Magazine article The Christian Century

Generational Ties: Bridging the Gaps

Magazine article The Christian Century

Generational Ties: Bridging the Gaps

Article excerpt

I BEGAN THE VISIT with "Hello, I'm the new pastor at the Presbyterian church." An innocent enough introduction, I thought.

"Wow. But you're so young!" came the reply.

"Well, I just started. And sure, I'm on the young side," I said, hoping to move on quickly.

"No, I mean, you're really young!"

At this point it was difficult to know what to say. To be honest, I was frustrated. I thought of pastors in other denominations who are ordained with only a bachelor's degree, or those who are pastoring without having ever attended college. I didn't go to college for four years plus three years of seminary plus an extra year of internship to have my lack of wrinkles and my intact hairline greeted with absolute shock. But I bit my tongue and took a deep breath.

"Well, just think of me as a rookie serving a congregation kind enough to show me the ropes."

When in doubt, go for the sports analogies. Nothing brings the generations together like an idiom or two. That seemed to go over well, so I continued the visit, offering pastoral care to someone 72 years my senior.

I had anticipated generational differences when I was searching for my first call at age 25, but I hadn't fully anticipated what awaited me when I received that call. Many members relate to me not as if I were their grandchild, but as if I were their great-grandchild. It's taking time, but slowly I'm learning to appreciate and honor generational differences and, in the process, to better understand my pastoral identity.

Here's an example of a generational gap: I can't remember the last time I listened to a cassette tape; I owned only a few of them before CDs caught on. But when I walked into my new study at the church, I was greeted by stacks of cassettes filled with recorded worship services. A few months ago I dreamed of podcasting my sermons on iTunes; now I'm encouraging the board of deacons to update our cassette recording system.

I post each week's sermon manuscript to my blog, which is linked to my Facebook page, and I tweet a link on Twitter each time I do so. I'm also a member of a group of young pastors who covenant to e-mail our sermon manuscripts to one another each Sunday. I'm not sure what previous generations of pastors have done, but sharing my sermons helps me acknowledge the worldwide community in which I live. Reading sermons by other young pastors keeps me grounded and motivated to preach my best. I have a friend who posts his sermon manuscripts on his Facebook page before he preaches, hoping that feedback from 500-plus friends will positively influence the sermon he delivers on Sunday. Surely no generation of pastors has preached in a vacuum, but my generation claims interconnectivity and exploits it for the kingdom.

Another generational difference is my generation's lack of denominational allegiance compared to the dyed-in-the-wool affiliations of previous generations. The Presbyterian congregation I serve was founded over 125 years ago by Scottish immigrants who wanted a Presbyterian church in which to worship. The faith and polity of their parents' Reformed (Church of Scotland) heritage made founding a Presbyterian church an easy decision. Soon Scandinavian immigrants came to the area and founded a Lutheran church a few blocks away. They were followed by Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Mission Covenant and Assembly of God congregations. …

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