I was honored to serve on a group to help a friend do a Doctoral Project on Emergent and Incumbent leaders. It turned out to be much of a generational thing, and what happens when 2 generations, mostly boomers and busters collide. I still talk with many of the people I was in that group with, both emergent and incumbent leaders. As I have served in ministry, I have found that the more time passes, the more the generations become separated by differences. Technology has changed my generation and the generation after me a great deal. I have noticed a few things in observation, and I want to propose a theory with you. Mostly what I want to propose has to deal with the R word. It’s a biggie and I think causes most of the issues we see in ministry. Of course that R word is “respect” and it gets tossed around like a hand grenade without a pin.
Here is the issue, for most boomers, it’s a big deal. For many in my generation, it’s laughable. Most of you born before 1965 are getting a little hot right now. After all, respect is a big deal, it’s Biblical. Most people born after 1965 are annoyed that the thought of the annoyance of the boomers. After all, authority and respect is not something to be demanded or lorded over people. The generational gap has widened.
Here is what I see. The Boomers (pre-1965) were born to builders who respected one another, authority and their country. They fought in WWII, and they taught their children respect. Respect was a big deal, you gave it, you earned it and it was a valuable thing. The boomers wanted to be respected and desired respect and thought when they got older, they would be respected by their children. The boomers worked hard, attempted to work harder than their fathers to earn respect. Something happened however. It was called the 1960s and 1970s when all us Gen Xers started to show up. We busters saw something interesting. We say people saying “never trust the government, fight the power, down with the man”. We grew up in the Vietnam era, in the cold war, when trust was gone and respect was in short supply. We heard our dad’s talk about respect, but often heard them come home, tell our moms what an idiot the boss is, how stupid the government is how everyone is dumb. To top it off, we went from Father Knows Best to Homer Simpson. The man was no longer respected by society at large. The father was the bafoon, and much of our society reflected that. Top it off, dads began to leave, there is a vaccume of fathers in the home. Many men were so career driven they forgot they had kids. Those of us with good dads and good role models were eventually jaded by society.
Now here we are in 2012. The Xers are are in our 30s and 40s. We are moving up the cooperate ladder, becoming those in command, or often second in command. That is where this research group picked up, as emerging pastors meet incumbent pastors. What I have seen from almost every church I have had friend work in is the respect conversation. It happens in every church where emergent and incumbent leaders serve. It’s a clash that happens, and what are we gonna do about it? The emergent leaders don’t respect, and it’s wrong and they need to learn to respect. The incumbent leaders have a tendency to lord authority. It causes clash and conflict, and there has been an interesting result. Maybe it’s good, maybe not.
Many younger guys refuse to work with other lead pastors anymore. There is a large number of younger guys who go straight to the Lead Pastor role. Years ago, you became a youth pastor or associate pastor, served under a lead pastor, then took a smaller church. Today, young guys are just going straight to the smaller churches. They don’t want to deal with the generational conflict. There are examples like Rick Warren who went from seminary to plant a church, and it turned into. . . well Saddleback. Young guys are starting alternative services, planting new works, some which are successful and some with crash. Either way, the idea of “earning your stripes” or “paying you dues” is long gone.
Now don’t get me wrong, not every young guy plants a church because the older generations make them upset. I love the idea of church planting and feel twinges of desire every once in a while to go plant a church. It is often done out of love and calling, but we can’t ignore the droves of young guys who feel slighted by the older generation of pastors. I have a list of young guys I know who got into conflict with a lead pastor and left. The major issue is pride. The young guys are full of pride, the older guys are full of pride and I think the Holy Spirit is grieved.
In this scenario, there seems to be no Paul and no Timothy. There is no mutual accountability. It makes me sad to see it in SO MANY churches. I have served with some awesome leaders and some great men who have taught me so much. I am fortunate that I can look back over my time in vocational ministry and say most of the men who I serve with or have served with have been amazing. I have heard horror stories as well (and it hasn’t always been roses for me). In the same way, I am sure there are those out there who look back at my time and cringe at what a disaster I have been (Dave Miller still cringes).
So what’s the solution? I don’t know. I know how I think about respect and how I view respect is something that I have learned and observed and it doesn’t fit the idea that many leaders from the previous generation have. They would say my concept of respect is not very respectable. I don’t know any other way, and I find that being chastised for ignorance does not increase my knowledge, it just makes me fell ignorant (which usually ends up making me feel irritated, and perpetuates the cycles). So incumbent leaders, this is your chance, let us younger guys have it. Tell us what you think we should do to be respectful, to show respect and behave properly (cause I have no idea what y’all want from us).
Emergent leaders, share with the incumbents how they make you feel, why you act and react the way you do. We don’t have the option of just ignoring the older generation all together, so let’s communicate and tell them what is really going on. I know for me, listening to stories of how things use to be doesn’t help me. Telling me that my blogging, my facebook, my cell phone, text messages, and twitter account are bad, evil and Godless makes me tune you out. That is not respectful I realize, but it’s honest. You can try to change us or try to understand us, but I am not really sure you can do both. So let me hear what the rest of you have to say.