Aging Well: Intergenerational dialogue – a challenge for churches

Not long ago a friend told our adult Sunday school class about a training program her work organization was undertaking. The purpose of the program was to help different generations of employees communicate more effectively with each other. At the heart of the training program was a book, Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage (Brown Books, 2009) written by well-respected human resource consultant Sherri Elliott-Yeary.

Missy Buchanan

Immediately my antennae shot up. I am always looking for ways to promote better communication among age groups. I wondered if it was possible to learn how and why each age group thinks the way they do so that we can talk to each other without becoming defensive. Even though the book is intended for business organizations, I thought it might be useful for churches, too.

Now I know what you may be thinking. The communication gap between age groups is nothing new. Even so, I would suggest that our current environment is somehow different, more complex than ever before. For one thing, change is occurring at a breakneck pace, and change always stirs up communication challenges.

Ms. Elliott-Yeary makes the case that different generations have different core values and motivations. In a nutshell, the author defines each generational group roughly by age and by a set of core values. She describes Traditionalists (born 1922-1943) as having a strong sense of loyalty and sacrifice. Having grown up during the upheavals of depression and war, Traditionalists had to work hard for every penny they earned which explains why most value fiscal restraint, patience and duty before pleasure.

Boomers (born 1944-1960) represent the largest generation in human history. They have not experienced economic hard times as their parents did. Boomers are hardworking overachievers, optimistic idealists and are all about personal gratification, which often leads to narcissism.

According to Ms. Elliott-Yeary, Xers (born 1961-1980) are identified by techno-literacy, informality and fun. Having grown up in a time when American institutions were called into question, Xers are skeptical of rules and authority and seek independence. They value portable careers and are loyal to themselves, not an organization. The Xer mantra is WIIFM: What’s In It For Me?

Millennials (born 1981 to 2000) are social multi-taskers and are anxious to make a difference in the world. They have a strong sense of morality based on their understanding of right and wrong. The author emphasizes that Millennials are confident and team-oriented, but they do want and expect immediate gratification.

The book’s premise is that each generational group has been shaped largely by their upbringing in a specific period of time. With groups having different values and motivations, it’s not surprising that conflict is inevitable. Ms. Elliott-Yeary suggests, for example, that Traditionalists resent Millennials for their entitlement mentality. Millennials resent Boomers for not being good stewards of the planet. Xers get upset with Traditionalists for being resistant to change. Boomers get miffed that Xers are so willing to change jobs on a whim. And so it goes.

Ms. Elliott-Yeary stresses that, more than any other influence, the use of and adaptability to technology has created a perceived divide between those who grew up without technology and those born with instant Internet access. She also points out that the key to a successful multigenerational organization is to learn to appreciate each group’s underlying needs. What then does this mean for the church?

In next month’s column I will explore that question. Until then, I encourage you to ponder how your own upbringing might be influencing conversation within the church. It’s something worth thinking about.

Ms. Buchanan, a member of FUMC Rockwall, Texas, is the author of several books, including Aging Faithfully: 28 Days of Prayer (Upper Room Books). She also helped Lucimarian Roberts, mother of ABC anchor Robin Roberts, write the new book My Story, My Song (Upper Room Books). Reach Ms. Buchanan at: missy@missybuchanan.com.

Missy Buchanan, UMR Columnist

Missy Buchanan is a sought-after speaker on topics of older adult ministry and spiritual creativity, she brings passion and humor to many events for churches, organizations, and women’s groups. She has appeared on Good Morning America with co-host Robin Roberts and is the author of books including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults, Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms, and Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults. She has written for many publications including Presbyterians Today, Mature Years, Christian Association Serving Adults Ministries, Entrepreneur, and The Dallas Morning News.

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2 Comments on "Aging Well: Intergenerational dialogue – a challenge for churches"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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mitc5joh
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Is the "divide"attributable, in part, to a lack of shared values that should have passed from one generation to the next? We should perhaps be deeply concerned if we cannot communicate with each other simply because the implements for daily living have changed.

jim
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"The book’s premise is that each generational group has been shaped largely by their upbringing in a specific period of time. With groups having different values and motivations, it’s not surprising that conflict is inevitable. Ms. Elliott-Yeary suggests, for example, that Traditionalists resent Millennials for their entitlement mentality. Millennials resent Boomers for not being good stewards of the planet. Xers get upset with Traditionalists for being resistant to change. Boomers get miffed that Xers are so willing to change jobs on a whim. And so it goes." More than anything else, political correctness, has shaped the world in which we… Read more »
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