppose my generation (and the one before mine) enjoy telling their stories by standing and talking, such as in a pulpit or on a platform.  Andy Stanley, John Ortberg, Rick Warren, Erwin McManus, etc. are all masters of telling stories in this way.  I suppose when my generation gets really creative, it tells a great story through a feature-length movie (insert the name of your favorite movie producer here–chances are he/she is a Boomer or older).

But as you transition from Boomers into Gen-x’ers (now in their 30’s) and then into the millennials (now in their 20’s), the story-telling changes dramatically.  Their are now two young adult generations who present and receive “story” completely differently from the rest of us and even from one another. Their stories are image-rich, video-packed, fast-paced…and short.  Their stories are tailor-made for a lifestyle that is crammed full of audible and visual stimuli.  Their stories are no less significant than those which precede them, and God’s story doesn’t change one bit from one generation to the next, but how God’s story is told and how it is received change dramatically.

Walking into the gathering room at Cultivate ’09 provided a stark reminder that it is NOT my generation who has blazed the trails in this ministry of church communications.  If previous generations blazed trails in how to communicate God’s story from the pulpit (platform), this generation is blazing trails in how to communicate God’s story as told in the lives of His people.  And that is what has me so excited about the direction we are headed.

The ministry of church communications is not a trend.  It is not something that will go away with time.  It is an honest reflection of some large shifts in our society.  If your church wants to spread the gospel to multiple generations, it must get intentional about telling God’s story in ways each of those generations is communicating.  Let’s face it…it has been several decades since story-telling was a “one-size-fits-all” phenomena.  Understand your calling as a church, then understand the story-telling format of the culture you are trying to reach.  Then tell God’s story (and each others’ stories) in a way they can be engaged.  That is the communications challenge before all of us.

But there is at least one further thought…the most important one yet.  What impact might the ministry of church communication have on church unity?  Thoughts on that question coming up Thursday.

© 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: